Choking game becoming a deadly teen trend

Published: Mar. 2, 2010 at 3:19 PM CST|Updated: Apr. 13, 2010 at 12:23 PM CDT
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By Justin Hanson - bio | email

"He was on the phone with one of his roommates from college and I said goodnight, and he said goodnight, and then I went to bed."

That was the last time Kelly Brainerd spoke to her son, Jay Smith.  For Brainerd, it was a normal night.  Little did she know that the next morning, her life would change forever.

A new trend is silently killing Mid-South teenagers, but Brainerd didn't know about it until it was too late.

"Everything I always said to Jay was that everything was fixable as long as you're here," she said..

Brainerd considered her son to be the center of her universe.

"I didn't understand what was happening because he was good," she says.

A good kid, she said, who was just weeks away from turning eighteen and cashing in on a full scholarship to college.

"I cried everyday because I couldn't imagine him not being here anymore," Brainerd said. "To trade all that in to buy a cemetery plot..."

A lamp now shines through an attic window at Brainerd's home, marking the spot where she discovered the body of her son - the victim of a deadly trend.

"It's been called the Pass Out Game, Space Monkey, The Funky Chicken, The Choking Game," Brainerd said.

Research shows the game is typically played by people between the ages of 6 and 25.

"They will tie something around their neck and its cuts off blood supply to the brain and you have this passing out sensation and kids may stay unconscious for a few seconds, some stay unconscious for a few minutes," said family medicine physician Dr. Ann Payne Johnson.

Some teens do it in groups, while others do it alone.  It's not autoerotic asphyxiation; in fact, there's nothing sexual about it.  And it's not illegal that's why it's called the "Good Kids' High."

"They're doing it to get high without having drugs in their system," Johnson said.

The Centers for Disease Control says between 1995 and 2007, 82 people died playing the choking game.  Another group, GASP, puts the number at 1,000.

Internet reports cite cases in Olive Branch, Mississippi and Jonesboro, Arkansas - and these are just the cases that are reported.

"Even the kids who don't die from this, we're finding the cumulative result of learning disabilities, focus, concentration from lack of oxygen to the brain," Johnson said.

"You teach your kids not to drink and drive. You teach your kids about sex. You need to teach your kids not to choke themselves," Brainerd said. :We had in-depth conversations. We were very close.  If I'd known about this, I would have talked about this too."

Brainerd's son Jay was an artist and a skater.  She says he always stayed in touch with her when he was away from home, and home is where she thought he was safe.

"Our worst enemy ended up being our home, because it happened right under our nose," she said.

Doctors say there are recognizable signs your teen is playing the choking game, but Brainerd believes her son never exhibited any of the signs.

"Foundations that research this and know about this say signs are blood shot eyes, marks around the necks, being tired and disoriented after periods of time alone." she said. "I think he felt like he was in control, and you're not in control. You don't know when you're going to pass out, and you can't stop it from happening once you get to that point."

Brainerd is determined her child's death not be in vain.  She's sharing the story of his life to warn other parents and children about death from the choking game.

"Check their computers," she said. "Check their phones.  Pay extra attention. We don't want anybody else to find their child the way we found ours."

Researchers with the Centers for Disease Control say boys are more likely to die from the Choking Game than girls, and that most victims are between 11 and 16-years-old.


  • To read a blog Brainerd set up after Jay's death, click here.
  • To view an interactive map and database of choking game cases all across the country, click here.
  • If you're a parent and want to find out more about the choking game and what you can do to try and stop it, click here.
  • Click here and here to visit sites from the Centers for Disease Control.
  • To read TIME magazine's recent article on The Choking Game, click here.

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