BERNARDS — The school superintendent in a Central Jersey district took the death of a student to warn parents of the danger of "the choking game." reported that Bernards Township Superintendent of Schools Nick Markarian, who did not identify the Ridge High School student, suggested that parents talk to their kids about the dangers of the "game," in which a person gets a temporary high by cutting off oxygen to their brain by putting a plastic bag over their head or using a noose made of computer cables or shoelaces.

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 deaths is unknown because such deaths are often reported as suicides or accidents.

Jason Burr, principal of the John Witherspoon Middle School, notified parents in March about the dangers of the game as well, when it was gaining in popularity among students. The school nurse visited every homeroom to discuss the dangers of the game, according to the letter.

The game is also called Blackout, Fainting Game, Space Monkey, Dream Game, Suffocation, Roulette, Passout, Flatliner, California High, Airplaning, Space Monkey, American Dream, Funky Chicken, Tingling and Gasp, according to the group G.A.S.P. (Games Adolescent Shouldn't Play).

"Most kids who have died from this were active, intelligent, stable children who thought this was a safe alternative to drugs and alcohol. Most children have no concept of their own mortality — they truly believe nothing can hurt them," G.A.S.P. wrote on its website.

Markarian wrote in his letter that some of the signs of trying the game, according to the report, are bloodshot eyes, broken blood vessels on the face or eyelids, mood swings, disorientation after being left alone, frequent and occasionally severe headaches, and bruises or marks around the neck.

According to the district website, the school hosted a program called "Recovering from Suicide and Other Sudden Losses" with George Scott of the Traumatic Loss Coalition.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at

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