Here's What Parents Need To Know About Why the Blackout Challenge Is So Dangerous

There are some physical signs that might indicate your child is trying the Blackout Challenge that parents should know.

Another dangerous and scary social media challenge is making the rounds—and this one has left several children dead. It's called the "Blackout Challenge," and it dares people to see how long they can hold their breath. Pennsylvania resident Nyla Anderson, 10, is the latest to die from this challenge.

"She happened to be in her own bedroom of her house, with her family at home," Elizabeth Wood, a licensed clinical social worker with the Division of Critical Care Medicine in the PICU at Nemours Children's Hospital, where Nyla was rushed to once her family found her, told Philadelphia's ABC affiliate WPVI. "But no one was in the bedroom with her when this happened, so there was no one there to save her."

"I'm so hurt," her mother, Tawainna Anderson, told WPVI. "This is a pain that won't go away. It's at the top of my throat. I am so hurt." At least three other children, ranging in age from nine to 12, have died after trying the challenge this year, according to PEOPLE.

This trend isn't new. It's also known as the "Choking Game" or "Pass-Out Challenge" and goes back to at least 2008, a year when 82 children died from trying it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2008, most children who died were between the ages of 11 and 16, per the CDC, and cases occurred in 31 states. As the CDC explained it, "the choking game involves intentionally trying to choke oneself or another in an effort to obtain a brief euphoric state or 'high.'"

Why Is the Blackout Challenge So Dangerous?

Mindy Dickerman, the associate division chief for the Pediatric Critical Care Division at Nemours Children's Hospital, told WPVI that the challenge of seeing how long you can go without breathing can lead to strangulation.

Within five minutes of low oxygen, brain cells begin to die, per the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. If someone is without oxygen for a longer period of time, it can eventually lead to coma, seizures, brain damage, and even death.

What Is the Blackout Challenge? , On the ride to school, the older girl shows the younger girl a new mobile app for the smart phone.
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How Can You Keep Your Kids Safe?

Anderson told WPVI that she was shocked someone as young as her daughter would even think to do this challenge. "You wouldn't think 10-year-olds would try this," she said. "They're trying because they're kids and they don't know better."

It's easy to think that your child wouldn't attempt something like this, but research has found more kids are aware of these breathing-related challenges than people realize. A survey of eighth graders conducted by the Oregon Public Health Division in 2008 found that 36.2% of respondents had at least heard of the choking game, 30.4% had heard of someone participating in it, and 5.7% had actually tried it. And that was in 2008—social media is even more prevalent now.

The survey also found that kids were more likely to participate in the challenge if they had mental health risk factors or engaged in substance abuse.

Children who tend to engage in attention-seeking behavior may also be more at risk for trying the challenge, Gallagher says.

Given that the Blackout Challenge—and other dangerous challenges—have been circulating on social media, it's important to know how often your child uses social media and what they're using it for, clinical psychologist Thea Gallagher, PsyD, an assistant professor at NYU Langone Health and co-host of the mental health-focused Mind in View podcast, tells Health. "You should try to be apprised of what the recent challenges are," she says. "Then, talk to your child about it."

In this case, she recommends asking your child if they've heard of the Blackout Challenge and then talking about why it's dangerous. "Focus on education," Gallagher says. Be honest, too, about what you're seeing and your own concerns. "In this case, talk to them about problems cutting off your airways and lack of oxygen, and what that can do to a child," Gallagher says.

The CDC lists the following as physical signs your child may be trying the Blackout Challenge or similar fainting challenges:

  • bloodshot eyes
  • marks on their neck
  • severe headaches
  • being disoriented after they spend time alone
  • having ropes, scarves, and belts tied to bedroom furniture or doorknobs or found knotted on the floor
  • having the unexplained presence of things like dog leashes, choke collars, and bungee cords

If your child is younger, Gallagher recommends monitoring what your child is doing on social media and asking questions. And if you feel that your child is using social media inappropriately or if you have concerns about their use, Gallagher points out that you can limit their use or stop it altogether.

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