Teenagers risk death in internet strangling craze

Online videos show children how to throttle each other in pursuit of highs

Children are posting videos on the internet showing them choking other youngsters to the point of collapse, in a craze that doctors warn has led to brain damage and death.

In one, a group of teenagers set out clear guidelines to the practice in an "instructional video", while in several others British voices can be heard.

The problem has been increasingly acknowledged in the United States, Canada and France but campaigners warn that Britain is turning a blind eye. The craze is spreading on the internet largely without the knowledge of adults.

"This is disturbing, highly dangerous, very risky and the practice should be avoided at all costs," said Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners. The American Centres for Disease Control and Prevention warned recently: "Parents, educators and healthcare providers should become familiar with warning signs that youths are playing the choking game."

In Britain, the Department for Children, Schools and Families said it was aware of the activity and was monitoring the situation closely. There is no authoritative research on the issue in the UK, despite campaign groups compiling 86 cases of young people in Britain who may have died this way.

Known by a variety of names from funky chicken to space monkey, the "game" involves hyperventilating or squeezing the carotid artery in the neck for a few seconds to achieve a high. Constricting the artery cuts blood flow to the brain; when the pressure is released, the resulting rush of oxygen causes the high. Experts say it is most prevalent among high-achieving adolescents who do not want to get in trouble by taking drugs or drink. The practice is different to autoerotic asphyxiation because it is not done for sexual gratification.

In the troubling footage on YouTube, British teenagers can be seen losing consciousness, their eyes rolled back, as they collapse to the ground to the sound of their friends' laughter.

The videos show teenagers applying pressure to the necks of friends. Others try to create the high on their own, using a ligature, with a greater risk of killing themselves if anything goes wrong and help is not at hand.

One American entry on MySpace, to background rap lyrics of "spaz if you want to", claims to be an "instructional video" on the different ways of playing the "pass-out game" and shows different teenagers collapsing among their friends.

Anne Phillips, who lost her teenage son to the practice, is trying to raise awareness in Britain. She says that while the problem has been acknowledged by the authorities in several other countries, the UK remains in denial. "It becomes addictive and kids progress to using a ligature for greater effect," said Mrs Phillips, from Somerset. "Deaths by hanging are put down as suicide or as an open verdict because coroners are not looking for this as a cause," she added.

This month, France's Ministry of Health hosted an international symposium on the "jeu du foulard" ("scarf game"). Politicians and doctors heard from teachers, paediatricians, police, psychologists and grieving parents from around the world.

In July last year, police in Swansea investigated a case where a 13-year-old at Ysgol Bryn Tawe school collapsed after apparently playing the choking game. Days later an eight-year-old at another school also reportedly had to be revived. Last August parents at Hardenhuish School in Chippenham, Wiltshire, were warned of the dangers. Deputy head Jan Hatherell explained that the school felt it was its social responsibility: "We got wind of the fact that some of our young people had seen this on the internet and had thought about trying it out on themselves.

"As yet, we do not know of anyone locally being injured from this, but our concern remains that they might be."

On one website a girl using the name Tiltal described how she had fainted while playing the game and "like shaking, was it a fit? and my eyes were open and rolling back and stuff is this normal? when i woke up i had no idea what happened and i didnt feel high or anything... and now everyone is doing it at school and apparently if i was doing all this i could of died, is that true? im trying to get everyone to stop doing it now, what could i say?"

Doctors warn the choking game can lead to seizures, head injuries, strokes, heart failure and brain damage. Parents are warned to look out for unexplainable headaches, bruising round the neck, bloodshot eyes or ear pain.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said officials were aware of the activity: "Through the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, we will continue to work with the internet industry to keep young people safe online, including through reducing the availability of harmful and inappropriate content."

Last year the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that at least 82 young people had died in the US from the choking game between 1995 and 2007, of whom 87 per cent were boys. The average age of the victims was just over 13, and most had been playing alone.

But the campaign group Games Adolescents Shouldn't Play claims that as many as 458 children in the US have been killed this way, and that 86 British youngsters have died because of the craze since 1995.

The CDC admitted it had only tracked the problem through newspaper reports and had not included cases where the cause of death might have been either unintentional or intentional strangulation. A 2008 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health study found that 79,000 students in the Canadian province of Ontario had participated in the practice, while last year a survey of Texas students found that 68 per cent had heard of the game and 45 per cent knew someone who had played it.

Mrs Phillips, who has four other children, said: "There is no research being done in England. This issue needs to be addressed; parents need to know.

"It is a global problem but in England there is a denial. There is a stigma. Everyone is afraid that if you mention it, it is going to give kids ideas. But they already know about it ... As a parent I am fighting because I want to make sure that something worthwhile comes out of the death of my child."

Both YouTube and MySpace said they remove unsuitable content when it is flagged by other users. YouTube said: "Sadly, as with any form of communication, a tiny minority of people try to break the rules. On YouTube, these rules prohibit content like pornography or gratuitous violence."

A MySpace spokesman insisted it had "robust procedures in place to protect young people".

Mrs Phillips was living in Canada 16 years ago when her son Mike, 18, who had planned to study mechanical engineering at university, died after he and his friends played the fainting game.

He passed out, hit his head on a kerb and suffered such severe brain damage that he never recovered from a coma. His friends insisted he had slipped, but the police later discovered they had been playing the game. His mother, who returned to Britain after his death, said: "It's a long time since Mike died but sometimes it hits me as if it was yesterday. The whole family was messed up and when you know it is because of a game and was totally needless, it is particularly terrible."

Suggested Topics
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home