Maybe it’s the digital age. Maybe it’s the boredom of the over-stimulated. Maybe it’s the primal need to dance with death that historically was sated in sword and axe wielding battlefield action. Or maybe 'it’s Eminem’s fault', because isn’t it always? Whatever the reason, the teenagers of the western world are finding worrying new ways to entertain themselves. The recent tragic deaths of two teenagers in Ireland have trained the spotlight on social networking as the hub of a deadly game known as 'Neknomination', popular in the UK and Ireland. The game involves nominating a friend to undertake the ‘necking’ or drinking-in-one of a pint of ‘anything’, before passing the nomination on. Since one pseudo-psychoanalytical question is enough for any article, we’ll avoid the always futile subject of why every teenage game involves alcohol. Suffice it to say that Neknomination saw very few videos of nominees necking pints of tea, and the fatal rest is history. And so, in the early days following the Irish deaths, police are tentatively attributing blame to the ‘game’.
Tending toward the morbid isn’t a new phenomenon in the arena of children’s games. The 1800’s game Ring O’ Roses was infamously predicated on the Black Death, and is still a playground staple. Children dance around in a circle, before flinging themselves to the ground en masse while chanting about the bruised, inflamed mark of the plague as “we all fall down”. Fatal? No. Creepy? Well, at least a little. And somewhere along the way the games have become creepier. Teens are embracing their inner adrenalin junkies, and coming up with ever higher-risk extra-curricular pursuits.
There was a time that a parent’s biggest fears were comfortingly foreign threats - the man in the white van that might kidnap your kid, the lustful, hormone-ridden teenage boy who would try to have his way with your daughter, the speeding driver. Legitimate concerns, but tangible ones that a parent could strategise for. What we can’t plan for is self-destruction, something kids appear to be suddenly bent upon. And what’s worse is the woeful lack of information around most of these games. Connected fatalities are often listed as ‘accidental death’ or ‘suicide’, without any glossing detail. No formal statistics collate the deaths of dangerous teenage behaviour. Games like ‘ghosting', in which a car drives in darkened areas with no lights on, at night is regularly reported on. Likewise, the '30 second game', in which kids have 30 seconds to do as much damage as possible in a street fight set up has dedicated web pages. But the injuries and fatalities that surely are the result of such behaviours are only reported as hearsay.
So here is a start, a small contribution to the land of preventive parenting. After reading these top six deadly teen games of the last decade, parents may want to buy their little ones an Xbox and thank the gods that they’re pretend-shooting virtual cops and hookers. Because the great outdoors is looking like a minefield. A warning before reading; these descriptions aren't for the sensitive and should - certainly - not be tried at home.
6 Robotripping - 8000 annual hospitalisations
While the recorded deaths resulting from this game are low - only 1 has been reported - the FDA lists at least 8,000 robotripping related cases of hospitalisation per year, with an annual growth rate of 10%. The practice involves downing whole bottles of cough syrup - the name is derived from the cough syrup brand name Robitussin - with the goal of achieving a euphoric high from the medicine’s concentration of Dextromethorphan (DXM). Distressingly, the group most often engaged in this activity are between 9 and 14 years old. DXM, in excess, causes heightened blood pressure, increased heart rate and long term liver damage.
5 Car Surfing - 58 deaths
Car surfing is just one of the innumerable driving-related games on the rise among teenagers. Amazingly, according to the Centre for Disease Control, only 58 deaths have been reported in the last decade as a result of this practice, but injury levels are likely to be much more considerable. Car surfing is exactly what it sounds (we have to thank the kids for at least providing us with some transparency). Someone drives insanely fast. Someone else rides the moving vehicle like a surfboard. The potential injuries here probably don’t require explication but mutilation, permanent paralysis and of course death are just a few of the potential rewards of a car surfing expedition. Anyone fondly remembering when roller skates were the height of thrill seeking?
4 The Choking Game - 82 deaths
The Choking Game is the grandfather of dangerous children’s games, having been on the scene for at least 25 years. In reality, the idea is a whole lot older belonging to the era of the Marquis De Sade and the unsettling tradition of auto-erotic asphyxiation. Interestingly, resultant deaths were filed away under ‘suicide’ until at least 2000. The idea is to choke yourself with a scarf or some other household equipment, until a certain high is attained. And preferably not the celestial sort. The high (known as hypocapnia) is achieved by depriving the brain of oxygen. Although it could said, anyone playing the game must have been finding other ways of depriving their brains for some time...
3 King Punch - 90 deaths
A few years ago, kids became obsessed with a bizarre fad known as ‘happy slapping’. The idea was to approach a stranger, deliver a slap to the face, and film the event. This was antisocial. It was moderately dangerous. And it was a cretinous waste of time. So happy slapping came and went, and in the vacuum of its aftermath, some genius developed the King Punch. This is basically the same practice, but instead of slapping the unsuspecting stranger, the idea is to sucker punch them. In the back of the head. Basically, if your child is playing this, then we definitely need to talk about Kevin. In the last decade 90 deaths have been reported thanks to this ante-d up happy slap, either from brain injuries sustained from the punch, or from the consequent fall. Many more injuries have also been reported. Playing King Punch has now been, thankfully, relegated to the realm of criminal activity. And not even the latest version has a get-out-of-jail-free card.
2 Huffing - 12,500 deaths
Huffing isn’t an unfamiliar term. As euphemisms go, this one has the same connotative quality as, say, ‘chasing the dragon’. It’s nothing short of terrifying, then, that this practice has made its way, uncensored, into the realms of children’s games. But it has. The Huffing game involves inhaling the toxins from domestic aerosols, with the end-game of getting high. According to the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, an average of 125 teens a year have died as a result of this game in the last ten years, either from the toxins themselves, or from suffocation from the bags they often wrap around their heads to aid a speedier high. The 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that 68% of inhalant drug abuse is undertaken by children under 18 years old, and the American Academy of Pediatrics estimate the peak age to be 14. Worth noting that some teenagers have taken to calling this game ‘dusting’, a derivative of the favoured aerosol inhalent ‘dust-off’. So next time your kid suggests a spot of domestic goddess-ing, check the cupboards first.
1 Skittling - 160,600 deaths
At the top of the deadly games charts is Skittling. This game involves grabbing all of the bottles in mummy and daddy’s medicine cabinet, pic-n-mixing them and hoping the Russian roulette of it all comes out good. But as the Journal of the American Medical Association informs us, in almost 20,000 cases a year - it doesn’t. This one says an awful lot about our children, but even more about our adults. What are we doing with lethal concoctions of prescription drugs in our cupboards anyway? This might be an argument for the master bedroom ensuite.