Coping with Head Injuries and Your Teenager
Anne, the mother of 14-year-old Davey, had a dilemma.
It started when Davey recently suffered his third concussion while skateboarding. It only took a quick trip to an ER to confirm that he had experienced a concussion. However, since Davey seemed all right, Anne was getting pressure to allow her son to resume his normal activities. She felt like everyone was giving her similar advice. Even Davey’s pediatrician said to her that “Davey needs to be in school.”
But Anne wasn’t convinced. While even her husband and her mother sided with the pediatrician, Anne, a psychologist specializing in work with children and adults with traumatic brain injuries, was aware of what the research told her. For instance, she knew that new research is suggesting that younger brains are more vulnerable to insult and injury than are adult brains.
And she was aware that although there is increasing concern in the National Hockey League, the National Football League, and Major League Baseball about concussions sustained by professional athletes, children’s brains are still developing and are even more susceptible to the effects of a concussion than professional players. Furthermore, she knew of studies that showed that children can face up to a 70 percent reduction in brain functioning after a traumatic brain injury.
Anne told her husband, who thought that Davey should just carry on with his usual life, that NHL star Sidney Crosby had a concussion in January, 2011, and by late March was still not playing.
“Everyone was telling me to do something that I just wasn’t comfortable doing,” Anne said. “What I had to realize was that despite rising concerns about concussions in sports, most people outside of professional sports were not aware of the research and what should be expected when a teenager has a concussion.”
Anne finally took the only position that made sense to her. She insisted that Davey stay home from school and be given time to recuperate. “I wanted to take the pressure off my son by not forcing him back to school and homework,” Anne remarked. “He needed to rest before resuming his normal, active life style.”
She also became an advocate and an educator with the people she came in contact with. This included her family, the school, and even her pediatrician. “I began to tell people about the research and the results of studies about brain injuries in children and teens,” Anne said. “I wanted them all to be better educated about the potential hazards of concussions.” However, she found that most people thought that if kids looked physically fit, then the best thing was to push them back into their school routine and their active life.
But, Anne faced another dilemma as Davey recovered. Davey had set a goal of becoming a professional skateboarder. While she never really embraced skateboarding, she realized he was a talented skateboarder who perhaps had a future in the sport – at least before his third concussion. “I was convinced that he should never skateboard again,” Anne said. “Even though he always wore protective equipment, including a helmet, it was evident that if he continued skateboarding he would have more concussions.”
She knew she couldn’t just tell him to stop doing a sport he loved. Middle teenagers, like Davey, have a strong oppositional streak and when told not to do something they enjoy are likely to defy their parents. She knew she needed to educate her son about his brain and the potential consequences of repeated brain injuries just like she was trying to educate adults. Davey, she knew, would have to make his own decisions but he needed to have enough facts and information so he could make better choices.
She tried to explain how the brain works and she emphasized that what might seem like a minor head injury to a teenager can affect attention, memory, and concentration – all brain skills that will be vital for the rest of his educational life, but also for his adult career.
While at this time it is still on on-going process for Anne and Davey, as well as for Davey’s husband and other family members, Anne is convinced that having the facts will help Davey to make an informed and rational decision.
The facts, though, are still developing as research continues. Even professional sports teams are still learning more about the dangers of head injuries. Parents and kids can constantly monitor new reports while making sure – to the best of a parent’s ability – that their teen not only is alert to concussion symptoms but takes every possible precaution to avoid new head injuries.