For most of us, getting medical care right away for a possible brain injury, such as a concussion, is an easy decision. But teen athletes often have a tougher time identifying when they need to stop and get help. Research has shown that as many as 50% of concussions go under-reported in youth sports.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that:
- 69% of high school athletes said they had played while having concussion symptoms
- 4 in 10 of these said their coach didn’t know they had a possible concussion
These statistics are significant given the amount of children involved in organized youth sports.
Why don’t youth athletes report concussions?
- They didn’t know they had one: While headache is often an easily recognized symptom, dizziness and nausea can be overlooked or linked to something else such as dehydration.
- Fear of loss of playing time.
- Not wanting to let teammates and coaches down.
- Putting their future athletic career at risk.
Parents know their child better than anyone else and are a critical link in concussion care. Parents should be familiar with concussion symptoms and be confident to speak up when they know their child is not themselves. Too often, youth athletes return to play without a proper medical exam or clearance. Always live by the principle, when in doubt, sit them out.
Speaking a Teen Athlete’s Language
Parents also play a major role in helping change a teen’s knowledge and attitude about concussion. The CDC recommends that parents explain the risks of concussions in ways that reflects teens’ goals and values. Use these tips to help your teen make the right call:
Find the upside.
To a teen athlete, the only thing worse than missing a game is missing every game. Let them know that earlier identification and treatment can result in faster recovery. Additional blows to the head when a concussion is present delays recovery taking an athlete out of play for weeks or months.
Praise your teen for reporting an injury.
When they get positive feedback for reporting an injury, young athletes feel more comfortable about doing so.
Talking about the Big Games.
Researchers have found that young athletes are less likely to acknowledge concussion symptoms during a championship game. Encourage your child to report symptoms no matter how important the game seems.
Help establish a culture of safety.
Teen athletes are more likely to report a concussion if they feel they will not receive retribution from teammates or coaches. Coaches are often seen as role models. By fostering a positive environment around concussion reporting, kids will be more likely to speak up.
Encourage your athlete to be supportive of teammates with concussions.
When a teammate breaks a bone they are usually put in cast, making it obvious to see that an injury occurred. Athletes who have a concussion may have no apparent signs of injury, which makes it harder to recognize that they may need accommodations. By teaching your athlete to be supportive of their peers with concussion, the stigma of injury will be diminished.
How to Spot a Concussion
Sometimes concussions are easy to spot, such as a head on head collision, other times they are not as obvious. It is important for parents, coaches and teammates to all be aware of concussion symptoms.
A teen might have a concussion if he or she:
- looks dazed or stunned
- forgets an instruction or is confused about their position, game, or score
- moves clumsily
- answers questions slowly
- shows changes in mood, behavior, or personality
- can’t remember something that happened just before or after a hit or fall
These symptoms might look different depending on the child, so parents can be in the best position to notice if something seems off.
A child who shows any of these symptoms should be removed from play or practice until cleared to return to the field by a health care professional.