Brave mother hopes story can save lives

The tragic story about a Trumbull County native who lost her 10-year-old son after he played a “choking game” should send a stark reminder to all parents about monitoring our children’s web activity.

We all know the dangers that lurk online, but this horror is not the usual story involving perverse or seedy activity involving young victims that we so often read. Rather, this sad story stemmed from a connection among children who, more than likely, thought it somehow was entertaining to choke yourself, sometimes to the point of passing out. In the case of young Tristen, the game turned deadly.

Sadly, he’s not alone.

The “choking game” has triggered other accidental deaths. The physical goal is to restrict cerebral blood flow to the point of nearly or actually passing out for a variety of reasons including curiosity, competition, dare and / or to experience an altered state. A founder of Erik’s Cause, a California-based organization that educates teachers, parents and students about the dangers of this activity, described the “choking game” as a non-autoerotic pass-out activity. It is accomplished by compression of the carotid artery using hands or a ligature, or compression to the chest after hyperventilation. Kids even sometimes challenge one another to see who can resist passing out the longest under a chokehold.

An even bigger problem, according to Erik’s Cause, is when kids try the game alone using a ligature. Because they don’t know when they’re actually going to faint, they black out and sometimes die of accidental asphyxiation. Just imagine the horror of finding your child choked, passed out, or in a worst-case scenario, dead due to strangulation because of a challenge or game they learned from their friends or from the internet.

Tristen’s mother, Heather (Walker) Burgess, who grew up in Cortland which is about 20 miles north of Youngstown, came forward recently to discuss her son’s April 23, 2019, death by asphyxiation. Tristen died inside their Summit County home. Burgess shared the story with Metro Editor Tom Wills of the Tribune Chronicle for publication because she felt it was of critical importance to warn parents about the game. That newspaper is an Ogden sister newspaper of Columbiana County’s Salem News, Morning Journal and The Review.

Burgess’ unimaginable task of relaying this extremely personal story to the media was incredibly brave.

Let us not let Burgess’ bravery nor Tristen’s death be in vain.

While we as parents often face pushback from our children who are searching for independence and privacy, we also must closely safeguard their actions and activities. Please parents, monitor your children’s online activity. It can even be done via online software and parental control apps designed for this intended purpose. Limit the amount of time children spend unsupervised.

Know well your children’s friends and keep in touch with those friends’ parents. When your child goes to a friend’s house, know where he or she will be, whether the parents are home and what they will be doing.

Ask questions and stay interested in their activities.

Undoubtedly, the death of any child is a tragedy that simply cannot always be prevented. But if we can take steps to monitor and better guard the safety of our children, we must find ways to do it.


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