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Choking game: Sun Prairie mother raising alarm about dangerous online trend

Michelle Servi lost her 16-year-old son Jack in 2016 after an attempt at the choking game went badly wrong.
Published: Aug. 21, 2021 at 11:05 PM CDT
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SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. (WMTV) - A dangerous trend among teens known as the choking game or the Blackout Challenge on TikTok is leading to serious consequences. One Sun Prairie mother is sharing her family’s story to raise awareness of the risks, hoping to spare parents and children from tragedy.

“He was 6′5″, beautiful blue eyes, beautiful smile,” said Michelle Servi of her son Jack.

In 2016, Servi lost Jack to the choking game, an online trend where teens strangle themselves to experience a feeling of euphoria, similar to the high from drugs. Servi said from what she learned, it typically starts with friends, but teens eventually start doing it alone at home with household objects like neckties.

“He put this belt on to choke,” Servi described. “Then it didn’t release.”

Since Jack’s death, Servi started working with Education for Educators (Ed4Ed), an organization trying to raise awareness among parents and teachers about these trends.

“Our goal overall is to save these kids,” said Ed4Ed outreach director Ken Tork.

In 2009, Tork lost his own son Kevin to the choking game. Like Servi, he had not really heard of the trend, but after his son’s death, he started to see it spread on social media.

“That’s the part that really scared me is because how it’s being promoted amongst the Internet and amongst these kids,” he described.

Servi also pointed to social media and platforms like Snapchat and YouTube as driving the trend. She said if she could go back in time, she would not have let her son use those apps.

“There’s too many things on there that are not monitored,” she said.

Through his own research, Tork realized his son had shown some of the common symptoms associated with the choking game, including bloodshot eyes, marks on the neck and disorientation.

“He would come out of his room kind of wobbly and I actually even asked him, ‘Are you doing drugs Kevin?’” Tork remembered.

Servi said she had the same reaction after seeing these signs in Jack. She thought he might be smoking marijuana, but after going to doctors and his school, no one could tell her what was wrong.

“The teachers and the counselors and the doctors didn’t, nobody knew the symptoms,” she explained.

Now, Servi is working to teach other parents and teachers about these warning signs, hoping to catch them in others before it is too late.

“If I had known all of the symptoms, at least we could have tried to get my son help,” she explained, adding, “I miss him every day, and I just don’t want to see kids die.”

Ed4Ed’s work goes beyond the choking game; the organization also addresses other trends on social media like the Tide Pods or cinnamon challenge. Tork said he wants to encourage parents to start doing more research on their own and talking about these issues with their kids.

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