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Moms Talk: Choked up over the 'Choking Game'

How do we let our children gain their independence while still making sure they'll have tomorrow to learn from their mistakes?

Gone are the days of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey or even wondering if kids still play spin the bottle. On Thursday, And yesterday, Dunwoody Patch, just outside Atlanta,
This is not something I wanted to think about. I fear the thought of my children getting hurt by something they did themselves. And that got me thinking—how do we save our children from themselves?

When kids are young, we have to watch them at all times. As demanding and exhausting as this is, you can usually say with great certainty that you know what they’re up to—then they become teenagers.

Suddenly, doors are closed that always used to be open. They run from the room when they get a phone call, and if you’re lucky, you get a head nod to acknowledge your presence in public.

You can’t get a babysitter for a teenager, and privacy becomes the Holy Grail in your child’s life. So when you hear of more reasons why you need to know what your child is doing when you’re not “in their space” it begs the question, “How do you keep your child safe while still teaching them independence?” 

I wish there was an answer to why some kids seem to go through these years with little more than acne and break-ups, while others are caught in a terrifying storm of emotional and physical trauma. I decided to see what the experts have to say to ease my mind.

I went online to Kids Health and Dr. Heidi M. Sallee and the staff at the Mayo Clinic for a few practical tips we can all use as we navigate parenting an adolescent in potentially dangerous situations:

1)    Educate yourself.

Just by reading this article you are already following expert advice.  We are blessed to live in the information age and even though every child is different, someone else has most likely faced a problem we're having for the first time.  Anxious about sharing personal problems with other parents?  You can get ideas, inspiration and resources online while keeping your anonymity.

2)    Pick your battles.

No, you may not like when they paint their nails black or wear flip flops to the bus stop in winter, but make sure you save the most serious discussions for those about things that could potentially affect their mental or physical health.  Sometimes asking why they are making the choices they are or looking for a middle ground on a lighter topic can keep you from having ten-foot walls already built when the conversation turns to critical issues.

3)    Know the warning signs.

In reference to the choking game, both Mayo and chokinggame.net—a website recommended by Robbinsdale schools—mention these:

  • Unexplained bruises around the neck
  • Frequent, often severe headaches
  • Bloodshot eyes or small, red facial spots
  • Disorientation after being alone
  • Sheets, belts, neckties, scarves, T-shirts or ropes tied to bedroom furniture or doorknobs, or found knotted on the floor
  • Mentioning choking games, showing curiosity about asphyxiation or having a history of Internet searches about choking games
  • Wear marks on furniture legs

The choking game certainly isn't the only way our tweens and teens may get into trouble.  As parents we worry about drugs, relationships, self esteem issues and a myriad of other ways our kids are less than their best selves.

Mayo Clinic psychiatrist David Mrazek, M.D., says it's important to watch for more general signs of depression or elevated stress such as: 

  • Withdrawal from friends, family, hobbies, sports and other activities
  • Depressed mood
  • Worsening school performance
  • Decreased energy and/or motivation
  • Anger, irritability or rage
  • Being very sensitive (possibly overreacting) to criticism
  • Poor self-esteem or guilt
  • Decreased concentration, difficulty making decisions
  • Restlessness
  • Changes in sleep or eating habits
  • Suicidal thoughts

Mrazek says if your child is exhibiting several of these signs for days or weeks, it's a good idea to take action.  Have them seen by their pediatrician, psychologist or other health care provider.

So to all the parents out there, let's talk.  How do we let our children gain their independence while still making sure they'll have tomorrow to learn from their mistakes?

Gail is a Robbinsdale mother of two teenagers.

Kay Gordon (mom of 2), Golden Valley

"This is such a tough question, and I would love to hear from moms who have teens.  My oldest is only 10, but she's already become a tween.  It's cute that she likes Justin Bieber and has her friends over for sleepovers where they braid each other's hair.  Those kids in Robbinsdale playing the choking game were barely older than she is.  I can't imagine her doing something so foolish because she's so young.  And I was upset that she knew what I was talking about when I told her about the choking game.  But if I hadn't said something I'd still think she was immune from bad things.  So I now know to talk to her and not assume she does or doesn't know anything.  I know that much, but I sure wish I knew more."

Cindy McQuinn (mom of 4), Wayzata

"Watch em like a hawk! I look for abnormal behavior/activity. You know the heart of your child by that age! As long as they live in my house I will know all computer passwords, have access to their rooms, and they are to abide by the rules of the house. Its VERY IMPORTANT to know their friends and have them to your house often. If the friends won't look you in the eye or chat casually, beware! On the other hand, I love them & do my best to stay in a good relationship w them (texting helps!) while allowing them to gain their independence as their level of maturity and responsibility grows. It's tough but so worth it! We only have a short time to help shape them towards their full potential."

