Q: Our son wants to try out for the football team this year, but I'm concerned. He's only a freshman, and we have friends whose sons have sustained fairly serious injuries playing high school football. Should we forbid him from trying out?
Jim: There's no denying football is a rough sport. I should know -- my own high school football career ended with a broken collarbone!
And there's a significant amount of research suggesting that broken bones are just the tip of the iceberg. According to a 2010 New York Times article, football accounts for 22 percent of all concussions among 8- to 19-year-olds. In fact, 27 percent of football players ages 12 through 17 have had a least one concussion.
And the sport only gets more brutal when you move to the college and professional levels. Researchers have identified a serious condition in some NFL players called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E. It can develop after repeated concussions and other trauma, resulting in serious depression and lack of impulse control. This condition may affect college-level players, too.
Despite these alarming facts, I think it could be a mistake to prohibit your son from trying out for the team. Football is a great sport that teaches kids teamwork and helps them get in shape. At this point, the dangers of college and pro football are not a factor regarding your son, and probably never will be.
However, the "win at all costs" mentality that pervades professional sports can trickle down to the high school level as well. You -- and your son -- simply need to be aware of the risks involved. Most injuries will have no long-term impact, so long as they're allowed to heal properly. Talk to the coach, and make sure he doesn't push his players back out on the field too soon after being hurt. Playing while injured isn't just tough -- it's stupid.
Q: I have a 15-year-old daughter who's very artistic and melodramatic. Lately, she's started acting odd -- dressing in black, staying in her room a lot and avoiding the family. Is this normal teenage behavior, or should I be concerned?
Juli: Yes, it's normal teenage behavior, and yes, you should be concerned. The adolescent years often include the behaviors your daughter is exhibiting: mood swings, withdrawal and going through "fads" with music and clothing. Just because these behaviors are normal doesn't mean they shouldn't cause concern.
Teenagers lack both life experience and the ability to think through consequences of their choices. This leaves them vulnerable to high-risk behaviors, including drug and alcohol use, sexual activity and self-injury.
Parents of teens should be especially attentive when they notice drastic changes in behavior. For example, a straight-A student begins neglecting his schoolwork or a social teen suddenly doesn't want to talk to her friends.
While your daughter is pulling away from you, your strategy should be to "lean into" her. It's critical that you work at connecting with her, even if she seems to resist. Find ways to spend time with her, such as running errands or going to the mall. Ask open-ended questions about school, her friends and the music she likes. Is there anything going on in her life -- family conflict, a breakup, or even problems with a bully -- that may be causing her pain above and beyond the normal adolescent experience?
You mentioned that she's artistic. Perhaps her drawings, poetry or other forms of expression can be a window into what she's feeling. While a certain amount of moodiness is normal in teens, if you see consistent themes of despair or thoughts of self-injury or suicide, it's time to contact someone who specializes in teen issues to help your daughter weather the storm.
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