CITYWIDE — Even if you’ve never heard of it, there’s a good chance your son or daughter has.

Researchers say the “choking game,” a risky activity in which adolescents deprive their brains of oxygen by strangling themselves, hyperventilating or by putting pressure on their chests in order to achieve a brief feeling of euphoria, is more common than many people think.

In Santa Monica, news that a local 12-year-old boy died from strangling himself last week has put a spotlight on the issue, which experts say is most prevalent among boys 11 to 16 years old.

Erik Robinson, a sixth grader at Lincoln Middle School and a Boy Scout, was discovered unconscious at his home April 20 after having passed out from hanging himself, authorities said. He fell into a coma and was taken off of life support the next day. His memorial service was scheduled for Thursday evening in the Pacific Palisades.

While studies show knowledge of the activity is widespread among adolescents, parents are often unaware their children are playing the choking game until it’s too late.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 82 deaths were attributed to the activity between 1995 and 2007.

A survey of eighth graders conducted by the CDC’s Oregon Public Health Division showed 36 percent of respondents had heard of the game, 30 percent had heard of someone participating and 5.7 percent had participated themselves.

Yet, many adults seem to be largely in the dark.

Dr. Wally Ghurabi, medical director of the Nethercutt Emergency Center at the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital, said it can be difficult to tell if an adolescent is playing the choking game, in part because many who engage in the activity don’t outwardly seem to be at-risk.

“The profile for some of these kids are [they’re] smart kids, they’re usually high achievers and good students,” he said.

Some have called the choking game the “good kids game” because it is a way for kids who don’t drink alcohol or experiment with drugs to get high.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the prevalence of the activity, Ghurabi said, in part because some injuries, and even deaths, caused by the choking game are probably never attributed to it. He said the taboo nature of playing the game means kids who get injured while playing the game — for example by passing out and falling — would probably lie about how they got hurt.

Shari Davis, president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Parent Teachers Association, said the organization’s committees that focus on health and safety hadn’t been aware of the choking game but have begun looking into it and plan to work on educating parents in the district about its risks.

According to the anti-choking game organization Games Adolescents Shouldn’t Play, “Most kids who have died from [the game] were active, intelligent, stable children who thought this was a safe alternative to drugs and alcohol.”

That means it’s even more important for parents to pay close attention to spot signs that kids are playing the game, Ghurabi said.

“Families should be attentive to their kids. Teachers should talk about it in class,” he said. “They need to become familiar with it and share their knowledge [about] how dangerous it is.”

According to G.A.S.P., it can also become addictive.

“Many times the choking game starts off as a social activity, but adolescents end up doing it alone, which is even more dangerous — nobody’s around to help them if they pass out,” the group’s website states.

nickt@www.smdp.com

The signs

According to G.A.S.P., signs an adolescent may be playing the choking game include:

• Any suspicious mark on the side of the neck, sometimes hidden by a turtleneck, scarf or permanently turned-up collar.

• Changes in personality, such as overtly aggressive or agitated.

• Any kind of strap, rope or belt lying around near the child for no clear reason — and attempts to elude questions about such objects.

• Headaches (sometimes excruciatingly bad ones), loss of concentration, flushed face.

• Bloodshot eyes or any other noticeable signs of eye stress.

• A thud in the bedroom or against a wall — meaning a fall in cases of solitary practice.

• Any questions about the effects, sensations or dangers of strangulation.

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