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Thrills that kills

Thirteen-year-old Gaurang Dalvi, a Bombay Scottish High School student, was found hanging in his room from a nylon rope in Mumbai recently. 12 days later, Gaurang's parents claimed that it was not a case of suicide but a game of ‘dare' - the choking game - that went horrendously wrong.

“Everybody wanted to know why a happy-go-lucky boy with lots of friends had taken his life. Even we couldn't understand it,” said his mother Mondira, a teacher in the same school where he studied. “The incident occurred in the afternoon. I was in my bedroom and Gaurang's grandmother was in his room. He asked his grandmother to leave the room for a while. The incident occurred in the 15 minutes that she was out of the room.” Gaurang's father Mangesh added, “Gaurang's friends told us of websites that teach children how to cut off oxygen supply to the brain in order to get a temporary ‘high'. They claimed Gaurang was part of such a group. We heard that five students were planning to try this out on the same day.”

The couple received a phone call soon after Gaurang's death, where they heard a bunch of boys and girls giggling in the background while a boy's voice asked, “Gaurang, are you dead as yet?” and the line was disconnected. “It took some time for it to sink in. We hadn't heard of such games before. If we had any inkling, we could have prevented it,” said Mangesh.

Deadly games teens play
You can't smell it or find it hidden in the dressing drawer. You don't need a syringe and you don't smoke it. But it's deadly and quickly becoming widespread. It is a new addiction that teens and pre-teens can easily hide from their parents - the choking game, though it's anything but a game. Children are getting ‘high' by choking themselves.

Gaurang Dalvi's was perhaps the first case in India, but deadly games children play of intentionally cutting off the supply of oxygen to their brains in order to get a ‘high', is internationally quite popular. Children use bags, belts, ties or their bare hands to cause a shortage of oxygen, until they pass out. That is the first high- death's door. Then comes the second high, when oxygen rushes back to the brain. This causes a ‘rush' as consciousness returns. Children describe this experience as being in a dream-like state.

Dying to get high
Unfortunately, the outcome of this has very predictable consequences. Children playing this deadly game alone have only a small window of opportunity in which to loosen the knot before they pass out. If they miscalculate and collapse before they can untie themselves, they will choke to death. Often, in this deadly practice, there is also a ‘choker' and a ‘chokee'. This is just as dangerous as a child puts his/ her life in another child's hands.

Trigger happy!
So what is prompting children to play such dangerous games? Mumbai-based psychologist Seema Hingorani lists out the triggers: 
A lot of kids are in isolation these days. Whether it's making friends, getting bullied or just peer pressure, problems are manifold, which affects self-esteem and causes depression. They experience pressures and stress in school, which can't be easily understood by parents. They need a release every once in a while. Even ‘good kids', who would never dream of doing anything ‘wrong', feel the pull to go into an ‘altered' state every once in a while. If they're smart, they'll get it from sports, food or lose themselves in a video game. If they're not, or they just want to fit in, they end up opting for dangerous things. 

Adolescence is an age where inquisitiveness comes naturally. Whether it's ‘checking out girls/ boys', porn sites or films, everything is done with the idea of seeking fun. Parents, who are allowing their kids' access to the Internet and are not monitoring the sites visited, are simply asking for trouble. Information on this game is freely available on the Internet. Let's face it; everything is freely available on the Internet.

Some children do it for the high, which can become addictive. Others do it because it's ‘cool' and risky. And still others think of it as a safe alternative to drugs and alcohol.

And sometimes, lack of communication between parents and children can also trigger a host of behavioural problems which can lead kids to try out such dangerous stuff.

Warning signs
According to GASP (Games Adolescents Shouldn't Play), a US-based organization, include:

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

2) Changes in personality, such as overly aggressive or agitated.

3) Any kind of strap, a rope or a belt lying about near the child without any reason – questions about such objects are often eluded.

4) Headaches, sometimes excruciatingly bad ones, loss of concentration, a flushed face.

5) Bloodshot eyes or any other noticeable signs of stress on the eyes.

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

What you can do to prevent your child from playing such dangerous games:
1) Lay ground rules or limits for decision-making. If your teen wants to do something that is clearly harmful or unacceptable, explain why you cannot allow him or her to act on that decision. 

2) Speak frankly with your teen about addictive substances and dangerous behaviours. Most importantly, set a good example.

3) Keep the lines of communication open. Embarrassing/ scolding your teen in front of others will only lead to resentment and hostility.

4) While it's not quite possible to talk about every conceivable hazard and dangerous practice out there, what parents can do is talk to their kids about how they handle stress and choose to escape from it. There are many activities like biking, rock climbing etc which produce a safe, natural endorphin or ‘high'.

5) Monitor your child's activities, outdoor and indoor, though discreetly. Get to know their friends and their parents. Be aware of the television shows they watch and monitor the websites they visit.
Don't be dominating and overbearing. Don't be over-friendly too. Remember: you're a parent, not a pal.

Finally, the best fence parents can put around their child is an open, strong and trusting relationship. If children don't feel valued, loved and understood at home, they'll turn elsewhere to get the acceptance they crave. Don't get angry about what your children come and tell you, or next time they won't share what's going on in their lives. Give them proper advice, so they'll make the right choices.

Source: Go Dubai
Posted: 29/06/2008

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