Teens (Not) Wearing Helmets

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Do any teens wear bike helmets?

Nov 2008

I have a daughter who's a sophomore at Berkeley High who would very much like to ride her bike to school. I'd like her to, too, but she refuses to wear a helmet and I refuse to let her ride a bike without one. Frankly, looking around at the teenagers I see riding in Berkeley, I can see why she would feel it wasn't necessary, or at the very least, uncool. Adults wear them (my husband and I always do) and kids under the age of about 12 do. In the 13 to 18 age range, I think it's pretty rare. None of my daughter's friends wear helmets. I'm not willing to bend on this. Berkeley is actually a pretty dangerous town to ride a bike in. I gave my older daughter, who's now in college, the same restriction, and with a little initial grumbling, she went for it. She rode her bike to BHS, with helmet, for three years. Now I realize, though, that she was also one of those kids who didn't care if people thought she was a little dorky. Apparently, that's what it takes, which is pretty frustrating. I'd be interested in hearing from other parents about this. I know for a fact that lots of parents must just be giving in to the no helmet trend, because I'm seeing lots of evidence of that. What can we do? Riding a bike w/o a helmet if you're under 18 is actually against the law, but I know that's not being enforced. At this point, it doesn't seem like my daughter will be riding a bike again until she's either out of the house or has miraculously developed some common sense about this, whichever comes first. Mom of a bus rider

I have this same struggle with my Middle School skateboarder. He lost skateboard priviledges for long periods of time last year. Now, he is the only one in his age group who wears his helmet, and I do spot checks. I think if enough parents call the BPD and ask them to issue warnings or make kids get off their bikes/skateboards/scooters if found without a helmet, lots more kids would wear them. I'm going to call right now. Maybe we could get a petition going, meet with someone at City Hall. This is a safety, traffic and energy conservation issue. Contact me if you want to do something. Deborah

Tell your daughter about my story - I wish I had had a bike helmet when I was 14. I was rushing to get to band practice and trying to get through a yellow light. A driver about to cross the intersection was jumping the light and he hit me. I went up on his hood and shattered his windshield with my head. I suffered a compound facture on my lower leg, lacerations to my face, ear, and arms, and a head injury. My leg healed after months being in a cast. I missed out on the first month of High School, a time when lifetime friendships often begin. But most seriously, I still have complications from my head injury. I get dizzy spells, which sometimes keep me away from activities, and I am at risk of developing epilepsy. My accident happened 1974, in a small town in Central California, before they had bike helmets and giant SUVs. I am always amazed when I see people riding without helmets, especially in this area where it seems that half the drivers are too selfish to drive carefully and the other half are too distracted by stress. If I see a child I know without a helmet, I speak up about it. Please enforce the helmet law with your children. It is a law for a very good reason. ALWAYS SAFETY FIRST

Mine do. I have 2 kids at College Prep, they ride their bikes 6 miles to school every day from N Berkeley and they wear their bike helmets. Both seem to get it that it's really stupid not to wear a helmet on the bike. Both have friends (including friends at BHS) who have had accidents. They are well known enough that I have been contacted when another parent thought they saw one of my kids riding without a helmet. TG, it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. Don't let her ride without a helmet. Maybe the solution is a cooler, more fashionable helmet? my kids bike to school

I hate to be pessimistic, but I think there's not much to do when a teenager's fear of looking dorky combines with the typical teen's deep-seated feeling of invulnerability. Many riders (not all of them teenagers) see the need for a helmet only after they've slammed their heads into the pavement once or twice. All I can recommend is standing firm. John

To the mom whose daughter won't wear a helmet, If your daughter thinks wearing a helmet is uncool, ask her how cool it would be to spend the rest of her life wearing diapers in a wheelchair. It's such a gross image, maybe she'll reconsider her options. Jamie

My 9th grader (boy) and all of his friends, as far as I can see, wear helmets. It wouldn't occur to him not to wear one. It's not an option. He was trained at the King Middle School bike club. BHS Mom

Why no helmets at Berkeley Skate Park?

July 2008

OK, parents, please let me hear it from you! I understand that both Berkeley & state law require helmets at the Berkeley Skate Park. Why is it that I never see them? How safe do you think it is, for your child, to skate sans helmet? If you do have your teen wear one, how do you ''enforce'' it? My middle schooler has started to hang out there some, and just as I would require a helmet bicycling, I expected that to be the case at the skating park. But when we went, I can actually say I had to agree: ''But MOM, NO-ONE wears one!'' What's that about? And, to those who do have them, where did you get a ''teen- suitable'' one? All advice, recommendations, help, even if it turns out I should ''relax'', I'd love to hear. Thanks so much. Helmet at the Skate Park?

