It is no secret that football is a dangerous sport. Repetitive hits to the head by kids running full speed. CRACK! If you have a child who plays football, you’ve heard the sound. While football helmets are better than ever, the demands being put on kids to hit hard are also greater than ever. The truth is, the helmets are not fully protective. Evidence highlighted in research and published in an article in TIME magazine last year shows that repetitive blows to the head are very strongly linked to brain damage later in life.

If you ever played a team sport as a kid, you know how much it stunk to sit on the sideline. When you finally did get on the field, you’d play as hard as you could to stay there. Playing hard in football means not only using all your might to plow through or over other players, it also means saying you are ok when you feel a little dizzy, light headed or fuzzy in the head. Football has the highest number of brain injuries of any sport. With over 3 million kids and 1.5 high school students playing football it is suspected that there could be hundreds of thousands of concussions each year, many of them unreported. If your child plays football through high school, their futures may be seriously compromised.

Protein tau is an indicator that lies on a damaged brain that is a hallmark sign of a debilitating disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. Unfortunately, protein tau is only visible during an autopsy. There are not tests for CTE while a person is alive. Many football players and former players show signs of sudden memory loss, depression, paranoia that is often associated with CTE, otherwise known as punch drunk syndrome. This condition most commonly presents itself in middle age but it’s beginnings seem to start during childhood football collisions.

It is important to remember that dangerous head trauma often only occurs inside the skull. A child can receive a major trauma to the brain with no visible damage to the outside of the head. They may or may not feel bad immediately and may not be able to accurately convey to a coach or parent what they are feeling and how serious it is. They may also choose to down play the severity of the injury because they don’t want to be pulled from the game or be seen as a whimp by their peers. Football injuries should not be diagnosed, qualified or quantified by a child who wants to stay in the game. Adults need take charge.

As a parent, what do you do with a child who is playing or wants to play football? The first thing is to recognize that football is very dangerous and that ignoring the dangers won’t make it any safer. Make certain that you are willing to live with your child’s potential injury. Head injuries are just one category of a multitude of injuries possible. Your child must know, understand and practice the safest techniques of tackling and taking a hit. If your child’s coach cannot provide adequate safety information to your youngster, do not let them play.

We all want what is best for our children and safety is generally first. While sports are important opportunities for growth and development on many levels, allowing your child to be exposed to potential brain damage is nearly as negligent if not more than letting them sniff glue. There are other, equally educational and rewarding sports. Your child’s favorite past time as they age won’t be of much value if they can’t even remember it.

If your child has suffered a football related injury or if you are suspicious of repetitive head injuries, take him or her to the doctor as soon as possible. Head injuries may be very serious and require evaluation by a medical professional immediately.