Mother aims for awareness of dangerous youth trend

Jeff Francis
Posted 2/19/09

Mary Janssen and her husband went out for lunch, just the two of them, a rarity with their hectic schedules. When they arrived home, they couldn’t …

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Mother aims for awareness of dangerous youth trend


Mary Janssen and her husband went out for lunch, just the two of them, a rarity with their hectic schedules.

When they arrived home, they couldn’t find their youngest of three boys, 12-year-old Adam. After a panicked search of their property, Adam’s father Glenn found his son’s lifeless body in a makeshift treehouse on the property. Glenn and Mary tried CPR, but it was too late. They already knew they’d lost Adam.

The circumstances of Adam’s death on Sept. 22, 2005, initially appearing as a suicide, didn’t add up for Mary. As the actual nature of her son’s passing became apparent in the subsequent days and weeks, Mary uncovered a dangerous trend apparently popular to some students, particularly boys her son’s age.

Adam was found leaning over into a belt attached to a wall. His mother said nothing about her son’s behavior would suggest a suicide, but she did comb his room and belongings for any kind of note. She found nothing.

The next day, in speaking to the principal at Adam’s school, he asked her if Adam died from “the choking game.”

“I’d never heard of this thing,” Mary said. “He (principal) said it was something that they’d heard about over the summer where kids were choking themselves with belts and ropes. Kids who went to the school told me that the older kids would teach the younger kids how to do it. All this stuff started coming out.”

Mary went back and forth for months: Did Adam commit suicide? She didn’t want to be in denial. However, the more information that emerged indicated Adam experimented with the choking game and possibly became addicted to it.

Known by many different names, the choking game involves kids — mostly early teen-aged boys — intentionally cutting off their airflow, presumably to create a pleasurable sensation. Predictably, serious injury can result from the lack of oxygen or falling violently upon losing consciousness. The most extreme cases can result in death.

“I started thinking that if he’s done it, there must be many kids doing it,” Mary said. “Almost everybody I’ve talked to knows somebody who’s died from this.”

Mary launched a public awareness campaign. She didn’t want Adam’s story to be the sole focus of her campaign; she wanted parents to learn about the possibility of their children engaging in the choking game. She wanted the kids to know that the “game” is dangerous and sometimes deadly.

Mary said she has tried to get schools to talk about the dangers of these activities, but usually encounters resistance in the form of educators who worry talking about the game will increase the likelihood of children doing it.

“If it comes up in a school, we send information home,” said Lynn Setzer, spokeswoman for Jefferson County R-1 School District. “I’m not sure that we do anything on a districtwide basis, but our counselors would definitely be available to come into a school and talk about it, if the school wanted that.”

Mary said she acknowledges that, in dealing with teens, telling them something’s forbidden can make it more alluring. However, she thinks the benefits of awareness are high, and that it’s better to do something than do nothing.

“Kids will try things anyway, whether you tell them no or not,” she said. “You can at least tell them that bad things can happen, warn them, and hopefully some common sense will come forward. If you do nothing, they’re still going to hear about it from their friends.”

Warning signs of the choking game

• Marks or bruises on the throat

• Frequent, severe headaches and red eyes

• Locked bedroom doors

• Disorientation after spending time alone

• Belts, ropes and shoelaces tied in strange knots or found in unusual locations

Need To Know

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