BERNARDS — Some do it because they think it might be a safer alternative to drugs or alcohol. On the contrary, this easy high could do more damage. It could kill them.

The so-called choking game has claimed another life of a child in New Jersey, authorities said this week.

The Bernards schools superintendent told parents that a recent death of a student at Ridge High School was a result of the practice of getting a fleeting high after using a plastic bag or a cord to cut off oxygen to the brain.

Township police said the student was found dead after having asphyxiated himself when he was alone.

It’s at least the third death in New Jersey attributed to the choking game in past 10 years. In 2009, a 13-year-old in Phillipsburg died after playing a similar game. The hanging death of an 8-year-old boy in Trenton in 2008 also was attributed to the game.

The exact number of fatalities is unknown because such deaths are often reported as suicides or accidents. But districts across the state and country have warned parents and their communities about this practice after learning that students had been experimenting with it.

According to advocacy groups like Students Against Destructive Decisions and Games Adolescents Shouldn't Play, or GASP, middle and high school students who play these games can be model, well-behaved students.

Dr. Steven Tobias, a child psychologist based in Morristown, says kids are playing the choking game because they’re seeking thrills.

He said this kind of game — sometimes called Blackout, Fainting Game, Space Monkey, Dream Game, Roulette, Passout, Flatliner, California High, Airplaning, Space Monkey, Funky Chicken, Tingling or Gasp — is usually heavily peer-influenced.

“If other kids are doing it, if it’s popular on social media, Snapchat, Instagram — I’m sure kids are posting lots of stuff about their experiences — and if other kids are doing it, it encourages them to copy and do what their peers are doing.”

Some adults also do this. The practice known as erotic asphyxiation during intimate encounters can also result in serious injury or death.

But adolescents don't always understand the risks of their behaviors. Tobias says many kids think they’re invincible.

“They don’t really realize that yes, they could die. They have these feelings of invincibility, or just sort of denial that it’s going to happen to them.”

Tobias pointed out if they know other kids have done it and survived, “and talked about how much fun it was, that also reinforces that whole idea that if other kids do it, then I guess it’s OK, I can do it, too.”

To deal with this, Tobias said the first thing a parent must do is overcome their own denial.

“A lot of parents would think, 'Oh, well, not my kid. My kid would never do something like that.'”

“They have to recognize it is a real problem and kids are doing things their parents aren’t aware of.”

So how should you talk with your child about the choking game?

He recommends a direct conversation.

“Say, 'Have you heard about this game? what do you think about it?' You want to take more of a questioning mode than a lecturing mode.”

What a parent wants to do is get the kid to think for themselves about what might happen. He explained by approaching the issue in this way it will make a stronger impression on the kid.

“As soon as a parent is judgmental, gets in the lecturing, critical mode — forget it. The kid’s turned off completely to anything that’s going to follow that.”

He also encouraged parents to instill a little guilt in the kid.

“You say, 'Look honey, God forbid if you ever did something like this for whatever reason and something happened to you, I would never get over it, I would never be OK.”

And that, he says, would be true.

According to GASP, these are the warning signs of children engaging in these dangerous activities:

• Any suspicious mark on the side of the neck.
• Changes in personality, such as overtly aggressive or agitated.
• Any kind of strap, rope or belt lying around for no clear reason.
• Bad headaches, loss of concentration, flushed face.
• Bloodshot eyes.
• A thud in the bedroom or against a wall.
• Any questions about the effects, sensations or dangers of strangulation.

Contact reporter David Matthau at

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