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Dangerous “Games” Every Camp Must Know About
Recent media stories have shed a renewed spotlight on the types of dangerous games kids play when they are searching for “thrill-seeking” experiences. While experts note that boys in general, and boys and girls of middle school age as a group, are more likely to engage in dangerous games — kids of any age may try, especially when they are in groups where there is peer pressure. The Dangerous Behaviors Foundation, Inc. (DBF) suggests that one of the reasons for the recent growth in participation in dangerous games is the accessibility of home videos on social media sites that depict children engaging in these “games.” What all of these games have in common is that kids believe they are “safe” as they are not using illegal drugs, and the games themselves are not illegal.
For camps, it is critical that you and your entire staff understand the high-risk “games” that are attracting alarming numbers of participants. Consider covering this topic at “in-service” training soon after campers have arrived. The key to preventing your campers from participating in these risky activities at camp is in your staff supervision practices. As always, your staff should be vigilant in making sure that campers are not engaged in unsafe activities. ACA suggests you use this information as part of your staff training. Discuss these games with staff — and ask them to talk about other games they might know about that could be harmful as well. Have them talk about positive risk taking and good decision making (excellent resources are listed below).
The Choking Game
Also known as suffocation roulette, the fainting game, space monkey, blackout, the pass-out game, flatliner, funky chicken, tingling, the dream game, knock-out, choke trance, ghost, airplaning, and space cowboy (to mention a few), the game involves cutting off the oxygen supply to the brain through strangulation for a brief high. Kids play the game in groups and alone, using ropes, belts, and even plastic bags — often tying the ligature to objects such as trees and bunk beds. Along with the brief high that lasts for several seconds before loss of consciousness and upon awakening, experts believe that another inducement to participate is the psychological effect of escaping a “near-death” experience.
A recent CDC study analyzed 82 probable Choking Game deaths nationwide over 12 years. The study found that the average age of kids who died was 13, but those who died ranged in age from 6 to 19. Nearly all of them (96%) were playing the game alone when they died, even if they'd first played it with a group of friends, and 87% of those who died were boys. Most of the parents cited by the study (93%) said that they hadn't heard of the Choking Game until their children died.
The Cinnamon Challenge
Also depicted in scores of videos on social media sites, this game involves taking a spoonful of cinnamon (without drinking water) and trying to swallow it in one minute. Most people immediately cough out a huge cloud of cinnamon powder. Some people vomit from the strong flavor. Others have coughing fits after breathing in the fine powder. In rare cases, people are hospitalized after inhaling powder into the lungs and placed on ventilators.
According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), about 88 percent of phone calls in the first three months of 2012 to the nation's poison control centers were related to the "cinnamon challenge." The number is already up more than 240 percent from the whole of 2011. Although only 25 percent of those calling needed hospital attention, the challenge can be especially dangerous for those with breathing problems like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Also known as dusting, this “game” involves the intentional inhalation of common household chemicals (including cans of compressed gas used to clean keyboards), causing an immediate “high.” Using huffing as a method to get high can lead to permanent brain damage and damage to the heart, lungs, and liver. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH/NHSDA), common household chemicals are the fourth most commonly abused substance in the United States among eighth graders and high schools students.
This game has been around for decades, but which has seen resurgence in recent years. A player spreads his fingers on a table (or bare toes on the ground), then stabs the spaces between them as quickly as possible with a pocket knife. The injuries are usually not life threatening, but obviously, the risk of stabbing wounds is high.
This dangerous game requires someone to shove as many full-sized marshmallows into their mouth as possible, and then say the words "chubby bunny" to an audience. Those who succeed put another marshmallow in thier mouth —chewing and swallowing is not allowed — and then try to say the same words again. While rare, the risk of choking is apparent. The National Safety Council reports that 60 children ages 5-14 die each year of "suffocation by ingested object," but it keeps no data on how many such deaths were the results of games or contests gone awry.
The ABC Scratching Game
This game requires two people. One person must name words that begin with each letter of the alphabet for a given topic, while the other person scratches the letter into the back of the player’s hand to distract him. The potential for infection is evident. In an extreme case, in 2007, scratches on a girl's hand caused necrotizing fasciitis, an infection in which toxins destroy skin and muscle. Since then, her left arm became infected and the girl has gone through seven surgeries to remove tissue infected with the flesh-eating bacteria and has had oxygen treatments twice daily.
These are just a few of the potentially dangerous games adolescents have been known to play. Knowledge, training, and staff supervision are key to ensuring that campers are instead engaged in positive — yet thrilling — experiences while at camp.
- American Association of Poison Control Centers (also provides free educational materials and stickers/magnets with the Poision Control phone number)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Connect with Kids
- Dangerous Behaviors Foundation
- DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education)
- Dylan Blake Foundation for Adolescent Behavior
- GASP and Deadly Games Children Play
- National Survey on Drug Use and Health
- SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions)
- Resources regarding the "Choking Game"
- A Dangerous High, Suffocation Games are Dangerous, But Many Students See the Games as an Appealing Way to Get High Without Illegal Drugs, National Association of School Psychologists
- Resources on Positive Risk Taking
- Positive Risk Taking - An Idea Whose Time Has Come, Practice Based Evidence
- Systematic Risk Taking, Roeper Review
- Positive Risk Taking from the HALE Series, The Hale Trust
- Risk Taking Behaviors in Campers, Camping Magazine, Jan/Feb, 1998
- Resources on Helping Kids Learn to Make Good Decisions
- Learning to Make Good Decisions and Solve Problems, Kids Matter
- Decision Making Games for Kids, Michelle Renee
- Youth as Objects or Partners? Advancing Opportunities for Camper Leadership and Decision Making, Camping Magazine, Sept/Oct, 2009