The Deadly Teen Choking Game: Alyssa

A Teen in Trouble

"My daughter plays a game called ‘Space Monkey.' That sounds like a cute kid game, but it's not," says Robin. "Space Monkey is a code for a choking game."

Her 14-year-old daughter, Alyssa, goes into detail about how the popular game is played: "You get on your hands and knees and you put your head down. You breathe really hard until you get really light-headed, and then someone puts their arm around your neck and flexes until they go limp. Everything blacks out. You wake up a couple of minutes later lightheaded and tingly. You feel really peaceful and calm."

Robin thought Space Monkey was innocent until she witnessed it at Alyssa's sleepover. "The girls were laughing and giggling, I thought they were faking. I then realized that they really were passing out," she recalls. She forbade her daughter to play the choking game again. "I told here that this game is cutting off her oxygen, that she could be losing brain cells, she could even die," Robin says.

[AD]Alyssa likes the high feeling she gets from Space Monkey, and has even done it five times in a night. Although she doesn't see the danger in what she's doing, she promises to curtail playing it. "I'm not going to let myself be choked anymore. I will only be the choker," she announces. "I still get the same amount of pleasure watching other people pass out."

"What do you think about this?" Dr. Phil asks Alyssa.

She replies, "It sounds bad when you say it, but then when you're doing it, it's not as bad." She tells Dr. Phil that she doesn't do the game for the high feeling as much as for the excitement of seeing her friends' being "passed out." "They twitch or groan," she explains.

Dr. Phil explains the physical ramifications of the choking game: "Do you know that your brain at that point is essentially in seizure? That what you've done is asphyxiated your brain to the point that your brain cells are dying," he says sternly. "It's not 'could kill some brain cells,' you are killing brain cells … Probably in the millions, definitely not recoverable. And so every time that happens, there could be hemorrhage, there could be silent strokes in the temporal lobe and other areas. Even if nothing catastrophic ever happens, the damage is inalterable."

[AD]Robin is shocked. "I didn't even know that," she says. "Parents don't know that their kids are doing this."

Dr. Phil takes her to task. "But you know your kids do it," he points out. "You found out in June … And your reaction was what?"

"At first I thought they were faking," Robin explains. "I just didn't really think they were passing out."

Robin explains that once she found out Alyssa was playing Space Monkey that she put a stop to it. "You're depriving your brain of oxygen. I didn't know the whole technical term, but the result is the same,"  she says.

"Well, unless your brain's been deprived of oxygen, you should know that just telling a teenager not to do something isn't going to change it," Dr. Phil admonishes. "Did you then monitor her after that time?"

"Not as much as I should have," Robin admits. "You talk to your kids about drugs. You talk to your kids about alcohol, smoking, sex. We need to talk to our kids about this."

[AD]Addressing Alyssa, Dr. Phil says, "Do you think that I'm making too big a deal out of this? Or do you think that you just didn't know what was going on?"

"I didn't know what could happen. I didn't know what it was doing to me," she answers.

Dr. Phil plays a video of Alyssa saying that she likes being the choker in the game because, "Nothing can happen to you. But usually the person you're choking you care about, at least a little bit."

Dr. Phil is incredulous. "Do you hear any logical contradiction or inconsistency in using the phrase, ‘the person you're choking,' and ‘care about' in the same sentence?"

"I know it sounds really bad," Alyssa begins.

[AD]Dr. Phil interrupts her. ‘You say this is at least a friend, right? And you've got them down choking them, and you're not trained in martial arts. You're not trained in self-defense. You're not trained in neural-anatomy. You're not trained in respiratory aspects of functioning of the human body. So what you're doing is just kind of deciding how hard to push and not push and how long and how much. You have absolutely no basis whatsoever in knowing how to predict the consequences of what you're doing," he emphasizes.

Dr. Phil points out that Alyssa is not a bad kid; she just can't predict the consequences of her actions. He commends her for shedding light on a serious epidemic: "Your willingness to be here and talk about this openly and candidly will save lives this year," he says. "Between 400 and 500 kids a year die from this game … And that doesn't count those that just have serious injuries and have to get tracheotomies, or they have strokes, or they have memory loss, they have other neurological impairments secondary to asphyxiation."

Robin needs to acknowledge the gravity of this game and plug back in. "You want to know what you need to do to stop this? Whatever it takes … If she can go out and be with her friends and have a good time, and enjoy herself, and has the strength and ability to say ‘No,' then that's fine. She can do that. If she can't, then you take her out of the game … You do not allow your daughter to go out and jeopardize her life or someone else's, ever, never, ever."

[AD]Alyssa needs to have integrity with her mom if she continues the game and learn how to respond to peer pressure. If her friends ask why she no longer plays, she should say, "‘I could die from this. You could die from this. We will have brain damage from this,'" Dr. Phil advises. "You control your body. You need to honor that body. If somebody wants to choke you, if somebody wants to have sex with you, if somebody wants to do whatever, you need to stop and say, ‘Wait a minute, I'm the one who is going to pay the price for this.'"