My son used to go to the park a lot, and, yes, we argued a lot about helmets. But the deal was if he went, he had to wear the helmet, despite the fact most others don't wear it. That his father also insisted (we are divorced) was key. My son would have to reminded constantly (likewise with bicycling.) But I know the helmet saved my son from two serious concussions at the park - once when an inline skater ran into him. His elbow cracked -- no pads -- but his head was ok. I wish more parents would insist, especially for the little kids. There are 'cool'(er) helmets, e.g. Pro-tec brand.

FYI my son happens to be banned from skating at the moment b/c he was somewhere he wasn't supposed to be -- the skating spot across from Berkeley High -- and wasn't wearing a helmet and just happened to break his foot skating on a friend's board.

With my son's injuries and the on-going helmet debate, I did some research on skateboard injuries and talked with a friend at National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health at the CDC. Surprisingly, the studies are few and are out of date. They often mix data with in-line skating and other activities. What I learned is that fractured extremities are most common, and deaths are actually not that common. Deaths usually involve skitching or colliding with a car. What hasn't been documented is the affect of repeated concussions over time in skateboarders. The general studies on concussions, especially the evidence from football, would indicate that a lot of non-helmeted skateboarders will suffer from cumulative brain injuries due to repeated 'minor' concussions. This is a very serious outcome, but it is hard to convince teenagers of the danger of it now. Yet, if you hang out at the skate park at all, you are bound to hear the awful sound of head hitting concrete. It's not pleasant. Maybe there should be a graphic board on the brain and concussions at the skate park.

FYI - This site has data on reported injuries: xapps.cpsc.gov/NEISSQuery/ . You can call up data on specific activities, kinds of injuries and time periods. martha

Hi - I'm a mom of a middle school age skateboarder and also a practicing physician in the Berkeley area. The one hard and fast rule we have regarding skateboarding is that my son is required to wear his helmet. This is especially true for the skatepark because of the risk of head injury while ''droppoing in'' on the ramps. We enforce the rule in our family by repetition, and letting him know that we'll take away the skateboards for periods of time, or eventually permanently if he doesn't comply. His helmets are the BMX style helmets and can be purchased at most bike or sporting goods stores. I ''drop-by'' to the skatepark occasionally (and my son knows it) to check on him and verify that he is wearing his helmet. It's true that many kids do not wear helmets, especially the older kids and adults. It means I'm not the coolest mom around. It is also the law, and occasionally the Berkeley police give out tickets to kids who are not wearing safety equipment at the skatepark.

The most important reason, of course, is to protect your child from serious head injuries. I've spent too many hours in emergency rooms and rehab centers with patients with severe life-long disabilities from head injuries. It can happen more easily than you might think from falling off a bike or a skateboard. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends helmets with scooters, bikes, skateboards because of the risk of head injury. Good Luck! Deborah

As a previous poster stated...it's a law, I believe a federal law that states...paraphrasing if I may, that any child under 18, riding equipment with WHEELS is required to wear a helmet. There is a fine, however not enough citing happens in my estimation.

The coolness factor is just not enough of a reason not to protect your most precious asset, and keep your brain rattle-free and inside your skull. brain buckets all around

First of all, I love that there is such a great skateboard park in Berkeley. Great place for kids of all ages. But absolutely they should wear a helmet. Whether you can enforce it is another question. Certainly the city of Berkeley has decided that it's can't be. I work a couple of blocks and I'd say at least once a week there's an emergency vehicle that goes to deal with someone injured there. Injuries come with the territory in skateboarding, but a head injury is too serious to let slide. Let your kid know that this is a safety issue too big to let go. Doesn't matter that none of the other kids are doing it. David

Following up on this discussion ... I see there was an article about the skateboard park's helmet laws on July 31 in the Contra Costa Times: ''City steps up efforts to get helmets on kids at skate park'' http://www.contracostatimes.com/berkeley/ci_10063058?source=rss>

In a nutshell, the article says that the Berkeley police used to hand out $100 tickets to kids without helmets, but parents complained, so the city instructed the police to stop ticketing people, saying instead that the city would have staff enforce the rule.

To quote the article: ''Parks and rec Commissioner Margie Gurdziel said the current situation is the result of a community compromise between balancing funds for staffing and not calling the police.

