The games kids play.

This used to be an innocent turn of phrase, but these days the words can carry a much darker meaning. In addition to worrying about the usual pitfalls like drinking and driving or unprotected sex, parents today have to keep their eyes open for signs that their kids are taking part in some dangerous new “games” being played even by children as young as elementary school.

Choking game

An 11-year-old boy died last week after participating in a game that even younger children in our area have heard about.

The so-called choking game, also called the fainting game, involves intentionally cutting off your oxygen by strangulation or hyperventilation to reach a state of euphoria. Death can occur in as little as 90 seconds.

Garrett Pope Jr., 11, of Indian Land, South Carolina, took the “terrible ‘game’ too far,” his father, Garrett Pope Sr., said in a public messaged posted on Facebook Friday. He implored other parents to discuss the incident with their children.

“Please talk about this with your kids, and do everything you can to prevent a similar tragedy,” Pope stated, adding that his son learned about the game from friends at school, not online.

It’s called “the good-kid’s high,” and by all accounts, Garrett was a good kid – an honor student and active in community activities. His parents said in a television interview that in retrospect, there had been warning signs that he had been playing the game.

They said he would come home from his friends’ house with red marks on his neck, which he claimed he got from wrestling with them.

In the interview, the Popes said they hope that by sharing their story, other deaths might be avoided.

Garrett was found alone in his room, showing that kids are also playing the game by themselves.

His mother, Stacy (Dever) Pope, is originally from Atlantic County, and the family lived here until just a few years ago.

One local parent who knows the family said her daughter was in second grade when she came home from school a few years ago talking about the practice, and the conversation frightened her.

“I always think she is too young and innocent to know about these dangerous things,” the mother said. “It’s a real eye-opener and a good lesson in needing to talk to my kids about all kinds of things and not just hope they won’t do them just because I said so.

“They really need to know and understand the consequences and that it can happen to them. I think I need to do some Google searches on more things like this to find out what else is out there that I don’t know about … so very scary.”

The Popes are an “amazing family,” she said.

Watch the interview on Facebook on “WBTV Molly Grantham.”

Skittles parties

As if that’s not enough to worry about, there is another frightening trend making the rounds in our area, according to local parents and educators.

With a “Skittles party,” teens snag random pills from their parents’ medicine cabinets and take them to a designated party house, dump them into a big bowl and blindly grab some pills and try them.

According to the organization Narconon, the innocuous name can be misleading.

“With a deceptive name like a Skittles party, it could be discussed right in front of a parent without them realizing anything was wrong,” the organization states.

Pills brought to these parties include Xanax, Valium, Oxycotin, Ritalin, Percocet and Vicodin, all of which can lead to addiction. Often alcohol and marijuana are also present at these pill parties. When used at random and in combination with one another, these drugs can cause complex medical situations that lead the kids to the emergency room, according to Narconon.

“It is easy to understand why teens might choose to abuse prescription drugs. Their parents take them, they are given these drugs themselves, they are often available in the home or in the homes they visit,” the website states. “Abusing these drugs may seem like just a small step away from the drugs’ legitimate use.”

Actor Mark Wahlberg’s Youth Foundation produced an awareness video last year called “If Only” that spotlights these pill parties. This deeply moving short film is a must-see for parents.

It can be viewed online for free on YouTube. Search “If Only Wahl St. Productions.”

Laura Stetser is a full-time reporter and mother of two school-age children. Get more parenting news by connecting with her on social media @TheMomsBeat @LauraStetserReporter or via email at laura.stetser@catamaranmedia.com.

Staff writer Laura Stetser covers Egg Harbor Township and writes the weekly column The Mom's Beat. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @EHTCurrent, @LauraStetser and @TheMomsBeat.