‘As if somebody is holding a gun’: What parents need to know about the viral ‘Blackout Challenge’

AURORA, Colo. — A 12-year-old Colorado boy is hospitalized in critical condition after participating in a viral social media game, known as the “Blackout Challenge.”

For the past week, Joshua Haileyesus has remained unresponsive at Children’s Hospital Colorado after attempting the trend he discovered on TikTok, while he and his twin brother were home alone, KMGH reported.

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The game, which has circulated widely on social media apps for several years, encourages those participating to choke themselves until they lose consciousness and often goes by other names, including the “Passout Challenge,” “The Game of Choking,” “The Fainting Game” and even “Speed Dreaming.”

According to KMGH, the particular variety Joshua Haileyesus attempted involved using household items, and his brother did not find him until he had been unconscious for several minutes.

“I want others to see what I’m going through, learn for their children,” Haileyesus Zeryihun, Joshua’s father, told the TV station, calling his son “very, very much a fighter.”

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According to Italian wire service ANSA, a 10-year-old girl in Palermo died in January after tying a belt around her neck while participating in the challenge, arrived at an area hospital in cardiac arrest and never recovered. Her parents authorized the donation of her organs after she was declared brain dead, and medical experts have warned that the risks associated with the self-asphyxiation challenges include fainting, seizures, brain damage and death.

Joshua Haileyesus’ parents told KMGH that he frequently uses social media with positive effects, including expanding his passions for cooking, guitar and acting. They cautioned other parents, however, to take this and similar online challenges as seriously as they would lethal weapons.

“It’s not a joke at all. And you can treat it as if somebody is holding a gun. This is how dangerous this is,” Haileyesus Zeryihun said.

In the wake of the Italian girl’s death, TikTok blocked access to children under 13 in that country, vowed to assess artificial intelligence systems abilities to verify users’ ages and launched an awareness-raising campaign targeting parents and children, ANSA reported.