Turning our Tragedy into Action to Combat Viral and Deadly Online Challenges


Erik Robinson April 1, 2010

Arguably the deadliest and most viral of all online challenges are pass out activities, commonly known in the media as “The Choking Game” or "Blackout Challenge" which have been around for centuries.  Unlike auto-erotic asphyxiation  (AeA), teens and tweens have been experimenting with this for non-sexual reasons (curiosity, peer pressure, the mistaken belief that it is safer than drugs, etc.) because they are unaware of the dangers.

This generations-old issue continues to experience resurgence as a result of TikTok, YouTube and other social media, making the internet a cyber-playground.  Kids learn this deadly activity from other kids all across the world and believe other kids when they say it is harmless.  Kids lack effective education to combat what they see on the web and across social media platforms, making them think that these challenges are innocent fun, putting them all at risk for injury and death.

These challenges differ from other risky activities is that they:

  • are not illegal and has no deterrent of legal consequence;
  • do not require acquisition of a product;
  • can be “played” alone; and
  • interrupts basic brain function, therefore it is impossible to know when brain damage or death will occur.

Equal-Opportunity Dangers:  Challenges know no racial, cultural, religious or socio-economic boundaries ...

While studies estimate 6 – 16% of teens have participated in pass-out challenges, anecdotal reports indicate the numbers to be much higher.  News articles regularly articles cite these particular challenges as one of the top dangerous behaviors that need to be on parents’ radar.

Statistically it has been considered an aberration because the numbers of deaths and injuries attributed to this challenge appear small, hence unimportant.  But statistics do not tell the story.  There are no public health databases to monitor these activities.  In addition, there is no standardized way for law enforcement and medical examiners to determine cause of death.  As a result, most deaths from these challenges are misclassified as suicides.  And challenge-related injuries are rarely reported with the correct attribution.  Even when a correct determination is made, many families bear their grief in silence because of shock and shame, “How could my child have done something so stupid?  What was s/he thinking?”

Erik Robinson is one such victim of this deadly Online Challenge ...

My son Erik died April 21, 2010 from what was then commonly called the Choking Game.  He was a normal, healthy 6th grader at Lincoln Middle School in Santa Monica, California - an "A" student, avid athlete and boy scout and fully engaged in life. His dream was to go to West Point, enter the military and then law enforcement. He was the opposite of a youth "at risk".  Credible evidence indicates that Erik's first exposure to this challenge was during school the day before he tried it at home and died.

At first we said that Erik died from a tragic accident until one schoolmate came forward and corroborated what the police maintained.  A reporter wanted to write a story that Erik was cyber-bullied into suicide which was totally false.  I was so incensed that I decided to go public with the truth.

Thus began the journey called Erik’s Cause ...

We believe that knowledge is power and that prevention education is the most effective way to combat the rampant popularity of these challenges.  With the valuable input of many professionals, parents and kids, we have created an exceptional non-graphic skill-based training module that addresses the dangers (as well as risk activities in general) in a way that does not make kids curious to try it while building character skills to help kids say “no” to risk-taking behavior in general.  The training is standardized and can be easily replicated by any teacher or presenter.  We also offer education for parents which helps them talk with their children about this activity as well as other sensitive topics.  

With the 2021 Congressional Hearings and Whistleblower Testimony we learned even more ...

Prior to the 2021 Congressional hearings and whistleblower testimony, we thought that a child needed to know a "name" of a challenge, type it in and click on the actual video.  But as a result of the hearings and testimony we learned that Apps and platforms use algorithms to specifically target our youth with challenges and encourage them to try them without any care or understanding of whether or not they are safe.

For example, TikTok has a "For You" section that recommends videos that the App thinks the user might like.  Frequently these challenges are in this "For You" section.  The Apps don't simply don't care about safety.  They only want "clicks" and "likes," and to keep the user online for as long as possible to make bigger profits from advertisers.  

