Autoerotic Asphyxiation May Threaten More Kids Than Previously Thought

"I think that the practice may have dropped off ... in light of this," he said. "I don't think people would be as inclined to be a participant when they are thinking, 'Wow, I could probably kill myself here.'"

Warning Signs of AEA and the 'Choking Game'

Even though the exact numbers of children and teens who participate in AEA is unknown, Cowell and Levine agreed that parents would be wise to be on the lookout for evidence of the potentially deadly practice in their own children.

"Clues that a child might be engaging in autoerotic behavior include bruises or marks in the neck region, attempts to cover up the neck in a secretive manner, [and] marks on the wrists or ankles suggestive of bondage," Levine said.

Another clue for parents may be the mention of a closely related practice known by some children and teens as the "choking game," an activity usually performed with a friend that also involves cutting off oxygen to the brain in order to induce euphoria.

"Choking behaviors can lead on to more well-developed forms of AEA," Cowell said.

According to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 82 children and adolescents died from the choking game between 1995 and 2007. Most of these children who died were 11 to 16.

However, Cowell said that many parents may not report their children's behaviors to pediatricians "because of denial and disbelief."

"Who would suspect that a 14- or 15-year-old, or even a 10-year-old, would be engaging in behavior such as this?" he said.

For parents who suspect that their child may be engaged in such risky behaviors, Cowell noted that the best course of action is to seek professional help.

"If there is any indication whatsoever that your son or daughter is involved in this behavior, what is not useful is berating, condemning or confronting that child," he said. "I would prefer to see them talk privately with the child's pediatrician or physician. If the physician says, 'What are you talking about?' they need to find someone in psychiatry or pediatrics ... someone certified in adolescent medicine, because they should know about this."

Levine agreed that parents would be wise to seek professional help, but only after attempting to delictely address the issue with their child.

"If you are a parent who is concerned their child may be engaging in AEA, talk to your child," she said. "If your child is uncomfortable talking to you about it, find an adult the child relates to who can explain the dangers of the behavior. Seek advice from professionals. It is important to intervene before it is too late."

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