Kitchener-Waterloo

After 'tap-out game' leads to hospital visit and charges, expert urges parents to discuss risk of online trend

A Kitchener youth faces two assault charges after a student was allegedly choked until they passed out and hit their head. Police say the students were playing the "tap-out game," in which a person chokes the other until they "tap out." How should parents react?

Game involves choking a person until they 'tap out,' police say

The Waterloo Regional Police Service says a person has been charged under the Youth Criminal Justice Act after the "tap-out game" caused a classmate to pass out and hit their head. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

A young student in Kitchener faces charges in what's believed to be the first instance of the "tap-out game" leading to a criminal investigation in Waterloo region, police say.

It's the type of trend or challenge that's become "recurrent" in the online space, a local social media expert says, that involves teens videoing themselves in some type of physical peril.

And while young people have always taken risks to impress their peers, Aimee Morrison says the presence of online platforms tends to quickly ratchet up the level of danger — and that parents should teach their kids to think critically about what they see online. 

"Since so many people are online doing these challenges, the content has to be more extreme to rise to the level where it gets attention," said Morrison, an English professor who specializes in digital media at the University of Waterloo.

Police say the tap-out game involves a person being choked until they can't breathe or feel they're in danger. At that point, they're supposed to "tap out" to alert the other person to stop.

In this case, police say two students were playing the game in a Kitchener public school classroom when one student passed out and hit their head.

'Obviously concerning'

That student was taken to Grand River Hospital and has since been released.

The other is now facing two assault charges.

"This obviously is very concerning for us to hear that this is happening," said regional police spokesperson Cherri Greeno.

"Not only could it result in criminal charges, but it can result in serious physical injuries to anyone who is taking part in it, and this could include death."

The Waterloo Region District School Board said staff at Chicopee Hills Public School were also "very concerned" and immediately called 911.

"We have also ensured that our student support staff is at school to work with any students who are experiencing trauma or difficulties," said the email from Eusis Dougan-McKenzie.

Greeno hopes parents and caregivers talk to kids about the risks of mimicking a social media game.

"Whether they see it on social media or whatever, certainly does not mean that it's safe or that it's fun," she said.

Advice for parents

University of Waterloo professor Aimée Morrison says teens have always taken risks to impress one another, but that social media encourages them to do more and more dangerous things to set themselves apart. (Submitted by Aimée Morrison)

Still, Morrison says warning kids about the possible worst-case scenario might not be the best approach.   

"They stop listening," said Morrison. "Because they're like, 'Well, that would never happen to me or I know how to control myself a little bit better.'"

Instead, Morrison suggested talking to kids about how to think critically about what they see online — and what might be left out of the 30-second video.

"You didn't see the property damage or, you know, you didn't see that this kid had to miss a week of school because they got concussed," she said. 

Morrison also recommends talking to kids about which risks are worth taking, which ones aren't, and setting limits on what they're allowed to do both online and in-person.

Responsibility

As for the responsibility of the platforms themselves, Morrison noted platforms like TikTok already prohibit videos that show self-harm or illegal or dangerous behaviour.

The problem is, by the time companies become aware of these trends and start cracking down on them, they've already become passé.

"The harm has mostly been done," she said

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