Children's Head Trauma
anonymous Asks ...
My 8 year old son really wants to join the football team this year. I am concerned about the risk of traumatic head injuries. But on the other hand I am not sure if kids that are 8 and 9 years old can really hit hard enough to do any real damage to risk head injury. Hockey to me seems much more dangerous, just because of the higher speeds and risk of head and ice contact. Do you think a child at 8 years of age has to worry about traumatic brain injury from football, or is this just something that you start seeing as the players get bigger and faster and stronger?
Rob Danzman Says ...
Your question is part of a increasing wave of concern among parents, pediatricians and mental health professionals due, in large part, to the significant issues raised by current and retired NFL players who have seen weird, atypical emotional and behavioral acting out. While it's typically very difficult to determine cause-and-effect, there is mounting evidence that head trauma, even slight and seemingly mild, can have long lasting effects that are not immediately noticeable. Many high schools and pro teams now have strict protocols regarding any player that suffers a concussion, heat exhaustion or head trauma. Interestingly, having your brain heat up to 104 degrees or higher can cause major problems and death.
Normally, I would refer you to a physician but in this case, I'm more interested in how you make your decision. Let's compare your options: 1) Allow your son to play football and risk head trauma or 2) Disallow your son to play football and guarantee he has no head trauma (from football, at least). Basically, does your family value your son playing football enough to risk short or long term medical/mental health issues? Does your family value a more conservative approach with less risk? This is an important way to reframe your question.
Some of the issues we've seen correlated (...can't really prove that it was head trauma) with a possible head injury include poor executive functioning (front brain stuff). Behaviorally, this looks like poor impulse control, acting-out, and general ADHD-looking symptoms. We've also seen clients that had what's called chemical TBI (traumatic brain injury) caused by overdosing on drugs.
Essentially, the brain is amazingly resilient and, paradoxically, very sensitive sometimes. Because of that, I refer back to our little conversation about your values. Life is full of risks and rewards. Identifying and using your family's values as a compass heading to make decisions will serve you best when you have a tough decision to make.