Eagle County Sheriff: Teens taking on risky online ‘challenges’ with deadly consequences (column 1 of 2)
Editor’s note: This is the first column in a two-part series about risky child and teenage behavior. Look for the second part in the Friday, July 6, edition of the Vail Daily.
This is probably one of the most disturbing articles I have written because so much of it is out of sight of parents and is prompted by online peer pressure. The motivation is often to produce videos that go “viral” or to promote large social media comments and “likes,” the equivalent of a popularity contest.
Parents are often clueless about these online events and feel helpless to prevent the resulting tragedies, outside of monitoring online use, which can be difficult because a child can access online content from any friend’s smartphone or even the library’s computer. So parents are limited to simply warning kids of potential dangers. Yet, since most children and teens think they’re invincible, the words may be ignored as something that happens to others, not them.
Here are some of the “challenges” your child may encounter this summer:
• The Choking Game (aka The Fainting Game, Seven Minutes to Heaven, Tapping Out or Sleeper Hold): The game involves cutting off oxygen and blood flow to the brain to achieve a “high” of euphoria, using belts, ropes, shoelaces, etc. The child plans on doing it just for a few minutes but often passes out. If the strangulation is tight, then it can result in brain damage, stroke or death.
According to WebMD, when teens hear of a “game” tragedy, they think, “I’m smarter than those people who killed themselves. They aren’t as good at it as me. I can push it farther; I can set my noose tighter or longer. I bet I can get even higher.”
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study analyzed choking game deaths nationwide over a 12-year period. They discovered that the average age of kids who died was 13, with some as young as 6; 96 percent were playing the game alone, and 87 percent were boys.
• Fire Spray Challenge: The person stands in the shower, douses themselves in alcohol or another flammable liquid and lights themselves on fire, trying to put out the flames before it burns their skin. The challenge has naturally resulted in severe burns and multiple deaths.
• Blue Whale Challenge: This “challenge” is directed by a “Master/Whale” who assigns a series of self-destructive actions, including mutilation, which culminate in committing suicide by jumping off a building. Teens participating in the challenge send photos proving they’ve completed these horrific tasks to their designated “whale.” It was designed as a game of psychological manipulation to convince teenage girls to commit suicide.
• Salt and Ice Challenge: This challenge requires pouring salt onto a chosen body part and applying ice for as long as they can stand it. The combination of salt and ice drops temperature levels far below freezing, which can cause frostbite and third-degree burns. The blood vessels and nerve endings in the region are destroyed, resulting in a loss of sensation, with the affected skin essentially turning into leather, where even hair can never be regrown. These burns can also cause fatal infections.
• Condom-Snorting Challenge: The participant unrolls a condom and stuffs it up one side of their nose and then plugs the other nostril and inhales until the condom slides down into his or her throat. The participant then reaches back into their mouth to pull out the condom, which could easily become stuck in the nose or throat, preventing them from breathing and causing suffocation or, if swallowed, create a gastrointestinal blockage requiring emergency surgery.
There are more “challenges” listed in Part 2. These games are presented as fun events for kids, yet as adults, we see the tragic consequences of such actions. Please be aware and speak with your kids about the seriousness of these actions. Please be safe so this summer contains happy memories.
James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.