Decades ago, talk of substance abuse prevention in schools was unthinkable.  Bullying was a taboo subject until it gained national attention.  We believe the time has come to bring these challenges out of the shadows and into public awareness so our children can be saved from this epidemic and families can be spared the grief of losing a child to this preventable activity.

Erik's dream was to be a soldier - he wanted to save lives.  My mission is to honor his legacy by saving the lives of other kids and sparing families from this type of blindsiding loss. Please share your story with us, tell a friend, share with others, join our cause and save kids' lives.

Thank you, Judy Rogg (Erik's mom)

Click below to support KOSA (Kids Online Safety Act):

Click below to view part of our training module


Click below to access interactive victim map
Victim Map

Debunking the myth about educating kids
The Erik's Cause training program does NOT make kids curious to play!  

click below to view data



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Showing 44 reactions

commented 2015-03-02 07:47:25 -0800 · Flag
commented 2015-02-18 18:57:23 -0800 · Flag
We just lost our 12 year old, and it was immediately obvious that he was trying the choking game. We had talked to him about it, months ago, when it was in the news. We didn’t know it was on his radar and we certainly didn’t think he’d try it. His father, grandmother and little brother were right in the next room. We think he probably thought he’d try this to find out what the fuss was about and then go have his after school snack and some TV before homework, and maybe, we don’t really know, but maybe, in his mind, he might have thought this might give him a little prestige amongst his peers. He was only 12 and very happy. He had been diagnosed with Aspergers when he was younger, but had asked us not to keep talking about it, because, he said, he was over it. We haven’t thought for even a minute that this was suicide. My husband, Simon’s dad fround him and immediately recognized it as the choking game. His knees were near the floor and he was just leaning forward. This was just a kid who tried to do something incredibly stupid. We will never forget Simon, nor will we stop talking about him. We view his death as a horrible, stupid accident. Even though we had casually discussed this with him months ago, it didn’t sink in. It isn’t enough to tell parents about this or kids. You have to scare the crap out of your kids about this!
commented 2014-11-12 20:04:48 -0800 · Flag
Hello Judy. Sue McNamara Barber here. I turned on my computer tonight and saw your beautiful face on my ISP home page. I am truly sorry to hear about your losing Erik in such a tragic way. He looks like he was a wonderful boy. I am so proud of you for the actions you have taken over these past five years to help other families to avoid this loss in the wake of your loss. Love you, Sue
commented 2014-11-12 18:51:13 -0800 · Flag
I’m in tears from this video! I have a 12 year old son and I am going to close my computer and go talk to him about this right now! Your loss is not in vain, I will do my part to spread the word! Thank you for sharing with other parents and kids to prevent the loss of more! Bless you!!
followed this page 2014-11-12 14:44:52 -0800
posted about this on Facebook 2014-11-12 13:20:35 -0800
This is an important cause!!
commented 2014-11-12 13:16:33 -0800 · Flag
I remember playing this game as a kid at slumber parties. I had no idea it was so dangerous. I just had a great conversations with my two sons about it. Thank you.
commented 2014-11-12 13:11:53 -0800 · Flag
I lost my son to this a year ago. I miss him every day.
commented 2014-10-22 13:25:51 -0700 · Flag
Hi, I’m from Brazil .. lots of good information ! Sorry for ur lost. thank you for what you’ve been doing .
followed this page 2014-01-23 07:48:33 -0800
commented 2014-01-12 05:18:24 -0800 · Flag
Thanks for this valuable information, Judy. It is much appreciated.
commented 2013-11-06 18:48:15 -0800 · Flag
TY :)
commented 2013-10-03 06:34:38 -0700 · Flag
Judy this is a great website, lots of great information, thank you for all you do
commented 2013-07-11 17:28:51 -0700 · Flag
Your site looks great… lots of information. A great page honouring your son Judy. Praying many lives will be touched and saved through this site.
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Erik's Cause
Saving lives with a non-graphic, skills-based approach to stop the spread of viral & deadly online challenges

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