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Parents of boys who want to play football are well aware of the dangers. As Dr. Pietro Tonino of Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago says, “When you have two human beings collide at a high rate of speed — especially if one of them is much bigger than the other — then significant injuries are quite possible.”

But now that football practices are in full swing across the country, and as teams are prepping for the first games of the season, it’s important to be aware of the risks, not only inherent in the game itself but in attention to safety across the board.

A study published a decade ago in the journal Pediatrics found that children who play baseball are about as much at risk for injury as children who play football. But only 3% of baseball injuries were serious while nearly five times as many football injuries (14%) involved fractures, dislocations, and concussions. Yes, all sports are dangerous. But some are more dangerous than others.

The most common football injuries results in damage to knees, ankles, shoulders, and backs. Concussions, though less common, are more serious for children than they are for adult players. Not only are children more likely than adults to suffer concussions but it takes them longer to heal than it takes adults and the damage may impair brain development – development that continues through late adolescence into the early 20s.

Tonino advises parents to pay close attention to practices as well as to what goes on in games. Tonino’s study published in Physician and Sports Medicine reported that high school football games typically have inadequate medical staffing. Only 10% of Chicago high school games have a physician on the sidelines and only 8.5% had even an athletic trainer, though 89% had a paramedic available (usually in a parked ambulance). But even though supervision at games was lacking, supervision at practices was even less. Tonino found that no school had a physician or paramedic present during practices and only one had an athletic trainer.

Parents who do let their children play football should watch for these things, at practices as well as at games:

Tonino says, “I don’t believe it is worth the risk. So I advise parents to try to steer their children to alternative sports. We are just beginning to understand the long-term consequences of injuries sustained at young ages.”

If you decide to let your child play, play it smart. Don’t jeopardize his health, his future and maybe even his life by keeping quiet when you should speak up.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.