My 13-year-old son doesn’t want to wear a helmet when cycling. What can I do?
You are not alone. A Statistics Canada 2009 report found that only about one-third of the 11 million Canadians interviewed who cycle admit to wearing a helmet. Youth aged 12 -19 and young adults 20-34 had the lowest helmet wear. Statistics also indicate that girls wear bicycle helmets more than boys.
Maybe your son would benefit from hearing the story of two children treated for head injuries after a bicycle incident. Their stories are altered slightly to protect their identities.
Daniel was riding his bike on the city roads with friends when he went through a stop sign and was hit by a car. He was thrown more than 10 feet and landed on his head. When the paramedics reached Daniel, they noticed his helmet still on the handlebars. His life was saved by the quick and skilled work of the paramedics getting him to the children’s emergency room. Daniel required immediate neurosurgery to remove a bone in his head to stabilize the pressure in his brain. He stayed in the pediatric critical care unit for two weeks, then two months in hospital for rehabilitation to help him re-learn to talk, walk, do school work and play again. Six months later Daniel came home to his family. He now walks with a walker, and needs a wheelchair to go to the mall or on family outings. He speaks with a slight slur. He requires help getting dressed and using the washroom. Although he was an ‘A’ student and a rep hockey player, he’s no longer able to participate in sports and requires major help at school.
In contrast, there is Megan, who was wearing a helmet riding her bike when she was knocked over by a car as she was riding across an intersection. She, too, lost consciousness, but came to at the scene even before coming to the emergency room. She was admitted to hospital overnight to observe her neurological status which appeared quite stable but with signs of a mild concussion. She went home within two days. Six months later she is symptom-free, back at school and back to playing sports. Megan shows people her life-saving souvenir helmet, which is cracked and destroyed. But her brain is OK.
Our brain is like mass of gelatin: very soft, mobile and very easily damaged. It’s protected by a hard skull but that is not enough. Bike accidents usually involve speed and force when a cyclist collides with a car or falls to the road. This force can seriously damage a brain. Wearing a helmet puts another layer of protection, resulting in much less and often no injury to the brain even though the helmet is often destroyed.
It is important to keep children aware of the need to wear a helmet, the law (wearing a helmet is mandatory until age 18), and the consequences of not doing so. These tips may help.
- Ensure children wear a helmet every time they ride
- Get the right kind of helmet. Choose a bicycle helmet for cycling, in-line skating and scootering. Skateboarders need a special skateboarding helmet that covers more of the back of their head.
- Ensure the helmet fits your child. The helmet should rest two finger widths above the eyebrow. The side and chin straps should be snug.
- People of all ages should wear a helmet when they ride. Remember: You are your child’s best role model.
- Children under 10 should not ride on the road. They do not have the physical and thinking skills to handle themselves safely in traffic. Children over 10 need to practice before they can ride on the road.
For more information, go to www.mcmasterchildrenshospital.ca
House Calls is written for the Hamilton Spectator weekly by experts at Hamilton Health Sciences. Carol DeMatteo is co-ordinator of the Pediatric Acquired Brian Injury Follow-up Clinic at McMaster Children’s Hospital and an investigator at CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research.