The Muscogee County School District has issued a warning about a dangerous game students play that can cause injury or death.
At least six students reportedly have taken turns playing the "Knockout Challenge," when a person takes multiple quick breaths until feeling dizzy. Then another person presses the participant's chest for several seconds until the participant passes out. The game also is called the "Passout Challenge."
Valerie Fuller, the district's communications director, sent an automated phone message and email blast to parents late Friday afternoon to notify them of the disturbing fad. The email quoted Dr. Joseph Zanga, chief of pediatrics at Columbus Regional Health, as saying, "A student who does this risks his or her health and could die from the challenge or the fall."
Fuller said in the email, "Please monitor your child's conversations, Internet and social media access on personal cellphones and computers as they often learn these dangerous practices online, from older siblings or friends. Talk to your child about the serious danger and the real health and safety consequences. Report concerns to school administrators, the school counselor or your family doctor immediately. Encourage students to report any potential health or safety risk behavior to school administrators as the health and safety of every child is priority for all."
The students who were involved in the incidents are in middle school, grades 6-8, Fuller told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email Monday.
"This game was reportedly played during school," she said. "Talk of it was overheard and reported to school administrators. Students were questioned and reportedly admitted to participating in the game at some point during the school year. We have no reports of injury."
In an interview Monday with the Ledger-Enquirer, Zanga said he hasn't seen any reports related to the game at Columbus Regional's locations, but he has seen an increase in the number of children with bumps on the head coming into the pediatric emergency room, which opened three months ago.
"I'm beginning to wonder if we need to be very pointed and ask if they did this while playing that game," he said.
Zanga urges parents to discuss this issue with their children.
"Parents need to talk to their children about risky behaviors," he said.
He acknowledged it's a tricky balance between giving children a helpful warning and giving them a dangerous idea. So he suggested, especially for younger children, to instruct them to say no to people who ask them to do "things that just don't sound quite right."
If parents want to be more specific, Zanga added, they can say, "There are games and challenges that young people your age are involved in. Parents then should not be surprised when they say, 'Oh, you mean the Knockout Challenge?"