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Posted: April 12, 2009 12:00 a.m.

Deadly games

Choking, sexting, bullying

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They take their hands and place them around their throats, squeezing and breathing heavily until their blood vessels dilate. Their blood pressure falls causing their brains to become inadequately supplied with blood and oxygen. Sometimes a belt or scarf, a rope or bicycle chain is used to impede the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain, causing light-headiness before kids pass out. And the average age of the people participating in what is known as "The Pass-Out Game" is 14.

It's done with friends and alone and this deadly game does not discriminate. It doesn't care about sex or race; it makes no difference what socioeconomic background you come from. Your parents may be divorced or happily married. Kids from all walks of life are playing this game, and recently, they've starting dying.

The Pass Out Game is only one of a number of dangerous "games" kids are playing that parents should know about. Sexting and cyber-bullying are also on the rise.

The Pass Out Game

This particular game seems to have gained popularity with middle-school aged kids, 9 to 14 years old, according to an online poll by MSNBC. It's a quick high, lasting about five to 10 seconds, and it's drug-free. Because they aren't ingesting anything to feel this high, it seems harmless. Once they've passed out and fallen down, the blood and oxygen suddenly rush back to the head, waking the person up and causing a quick flow of blood through the carotid arteries and into the brain.

Although harmful at all times, it can be particularly deadly when done alone because there isn't anyone there to make sure the kids come out of the pass-out phase of the "game" or to make sure that the device used to choke off the airflow doesn't get too tight, which can happen very quickly.

Some kids may develop brain damage from the loss of blood and oxygen to their brain for too long, others may die, and many times it can look like a suicide because the child is found hanging. Although an open secret, most kids do not talk openly about it, according to MSNBC.

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta says that since between 1995-2007 at least 82 youths ages 6-19 have died from playing this game, also called The Choking Game or The Fainting Game. Most of those victims – 87 percent – were male.

According to Newton County Sheriff's Office Investigator Sharron Stewart, deputies have not seen instances of this in the county, and no recent deaths could be attributed to playing this deadly game. But it's gaining in popularity. Just typing in the name on YouTube – a popular video site online – gives almost 19,000 hits – most of them videos of kids playing the game themselves. One video description says "a lil game we play when we are bored at home."

The CDC cautions that someone playing this game can become unconscious in a matter of seconds and "within three minutes of continued strangulation (i.e. hanging), basic functions such as memory, balance and the central nervous system start to fail. Death occurs shortly after."

For those who continue to play the game there are other dangerous repercussions including death of brain cells, seizures, concussions (from falls associated with the game) and hemorrhages of the eyes.

Sexting

Once upon a time flirting between teens involved giggles and light touches, but nowadays even Disney stars are guilty of using technology – namely cell phones – to "flirt" with their boy- or girlfriends by sending racy pictures using camera phones. The problem? Along with being against the law, it has also led to several teen deaths after the pictures have been sent to multiple people.

"When you send a picture like this, you run the risk of sharing it with the world," cautions Stewart. "After you've sent it you have no control over where it goes."

An Ohio girl hanged herself nearly a year ago after nude pictures she sent her boyfriend were then sent to several other people in her school. For months afterwards the girl, Jessica Logan, was taunted by classmates, and called a "whore" by other girls in her school. She killed herself.

According to a poll by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl.com, of the 1,300 teenagers surveyed, one in five admit to sexting, though they realize it is a crime.

Stewart says that not only can the person who receives the text be guilty of a crime, but so could the person sending the message. Posting or forwarding nude pictures of a minor is considered possessing and distributing child pornography. Those sending the naughty texts are guilty of transmitting child pornography – even if they are sending pictures of themselves. There are a multitude of sex-related charges that both parties could face, and most will land your name on the sex offender registry.

In New York a 16-year-old boy is facing up to seven years in prison for forwarding a nude picture of his 15-year-old girlfriend to his friends; in Wisconsin, a 17-year-old was charged with possessing child pornography after posting pictures of his 16-year-old girlfriend online; and in Alabama, four middle-school aged students were arrested for exchanging nude pictures of themselves. A Florida teen sent pictures of his girlfriend to dozens of friends after the two had a fight and is now on the sex offender registry for sending child pornography.

In Newton County, the cases of sexting that Stewart has seen have been in the past and have stemmed from adults sending photos of themselves to teenagers, and those have been few and far between.

But, like The Pass-Out Game, sexting isn't something teens are likely to bring up to their parents. Parents are urged to be aware of what their child is doing on his or her cell phone and on social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook. What seems like an innocent thing can end in a lifelong stigma, not only for those charged but for those whose pictures make the rounds on cell phones throughout the schools.

Cyber Bullying

The most prevalent of the three, cyber bullying happens every day. It happens not only to children but to adults as well. A search of a MySpace forum shows students calling other students and administrators at their high school derogatory names and a glance at random pages belonging to local students show messages from other teens calling one another names and threatening each other.

"In today's society our children are accessing the computer at a much younger age," said Stewart. "With technology increasing our children are using these items more and more."

And with the increase in the use of technology come the increase in cyber bullying that has also led to at least one death. The mother of a teenage girl, angry at her daughter's former friend, adopted a fake name and page on MySpace and pretended to be a teenage boy interested in the 13-year-old girl, only to humiliate her later on MySpace, leading to the self-conscious girl's suicide.

Essentially, it is the modern day equivalent to stealing lunch money or gossiping behind someone's back. It's the same thing, only sneakier and done in a much broader forum.

According to the National Crime Prevention Council, 81 percent of teens surveyed said that they think others cyber bully because they think it is funny, they are encouraged by friends and the think they won't get caught. Common cyber bullying includes pretending to be someone else – especially someone of the opposite sex – to make the teen being bullied think that a boy or girl finds them attractive. After luring them into a false relationship the cyber bully reveals the truth, humiliating the teen in a very public way – online.

Many teens begin to ignore the bullying or delete messages as soon as they’re sent, something the NCPC urges against.

"Some teens feel threatened because they may not know who is cyber bullying them," reads the Web site. "Although cyber bullies may think they are anonymous, they can be found. If you are cyber bullied or harassed and need help, save all communications with the cyber bully and talk to a parent, teacher, law enforcement officer or other adult you trust."

Many states have laws against cyber bullying but Georgia is not one of them yet. The state does, however, have laws against stalking and harassment, which, depending on the extent of the bullying, may come into play in some of these instances.

Due to an increase in crimes against children on the Internet, the NCSO would like to extend the opportunity for parents to take part in a "Cybersafety" presentation.

The presentation offers advice on how to keep children safe online. It covers topics such as pedophiles, cyber bullying, the virtual world and identity theft. Suggestions, as well as tools and strategies for staying safe online will be offered at the presentation.

The NCSO also has trained personnel who can give "Interactive Internet Safety Presentations" to schools with children who are in kindergarten through high school. Presentations are geared toward age groups and offers animated characters for elementary and real-life stories for middle and high school students.

Those interested in presentations should contact investigator Sharron Stewart at (678) 625-1406.

Newton County may not have seen cases of local teens facing these dilemmas, but in cases of sexting, cyber bullying and playing The Pass-Out Game, children are not likely to come to their parents and volunteer the information. Even the best child can fall victim to one of these deadly games.

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