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What the helmet?


Ask the Experts


May 26, 2011
Q. How can I get my child to wear protective head gear when riding his bike without a fight?

A. The next time your child or teen complains about wearing a helmet while riding a bicycle, skateboard, scooter, or rollerblading, think twice about giving in. Now that spring and summer are nearly upon us, youngsters are getting out and becoming active. About 70 percent of children in the United States ride bicycles, with only about 41 percent wearing helmets. Wearing a helmet can reduce the risk of a head injury by as much as 85 percent.

Children and adolescents are especially vulnerable to long-term consequences of concussion and mild traumatic brain injury due to the continuing development of their brain. While most concussions and mild traumatic brain injury symptoms abate without problems in a few weeks or months, a small minority experience continued problems which affect learning.

Moderate and severe traumatic brain injuries can result in more significant, life-long disabilities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Injury Prevention Center recommends wearing a helmet and making sure your children wear helmets when:

* Riding a bike, motorcycle, snowmobile, scooter or all-terrain vehicle;

* Playing a contact sport, such as football, ice hockey or boxing;

* Using in-line skates or riding a skateboard;

* Batting and running bases in baseball or softball;

* Riding a horse; or

* Skiing or snowboarding.

Additional recommendations from the National SafeKids Campaign for bicycle safety:

* Make sure your child has the right size helmet and he wears it every time when riding, skating or scooting.

* Inspect bicycles, scooters and skateboards to ensure reflectors are secure, brakes work properly, gears shift smoothly and tires are tightly secured and properly inflated.

* Actively supervise children.

* Avoid riding bikes, skateboards or scooters in and around cars.

* Practice bike safety: learn the rules of the road, wear reflective clothes and stickers and ride on sidewalks when possible.

* Maintain equipment properly.

And don't forget the most influential method of prevention — role modeling. Of those children who reported always wearing a helmet while bicycling, their parents were more likely to:

* Believe helmet use to be important;

* Wear helmets themselves; and

* Talked to their children about wearing helmets.

Research comparing states with and without mandatory helmet laws indicates jurisdictions with bicycle helmet laws have significantly lower rates of brain injury related to bicycling.

Though there is no mandatory helmet law in Michigan for cyclists, there is nothing to prevent parents from making helmet use "the law" in their house. Next time your child or teen takes to the wheels (bicycle, skateboard, etc.); make sure they wear the helmet.

For more resources on helmet and bicycle safety and proper helmet use, contact National SafeKids Campaign, National Highway Safety Traffic Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Injury Prevention Center and Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute.

Janet S. Reed is a pediatric neuropsychologist and clinical child psychologist with more than 20 years experience. She is a senior staff neuropsychologist at Henry Ford Behavioral Health Division of Neuropsychology and director of clinical programs in the multidisciplinary Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities. Reed can be reached at (313) 876-2526.

The Family Center, a 501 (c) (3), non-profit organization, serves as the community's hub for information, resources and referral for families and professionals.  

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