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Helmet Safety: Skip the School of Hard Knocks

Life comes with guaranteed bumps and bruises. Some you can’t avoid; some help you learn and grow — and there are some hard knocks from which you can and should protect yourself and your children. Knocks to the noggin top that list.

The best way to protect your child from a head injury is to avoid the incident in the first place. But for all the unplanned, unpredictable and unavoidable collisions, the next best thing you can do is make sure your child is wearing a helmet — and that you wear one, too.

Bike riding is a prime example of when to wear a helmet. Children between ages five and 14 have the highest injury rate of all bike riders, and bike accidents are a leading cause of death for children. Most of those deaths are the result of head trauma.

But this isn’t just about biking. Anytime your children are moving at a speed that is faster than a fast jog, they should be wearing a helmet. In addition to sports such as football, baseball and hockey, that includes when your child is participating in any of these activities:

  • Biking
  • Horseback riding
  • Riding a scooter
  • Skating (of any kind)
  • Skateboarding
  • Snowmobiling
  • Skiing
  • Sledding

There is no helmet that can prevent all injuries, but a helmet can mean the difference between a nasty bump and a concussion — or between a concussion and a serious brain or head injury. Here’s how to make sure you and your loved ones get the most out of your helmet:

CHOOSE it. A helmet should always be appropriate for the activity at hand, and for the age of the wearer. The CDC offers great fact sheets for every type of helmet, including sports helmets. One thing the CDC may not note: When you can, choose a helmet with a color or design that your children like — that will make them much more likely to wear it.

If you are considering a used or discounted helmet, be sure that it meets the standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission or the Snell Memorial Foundation.

FIT it. A poorly fitted helmet does a poor job of protecting the head under it. Take some time trying on helmets before you buy, so that you identify the right size and fit. When buying a helmet for your child, choose one that fits your child now, not one to grow into. As children outgrow their current one, parents should purchase a new one.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, here are some attributes of a well-fitting helmet:

  • Snug – not sliding from side to side or front to back, and not too tight.
  • Level – sitting square on top of the head, covering the top of the forehead, and not wobbling in any direction.
  • Stable – securely fastened at the chinstrap.

Not sure if you’ve got the right fit? Ask for help at the store, or check the manufacturer’s information.

WEAR it. The safest helmet you can buy won’t protect you if you don’t wear it (with the chin strap buckled). Insist that your children wear a helmet every time they ride, slide, ski or glide. And since your kids will look to you for behavior cues, you should wear a helmet, too. Every single time.

REPLACE it. A helmet with regular wear and tear will need to be replaced every three to five years. Replace a chinstrap any time any part of the buckle breaks. If a bike helmet has been involved in a serious accident, you will most likely need to replace it immediately. There are some multiple-impact helmets out there that can be re-used after a crash if no part of the helmet shell, liner or strap is damaged. If in doubt, you should check with the manufacturer — or better yet, just get a new helmet with no crash baggage.

SKIP it. When you think too much about the dangers out there, the urge to wrap your child in layers of industrial-thickness bubble wrap can be strong. Don’t go overboard! Sometimes a helmet is not OK, such as when playing on a playground or climbing a tree. Also, a child under one year of age shouldn’t wear a helmet — and therefore should not ride with you on your bike or any other ride for which you wear a helmet.

ENJOY it. Being outdoors is good for you and your child — body, mind and heart. It’s a balm for life’s bumps and bruises — especially the not-so-visible ones. As the pandemic has encouraged us to spend more time outside for recreation, many families are discovering how much fun it can be to play in the great outdoors. Once you’ve got the helmet, get out there and use it.

WakeMed serves as the lead agency for Safe Kids Wake County, a nonprofit child safety advocacy group dedicated to preventing or reducing the severity of unintentional injury to children under 14 years old. They offer an array of online resources for a wide variety of injury prevention.

While you are never planning for a trauma, the WakeMed Children’s trauma team is always planning and ready. As Wake County’s only Level 1 trauma center, we provide pediatric trauma patients with not only the best emergency care but also excellence in ongoing care at WakeMed Children’s Hospital. We bring together experienced physicians, nurses, pharmacists and rehabilitation experts who are all dedicated to providing the best care available to patients under age 18.



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Helmet Safety