Tauranga teenagers are reportedly risking their lives in a schoolyard game that has killed more than 80 children in the United States.
Known by various names, including Space Monkeys, The Choking Game and Snuff, the game has children strangling each other to the point of unconsciousness, for a brief moment of euphoria.
A Tauranga mother, who would not be named, said she was "blown away" to learn her 15-year-old son had this week let his friend strangle him until he blacked out. Making inquiries, she found out the game was well-known among teenagers and was even played during school.
When her son and his friend returned home from the park this week, she noticed her son's face was pale, and his lips were a shade of blue. He also had a vacant stare in his eyes, while his friend's eyes were bloodshot.
She asked them what they had been doing, and after some persuasion, they told her they had been playing "Space Monkeys".
"Basically they used a jersey to strangle each other until they passed out. Then their friend stands by and waits ... they can be passed out for between two to six seconds, and apparently, when they come to, they can be twitching.
"I had never heard of anything like that before and when I was told about it, I thought, 'that's the stupidest bloody thing I have ever heard of in my life'," she said.
She researched the practice on the internet and found it was a worldwide game played mostly by males between the ages of 9 and 16, to achieve an altered state of consciousness.
It gave a light-headed, buzzy feeling, similar to the feeling just before someone faints.
"To these kids, it's a bit of a high, a bit of a buzz," she said.
She wanted to raise awareness of the game among other Tauranga parents and said she hoped she had "freaked her son out enough to stop".
Her son admitted he had played Space Monkeys four times since he learnt about it through friends, a week earlier.
Doctor John Matson, of Central Med, said the game was a risky practice, with lots of potential for damage.
As well as causing brain damage and short-term memory loss by cutting off oxygen, it could cause seizures, strokes and even cardiac arrest.
The most likely damage would be to the larynx and trachea in the throat.
"If you pull hard enough, it breaks some of those things before it breaks the interior of the neck," he said.
At least 82 teenagers were reported to have died in the United States from the choking game.
Children playing the game alone had died when they passed out and the knot was not loosened.
There was the potential forthose deaths to be mistaken as suicides.
Child psychotherapist Augustina Driessen said she had heard of similarly dangerous games.
She believed tendencies towards such games came from too much television and Playstation, which slowed brain development and resulted in aggression.
"I think there is so much influence from the Playstation and television and a lot of things they see, they model," she said.
Geoff Opie, president of the Western Bay of Plenty Principals' Association and principal of Otumoetai Primary, had never heard of the game.
"If this is how some of the kids are getting their kicks, it's only going to end in tragedy," he said.