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
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
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

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering