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Published: Tuesday, 9/28/2010

Deadly games

Most of the things parents worry about - sex, drugs, alcohol, predators, reckless driving - can be reduced to a single phrase: risky behavior. Add "space monkey" to the list.

Perhaps you know it by a different name: the pass-out game, suffocation roulette, blackout, flatliner, California choke, or simply the choking game. Whatever you call it, it's a deadly game that's been around for generations.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that fewer than 10 children a year die playing the choking game. Other experts, according to the Sacramento Bee, say the actual number of deaths is probably higher, from 100 to 150 each year.

What these children, some as young as 6 years old, do is wrap a belt, bungee cord, scarf, or other form of noose around their neck. Then they strangle themselves to feel the brief sense of euphoria that occurs just before they pass out.

Most kids play the choking game alone. They don't intend to die. They don't expect to die. But even those who don't die risk brain damage and other problems.

Boys are especially big risk-takers. They account for some 87 percent of reported fatalities. But girls play the game too, with deadly results.

Obvious warning signs include talk about the game, marks on the neck, or the presence of unusual items that could be used for choking. Less obvious ones are frequent severe headaches, increased irritability or hostility, pinpoint bleeding under the skin of eyelids or lining of eyes or eyelids, and bloodshot eyes.

Children need to know that playing games with death is not OK. Parents have to convey that message.

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