By Hansa Bhargava, MD
You may have heard a lot about concussions lately in the news or even through your kids’ school. And as a parent, you may be wondering: If my kid hits his or her head in a game, is it a big deal?
As a pediatrician, I can tell you: Yes, it really is a big deal. A concussion is a brain injury that can stop the normal function of a child’s brain for a short while, sometimes even permanently. No one knows how many concussions will cause permanent damage, but here’s a very concerning issue: Getting on the field again before the brain is ready can not only lead to another concussion, but can even be fatal.
As a mom of 8-year-old twins who play sports, I’m concerned about safety on the playing field. And I know I’m not the only one – teachers, coaches and even President Obama have expressed concern. In his remarks at the Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit this week, the president noted it’s not just youth football players who suffer concussions. “Every season, you’ve got boys and girls who are getting concussions in lacrosse and soccer and wrestling and ice hockey, as well as football,” he said.
The Obama administration has committed to increase public awareness through a CDC campaign called “Heads Up.” The campaign aims to educate parents, athletes, coaches, and school staff about preventing, recognizing, and responding to concussions.
So, does concern about concussions mean you should pull your kids from sports altogether? I say absolutely not. Participation in sports not only fosters good physical health, but good emotional health, too. Being on a sports team can enrich your child with good friendships, teamwork skills, and deeper self-esteem. But I do think that as parents, we need to take an active role in ensuring our kids’ safety and, especially, preventing the possible long-lasting effects of concussions. Here are a few actions you can take as a parent:
1. Be your child’s advocate on the field. Make sure you talk to the coaches about protocols when a kid hits his or her head. Is there a sideline assessment? When does the child get put back in the game? When does he or she get pulled out? Are the coaches trained in sideline assessments?
2. Be an advocate at school. Talk to your child’s school about school sports and even gym class. Are they aware of the impact of concussions? What do they do if a kid hits his or her head in basketball?
3. Be vigilant. Your kids should absolutely play sports, but make sure they wear helmets when appropriate. And if they do hit their head, make sure they are properly evaluated. If concussion symptoms are not immediately present, call your doctor for guidance on what to watch for. If your child does have symptoms – such as loss of consciousness, headaches, vomiting, nausea, dizziness, and vision problems — see your doctor right away.
We want our kids to continue participating in the sports they enjoy. As parents, we need to be educated and prepared so that we can be strong guardians of their health when they’re on the field.