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7/26/15blog post

the hidden dangers of high school athletics

Participation in high school sports results in significant risks to the mental health of our teens. Are the risks worth the benefits?

Sports are great activities for our kids. Teens acquire skills from teammates and caring coaches that they can’t get in their classrooms, or even from their parents. Kids learn about sacrifice, self-control, cooperation, and problem solving.

These benefits come with risks. “Student athletes report higher rates of sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, mood disturbances, short tempers and inability to concentrate than non-athletes” according to the July edition of the American Academy of Pediatrics News.

A disturbing special report in the June 22 Sports Illustrated magazine documented another danger of kids playing sports in high school- drug abuse. The article cited a University of Michigan study that concluded that “by the time high school athletes become seniors, approximately 11 percent will have used a narcotic pain reliever such as OxyContin or Vicodin for nonmedical purposes.”

Other research has indicated that males playing high school sports were four times as likely to abuse painkilling drugs compared to non-athletes.

These reports are disturbing. However, don’t prohibit your teen from the many benefits of playing sports. Here’s how you can minimize the risks.

  1. Take your child for a yearly physical exam. Don’t bother with the cursory so-called exam offered by many team health professionals. Take your teen to a physician who follows the guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics for student athletes. These recommendations provide guidance for teens, parents and coaches on how to identify and manage potential mental disorders in athletes. This type of exam offers the opportunity to screen for common problems and connect youngsters with mental health professionals.
  2. Be cautious of prescription pain killers. There are times when injured athletes need medication for their disabilities. All such drugs come with risks. The same pill that relieves the pain can also provide an exhilarating and addictive experience for kids. The medical community has been criticized for being too casual in failing to recognize the serious dangers of prescribing these drugs to young adults.
  3. Think long-term. Teens’ commitments to their sports teams are both laudable and dangerous. Sacrificing what best’s for you for the sake of the team is integral to all team sports.

However, that mentality is dangerous when it leads young athletes to play hurt “for the sake of the team.” What may be expected by coaches or teammates could result in life-long injuries to kids. Your teens need to be protected from themselves. Be particularly vigilant about any head injury involving your child.