'Fainting Game' Death
Alarms Elite Schools
LONDON - A thrill-seeking "fainting game'' that killed a boy at Britain's elite Eton College has set worried school authorities on a search into how widespread the practice is and why privileged youth needs the buzz of dicing with death.
Masters at Eton, where the two sons of Prince Charles are pupils, said they were amazed by the revelations at an inquest into why 15-year-old Nicholas Taylor hanged himself in his room with a dressing gown rope in February.
The coroner echoed the teachers' disbelief as he listened to fellow students telling how they would half-strangle each other to induce a high.
An Eton pupil told the court how two boys would tie a cord round the neck of a third pupil. When the boy being "fainted'' stopped tapping his thigh the others would release him. When others lost interest in the game, Taylor tried it alone.
"Why? What words spring to mind? Crazy, mad, stupid? What on earth were they thinking of?'' coroner Robert Wilson said in announcing a verdict of death by misadventure Tuesday.
Psychologists said that in the eyes of many boys, the so-called fainting game would be a way of proving they could outwit teachers.
"You probably would have been regarded as a wimp or an outsider if you didn't take part,'' said a spokeswoman for the British Association for Counseling (BAC).
"The boys are really very determined to outwit the masters and create secrets for themselves - you have scored one up on the adults in the game of life,'' said the spokeswoman.
"It's an example of the inclination of young boys to experiment,'' Stuart Westley, master of Haileybury, a boarding school in southern England, told Reuters.
Schoolmasters in the cloistered world of elite boarding schools, which traditionally group hundreds of boys in dormitories in historic country houses, say it is impossible to keep a 24-hour watch on their charges.
"All schools would be caring and vigilant, but as the coroner said at the inquest, teachers can't observe students every minute of the day,'' said Tony Beadles, headmaster at Epsom College, another private boarding school.
Eton said only eight to 10 boys were involved in the fainting game and it went on for only two or three weeks before falling out of favor.
But Taylor's tragic death sent a scare through other elite schools and many planned to advise parents of the case and carry out investigations to ensure it was not happening in their institutions.
The schools are already under the microscope because of a recent study which found that almost half of their pupils had tried drugs by the age of 16.
The results, drawn from a survey carried out by the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, an independent group representing fee-paying schools, showed drugs came second only to family break-ups as the cause of pupil problems.
The fainting game tragedy was seized on by Britain's tabloid press which loves to portray an image of bizarre goings on at schools like Eton, where students wear stiff white collars and black gowns to lessons and parents pay about 15,000 pounds ($24,420) a year.
But Gladeana McMahon, a psychotherapist who has worked with teenagers, said Taylor's death could have happened anywhere.
"This could have happened at a children's home. This time it just happened at Eton.''