Tara Krolczyk (mom of 2), Minnetonka

"Get them involved in activities outside of school, such as sports, musical instrument, something your children have an interest in. Sign them up with another friend. Get to know their friends parents by carpooling, socializing with the parents at the kids games if they play sports. Keep communication open with the parents. Talk to your kids about drugs, alcohol, peer pressure, bullying. Help them with solutions to these topics. Bring these topics up often, so your children will feel they can eventually talk to you about them. Don't wait until these matters occur, talk to them early about them.

I think I would notice warning signs with my children, because I pay attention to their daily behavior. Although, I can't be certain. Warning signs would be withdrawing, depressed, may not want to socialize with certain friends ... My solution would be to talk and listen often. Talk to their teachers for any behavior they may have noticed."

Susan Urban (mom of 1), St. Louis Park

I sit down with my daughter when she gets home from school or at dinner time & ask open-ended questions about specific parts of her day beyond academics-- who did you sit by at lunch, what did you do in gym class, who did you play with during recess.  I try to make sure I meet her friends by introducing myself to them at school functions.  So far, keeping the lines of communication open has worked well.  Last year when she was being bullied, I found out just how much more I knew.  When I called to talk to the mother of another targeted girl, I found out the mom didn't know anything had even been happening.  I was so glad we had been talking.

TRACY May 18, 2011 at 08:52 PM
My son was twelve when he died playing the choking game. I was and still am very involved in all my childrens lives. My son played baseball with the middle school he was going to ,and he was in the early college program at the middle school, he went to school at the college two days a week. I was and still am a stay at home mom who is very involved in her childrens lives, I do know all there friends and still I LOST MY SON TO THIS DEADLY GAME BECAUSE I HAD NO IDEA IT EXISTED . THE SCHOOL KNEW IT WAS GOING ON AND SENT NOTHING HOME TO LET THE PARENTS KNOW!!!!So be glad that these schools at least sent e-mails out.My son had no signs that he was even doing this , so you really need to educate your children that is how you will not find them dead let them know that this can kill them!My son was dared .I talked to my son about everything drugs , alcohol, sex but I DID NOT KNOW ABOUT THE CHOKING GAME UNTIL MY SONS VIEWING , SO DONT THINK THAT JUST BECAUSE YOU KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT YOUR CHILDREN , YOU KNOW EVERYTHING BECAUSE YOU DON'T .I thought I did to. The best thing you can do is tell them about this so called "GAME".
ken tork May 19, 2011 at 03:07 PM
Well said Tracy! I too lost my son Kevin 2 yrs ago. and juts like Tracy we were very involved in our sons life. We protected him from everyhitng WE KNEW ABOUT. Unfortunately we didnt know about this until we too lost our son. EDUCATE YOURSELF NOW! Learn all you can and talk to your children about it tell them the truth before you too join the ranks of those who are now serving a life sentence of pain and anguish from the hidden danger called the choking game. And remember one of your really amazing involved well adjusted kids that you talk to everyday might just have been the one that posted the video or sent the directions that introduced the choking game to our now dead children because they too didnt know the truth. .......Ken Tork -out reach ccoordinator ED4ED
Elizabeth Royster May 19, 2011 at 05:53 PM
I am a family therapist, but closer to my heart, a mother of two. The thing that is so scary for me is that my kids don't like to speak up or be the one that says no when their friends are pushing them to do something. My patients only tell me a fraction of the story so, as a parent, I assume the information that I am getting is the tip of the iceburg. The point I repeat to my children is have a patented phrase to escape the situation. Throw me under the bus, blame it on Mom, but get out when your tummy tells you it is time to go. There is a book called "The Gift of Fear". Not reading for a child, but a great tool to teach piece by piece. Betsy Royster, LAMFT Crosstown Counseling, PLC
Becky October 06, 2011 at 06:19 PM
My son was also exposed to the choking "GAME"... he was taught by a youth pastor on a missions trip. After researching it, since I had never heard of it before, I saw that kids died from it, or were in a vegetable state. We were even on national TV (Fox news) about it. Now, 10 mos. ago, they found my 21 yr. old son hanging.... with his tip toes on the floor...which they said was suicide...I say the choking GAME. And the school is still not recognizing it. I was told by kids that they would be doing it in the bleachers at basketball games.

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