As a general pediatrician, I share common goals with parents: I want to help children safely grow and develop into happy and healthy adults. This seems to be a simple enough principle, but no one would argue that parenting is easy. Parents have to make tough decisions balancing risks and rewards, costs and benefits. Should both parents work? Which school is best for your child? When is it appropriate to give your daughter a cell phone? When and how do you discuss puberty and the many topics that will follow with your son? Fortunately, parents don’t need any flow charts, diagrams, or specialized training to make the right decisions about helmet safety:
Question: “Hey, mom, can I go for a bike ride?”
Right answer: “Yes! … If you wear your helmet.”
The rewards are obvious. Riding a bike is FUN! The wind in your face, the rush of speed accelerating down a hill, the freedom to get to a friend’s house a few blocks away. And with today’s obesity epidemic worsening by the year, our children need to get outside and keep active.
But cycling doesn’t come without risks. Children visited the emergency room after cycling accidents 3.7 million times from 2001-2013, and that does not include all the scraped knees and bandages that moms and dads the world over applied without visiting a doctor. Sadly, head injuries from cycling are common, and can be fatal. About 600-800 people die every year in the United States from cycling accidents, almost always involving head injuries. Even non-fatal head injuries can be life-changing, leaving a child facing a lifetime of disability.
If the risks are so serious, why do I still advocate for kids (and adults) riding their bike as much as possible? Because there’s a simple tool that decreases the risk of serious head injuries by as much as 80 percent: the helmet. No, helmets won’t reduce the number of scraped knees, and there will still be some broken arms and other minor injures. But while scrapes and bones will heal, the brain will not.
Helmet use varies widely by geography, and we’ve made great strides in the past 30 years. But overall, helmet use in the United States is fairly dismal, and we can improve. We must make helmet use the norm, an automatic part of our culture just like wearing a seat belt. You can make a difference today.
1) Always wear your helmet.
2) Always require your child to wear a helmet.
3) Start an early age. Do not allow a child to ever ride anything with wheels (including tricycles) without a properly fitting helmet. Evidence clearly shows children who wear helmets when young are more likely to continue the habit.
4) Make sure a helmet fits appropriately. I’m a big fan of the “2-V-1 Salute.”
5) Speak up and speak out! Tell others (children and adults) that they need to wear a helmet when you see a head without one. This is how we can change our helmet use culture. In addition, vote for local helmet use laws — they do increase helmet use and save lives.
– Dr. Soren Johnson, Pediatric Resident, Class of 2015, Wake Forest Baptist Health
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