BERNARDS - A district student's death was the result of the "choking game" Superintendent of Schools Nick Markarian told parents in a letter earlier this week.
Also known as "space monkey," the "fainting game" and "flatliner," the activity involves children - either alone or with others - strangling themselves with the intent of getting a "rush of euphoria" as they regain consciousness, Markarian wrote.
The district has not named the student who died.
"It is important to emphasize that research shows children who experiment with the 'choking game' alone often tragically die after the first or second time," Markarian wrote. "Many of our children have easy access to videos via YouTube depicting others participating in this activity."
Those between the ages of 9 and 16 are most likely to experiment with these types of activities, Markarian said.
"The early-adolescent brain does not process information in the same manner as an adult brain, and so children in this age group are not able to fully understand the serious consequences that might result," he wrote, recommending parents talk with their children about these activities and check the search history on their children's phones, tablets and computers.
"Clues to look for in your home include knots in neckties, belts, ropes, or plastic bags left in bedrooms or other private locations," Markarian wrote.
Warning signs include bloodshot eyes, broken-blood vessels on the face and eyelids, mood swings, signs of disorientation after being alone, frequent and sometimes severe headaches, and bruises or marks around the neck, he said.
Three students who attended the middle and high school in the township's district have died since March of last year. The most recent died in February. NJ Advance Media is not identifying the students.
Markarian said Thursday the safety and well-being of students is the district's highest priority.
"We wanted to educate parents and alert them to this potential threat," Markarian said, adding "one of our best responses to any tragic loss is to try and educate wherever appropriate."
He said the response from the community to the decision to send the letter has been favorable.
"Going forward, district professionals are evaluating options for how best to educate students about this and other dangerous risk taking behaviors," Markarian said. "The conversations have already begun with colleagues and professionals in the field and will continue through our summer curriculum writing sessions."
The district invited George Scott, statewide resource coordinator for the Traumatic Loss Coalition, to speak on how those grieving over the suicide or sudden death of another can recover. He was scheduled to speak Wednesday evening at Ridge High School. The district has also launched a crisis prevention page on its website.
Princeton Public Schools is working to address the activity after becoming aware of it in February, centraljersey.com reported. According to the report, parents overheard students at John Witherspoon Middle School talking about the "game" and a member of the municipal Board of Health said she was told seventh-grade boys were taking part in the activity and posting photos on Instagram.
Games Adolescents Shouldn't Play reports there have been 45 suicides and 10 accidental deaths in New Jersey related to the "choking game." Its data came from the Office of Chief Coroner for the United States. The site lists those identified as victims of the activity, including 12 from New Jersey, some as young as 7.
The federal Centers for Disease Control in 2008 reported the "chocking game" was responsible for 82 deaths between 1995 and 2007. It did not have statistics from 2008 to this year.