The news that a 12-year-old girl has died after attempting a TikTok challenge has sent shockwaves around the internet, leaving many parents worried about the content their children may be exposed to online. But what is this so-called “choking challenge” and what should parents know about it?
What is the choking challenge?
It should be noted that the choking challenge or any activity where you cut off the flow of oxygen in your body is extremely dangerous and should not be attempted under any circumstances, as by doing so, you risk serious injury and death.
Also known as the “Blackout Challenge,” “passout challenge” or “the fainting game”, the CDC describes this trend by saying:
“The “choking game” is defined as self-strangulation or strangulation by another person with the hands or a noose to achieve a brief euphoric state caused by cerebral hypoxia. Participants in this activity typically are youths. Serious neurologic injury or death can result if strangulation is prolonged. In recent years, news media reports have described numerous deaths among youths attributed to the choking game.”
This isn’t the first time a trend like this has existed, with the game itself pre-dating TikTok. It has been such an issue that the CDC released a study looking into the trend in 2008. In this report, the CDC noted that at least 82 young people had died due to the game at that time. The head of the study, Robin L. Toblin, said:
“Because most parents in the study had not heard of the choking game, we hope to raise awareness of the choking game among parents, health care providers, and educators, so they can recognize warning signs of the activity. This is especially important because children themselves may not appreciate the dangers of this activity.”
However, the trend has recently re-emerged on social media, claiming the lives of many young people. In November 2022, a report by Bloomberg Businessweek estimated that the game had claimed the lives of “at least 15 kids age 12 or younger in the past 18 months” and that “at least five children age 13 and 14” had also died due to it.
Other families harmed by this game have previously attempted legal action against TikTok. In late 2022, Taiwanna Anderson of Pennsylvania tried to bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the platform after her daughter died performing the challenge in 2021. However, a federal judge dismissed the charge.
The Social Media Victims Law Center, the law firm behind several of the suits, issued a complaint against the site. This complaint noted that “TikTok unquestionably knew that the deadly Blackout Challenge was spreading through their app and that their algorithm was specifically feeding the Blackout Challenge to children.” It also says that Tiktok: “knew or should have known that failing to take immediate and significant action to extinguish the spread of the deadly Blackout Challenge would result in more injuries and deaths, especially among children.”
A spokesperson for TikTok told People magazine that, “This disturbing ‘challenge,’ which people seem to learn about from sources other than TikTok, long predates our platform and has never been a TikTok trend.”
What should parents do about this?
Erik’s Cause, a non-profit that aims to “save kids’ lives and keep families from having to endure the devastation of losing a child to these preventable “pass-out” activities,” offers advice for parents who believe their child may be partaking in these dangerous games, including advice on how to talk with your child about the dangers of these activities.