''We just don't have the funds to staff the park full time,'' Gurdziel said. ''It's a trade-off. I don't know if anyone would be happy if we reduced the hours and staffed it full time during the time it was open. People would be jumping the fence during the time it was closed.''

Hmm ... maybe parents of teens need to let their city council people know how they feel about this!

Middle school skateboarders refuse to wear helmets

Jan 2008

I have 2 middle-school age boys who love to skateboard but who are dead set on NOT wearing helmets. The peer pressure is overwhelming. They refuse to wear helmets at the local skate park (where there's a sign that says helmets are required, but it isn't enforced) because no one there wears one. Many kids skate to/from school every day, and none of these kids wear helmets. I am torn between completely disallowing the boys to skate w/o helmets, and just giving up the battle (which is risky, I know). I remember how relentless peer pressure was when I was growing up, and I don't want to take away one of the activities that gives them so much enjoyment. If I told them they could never skate again w/o a helmet, they would quit. We were on vacation recently in FL and took the boys to a skate park where kids were doing all sorts of tricks, and where there were kids on BMX bikes also doing tricks. Not a single kid had a helmet on! Does anyone have a similar problem, and how are you handling it? Any advice is appreciated, thanks.

You are right, the kids are wrong. Stand your ground on the helmet. Broken bones can be fixed but not a head injury. Several years ago a 15 year old boy in my neighborhood died from falling off of his skateboard. He wasn't even doing dangerous tricks, he just hit his head in the wrong place when he fell. I hate having the helmet battles with my son too, but when it comes to safety, I think it's a battle you need to pick. Of course, I suspect that when I'm not around my son hides the helmet in the bushes, but I at least feel I have to make my best effort. buzzkill mom

My sister was a physical therapist when my children were young (she has since become a physician), and she gave us chilling descriptions of life with a child who has suffered a head injury. She definitely had patients who had head injuries suffered while biking or skateboarding, and their lives and their family's lives were changed forever. Her advice was no helmet = no bike/skateboard/scooter. We had no problem enforcing this with our older two when they reached middle school years, because our community lost a well-liked teen a few years older than them when he fell from his skateboard and hit his (helmetless) head. Our youngest, now 16, is too young to remember that accident. He thinks we are too rigid on this, but he definitely wears his helmet, at least when he knows we are around to see. I found that making this rule as rigid as the seat belt rule was the only way to make it work. Queen of Mean

A response and plea for further insights. Yes to helmets. In my recent perusal of skateboarding injury research I found some studies indicating that kids are more likely to wear helmets if parents insist. Yes, it's true they often ditch them when away from parents. But I think too often parents are not insisting. My 13 year old is losing skating privileges for a year because he was skating w/o helmet and was not where he was supposed to be. How did I find out? He broke his foot skating on Friday at the plaza near BHS and called me to pick him up. A helmet wouldn't have prevented the broken foot, true. This is the second broken bone. With the first (elbow), if he hadn't been wearing a helmet, he would have certainly gotten a concussion if not worse (hit by adult inline skater at Berkeley Skate Park). Now I'm looking for some constructive consequences for his non-compliance. (The ban is his father's edict.) Any ideas? A research paper on head injuries? martha

A friend's kids were skateboarding last weekend with another helmetless child who ended up concussed after falling and hitting his head on a wall. The kids were horrified at the sight of him. That ''he was lying there not moving'' and also that ''he wasn't going very fast'' were two good reminders about why helmets are a good idea. Kids are not great at forethought, that's why they have parents. Fiona

The person who most influenced my two sons to wear their helmets skateboarding is a guy named Mike who works as a waiter at Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe in Emeryville. Mike is a cool tattooed guy in his early 20s who was once a professional skateboarder but suffered a serious head injury when he wasn't wearing a helmet. Now he needs assistance to perform basic life functions. Mike told my boys about the consequences of not wearing his helmet in a very matter of fact way, and it had more effect than any lecture or punishment that I could give them. Bring your kid to Rudy's for a burger and a chat with Mike. Helmets should not be optional, and parents need to do everything they can to enforce their use. Carrie

Helmets? Absolutely. I just spent last Friday night in the emergency room with my 18 year old son. He was terrified, as were his friends. He was very lucky. Hit the back of his head going downhill (he still doesn't recall what happened), banged his face up as well. He had a concussion and three staples in his scalp. Neither he nor his friends will go longboarding without helmets. My son realizes that he could have died. East Bay Mom