The 'Choking Game'

Stacey Browning looks at a photograph of her son, Taylor Parmer, who died about a month ago playing the “Choking Game,” intentionally closing off his airway to cause a brief rush followed by a blackout. He was unable to awake after the blackout and died shortly afterward. He was about a week away from his 11th birthday. Bob Crisp

TALLADEGA — Stacey Browning has already endured something that no parent should ever experience. She had to bury her son, Taylor Parmer, just before his 11th birthday. She lost him not to accident, disease or disaster, but to a “game,” specifically the “Choking Game,” a sort of hyperventilation involving a ligature of some sort.

“It’s not my place to question why Taylor isn’t here now,” his mother said. “If I can make one other parent aware, and if that saves one life, then it will be worth putting out there. My obligation is to tell my child’s story. What they do with that is up to them. He was a child full of life. He had to write an autobiography for a gifted class, and he said that he wanted to be a better family member and a better Christian. He played football, basketball and baseball, and he was on the A-B Honor Roll at Graham Elementary School. He had never been in any kind of counseling. I wouldn’t think he would try this sort of thing, but he was a risk taker, and he was probably planning on going to school the next day and say, ‘Well, I tried it, I did it.’”

On Feb. 25, Browning found her son in his closet, standing on his toy chest with a shoe string looped around the hanger rod of the closet and his neck. He was dead. “He had been in there for up to one hour,” she said. “I don’t know exactly.”

Taylor’s death was initially ruled a suicide by hanging, but on further investigation was reclassified as an accidental, intentional suffocation. Talladega police agree with this conclusion and are in the process of altering the death certificate.

“He wasn’t hanging,” Browning said. “His feet were touching the toy chest. He just leaned forward to cut off his airway. When he passed out, his weight and gravity just pulled him down. There was nothing broken on his body. Not to say it would have been any less dangerous if someone else had been there, but they could have at least stood him up. He didn’t know what he was doing. He never woke up.

“I thought he was smarter than that, but as adults, sometimes we don’t realize that they don’t know how dangerous these things can be. He just thought it was a cool thing to do, he didn’t know what he was doing to his body.”

Browning first stumbled on the “Choking Game” on Dr. Oz. She asked one of her younger sons if he had ever heard of it.

“He said no, but they may have called it something else. But he told me he did know how to pass out. Taylor had heard about it at school, although I don’t know who told him. You just hold your breath and your nose until you pass out, he said.”

The practice of holding one’s breath or hyperventilating to get a brief high is not new. What does appear to be new are the use of ligatures, such as belts, ropes and shoe laces, and the practice of passing out alone.

In all cases, it works by temporarily depriving the brain of blood and oxygen and applying pressure to the vegus nerve, then suddenly releasing the pressure.

“I’m coming forward now,” Browning said, “because they are talking about it at school. Taylor heard about it from at least one other child, so I feel I have an obligation. People need to be made aware of the danger. This is not a game. It’s dangerous, and it can hurt you. I don’t know if Taylor had ever done this before, but this was probably his first time at this level. He probably started with hyperventilating and then at some point went beyond that. So parents, whether you believe it or not, kids are talking about these things and they are trying them. If they’re using a ligature, and they’re alone, it only takes a little pressure.”

Concrete numbers of injuries and death related to the “Choking Game” are difficult to come by since so many of the fatalities are labeled suicides. “Taylor will now be added to the national database, but kids are not statistics. They’re someone’s son or daughter. This is just one more thing to show parents what’s out there that may have never crossed your mind. I know a lot of parents are probably concerned about planting an idea, but it’s in the schools already and there’s probably a seed in their head already. If I had known what I know now, I would have taken the time to look it up, pray about it and talk to my children about it.”

There are numerous resources available online for parents, including www.stop-the-choking-game.com (a product of Games Adolescents Shouldn’t Play) and www.chokinggame.net, run by the DB (Dangerous Behavior) Foundation. In addition to relevant information and statistics, both sites provide tips for discussing these dangerous behaviors with children.

According to GASP, the game is also referred to as Blackout, Fainting Game, Space Monkey, the Dream Game, Airplaning and tingling, among many others.

Typical signs include marks on the sides of the neck, sometimes covered up with a turtleneck, scarf or turned up collar; personality changes including overt aggression or agitation; straps, ropes or belts found laying around for no good reason and elusive answers to questions about them; headaches, loss of concentration and flushing; blood shot eyes or other signs of eye stress; thuds in the bedroom or against walls and odd questions about strangulation.

“There are ways to talk to your kids about this,” Browning said. “You don’t necessarily need to confront them or be angry with them, just let them know it’s dangerous and you’re concerned.”

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