What Lifetime’s ‘The Choking Game’ Teaches Us About Teens These Days

Keeping up with all the latest teen trends can get exhausting. Every day there’s a breaking news report about an awful new #hashtag or some creative way to get high. Between the selfies and the molly, who has the time to keep track of everything? Fortunately, there’s one network dedicated to investigating these ever-changing trends. It turns out, teens are now choking each other to get high — and Lifetime is ON IT.

Like all teen-related Lifetime movies, last night’s The Choking Game doubles as a two-hour Public Service Announcement. Our good-girl heroine Taryn (Freya Tingley, Once Upon a Time) falls in with badass new student Nina (Alexa Steele, Degrassi) who teaches her the delicate art of the choking game. Soon she’s addicted to the rush and begins fucking up her life until a third-act revelation has her back on the straight and narrow. It’s all very instructive, so in case you missed it, here’s what Lifetime taught us about Teens These Days.

The Basics of the Choking Game
It’s pretty self-explanatory: Teens choke each other — or themselves — to the point of blacking out. When a teen is rumored to be into some “crazy hardcore stuff,” it likely means that she is choking herself while in a high school bathroom stall. That’s what Nina does the first morning in her new school as a way to prepare herself for the day. Adults drink coffee; teens wrap their hands around their own necks. It’s a generational thing.

According to one scene, when you are being choked you are suddenly transported to a perfect world full of glistening snow, where the sun shines through beautiful leaves hanging off trees. When you choke yourself, you end up in a Terrence Malick movie.

The Choking Game Can Make You Popular
As with all fictional television high schools, there is a strict hierarchy. At the top is shiny-haired Courtney (it’s always a Courtney, isn’t it?) who claims that “being nice will get you a one-way ticket to GP.” GP is general population, a slang term for the lowly group of kids who are “average” or have “less than 100 followers.” Taryn is low on the totem pole because she gets good grades and her mother is on the PTA. Her friend Elena is even lower because she has blue streaks in her hair. Enter Nina, the expert choker ready to show Taryn how asphyxiation results in instant popularity. Because — surprise — popular Courtney also loves to choke herself and only warms up to Taryn when she learns they have this in common.

It’s Better Than Drugs and Booze
Nina doesn’t do drugs because “that’s for people who want to be out of control, which is the last thing that I’m into.” She barely drinks, either, partly because it seems she hates drunk girls (they’re always “stumbling and slurring and throwing their boobs around”) and claims that choking is better because “you don’t have to get an adult to buy it for you.”

High Schools Are Full of Choker-Pushers
The Choking Game issues a warning to parents: There are choker-pushers in your child’s school, mysterious new students who slink around whispering promises of gaining control, becoming popular, and kissing the cute jock — all you have to do is black out a bit. Nina is skilled at slick talk. She’s a teenage motivational speaker. “Get control of yourself, get control of your life,” she wisely informs Taryn with all the wisdom of a 18-year-old who has damaged a lot of brain cells.

When Taryn expresses safety concerns, Nina reassures her that your body will let you know when you need to breathe — “It’s medical. It’s science.” Nina would be a fantastic con artist or infomercial host if she wasn’t destined to become a Life Lesson.

taryn_theaterRunning Track Makes You a Natural at Choking Yourself
Nina claims that Taryn is a natural at being choked and even calls her a “rock star.” She thinks it must have to do with Taryn running around the track every morning.

There Are Secret Websites Dedicated to the Choking Game
Once Nina is satisfied with Taryn’s choking progress, she invites her to a few secret underground websites to chat with fellow chokers: BreathSisters.com, TheBlackOutGame.org, FlightsChat.com. One website is basically a Foursquare app but for choking; it shows you other like-minded teens who are also currently playing the choking game, their whereabouts, and their best time.

Teens Don’t Like Cupcakes
On Taryn’s 18th birthday, she finds a cupcake in her locker and (incorrectly) assumes that her mother put it there. She’s so angry about the cupcake that she gets into a screaming fight with her mom and runs off with Nina to choke herself before attending a party. “Screw my grades. Screw my mom. Screw it all,” she proclaims at one point, still thinking about the cupcake.

Boys Will Think You’re Hot After You Choke Yourself
After a quick choking session instead of calculus class, Taryn runs into her crush Ryder, who tells her that she looks great, like she amped it up a notch.

But You Will Die If You Choke Yourself
Well, OK, no one dies, but that’s because Lifetime actually showed some rare restraint. Instead, Nina is upset after a party and chokes herself, blacks out and hits her head, and is rushed to the hospital. She ends up with a badly bruised face and for some reason can only communicate in guttural sounds.

This Isn’t Just a Movie
My favorite thing about Lifetime movies, particularly ones about teens doing dangerous things, are the notes at the end. Just before the credits roll, we learn that 1,000 kids die each year from the choking game. Also, 86 percent of parents have never ever heard of it. Thank God Lifetime is around to school everyone.