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Should you let your teenager play football?

The residents of Colorado are, largely, football fans. However, the information that has emerged in recent years about the effects of football injuries on the brain seems to have dampened many people's enthusiasm for the sport.

The number of high school athletes playing football in the state these days is rather telling of the concerns. Since 2006, participation on school teams has declined by 11 percent. Parents seem to be increasingly aware that there is a real danger of trauma-related brain damage to football players, so they're simply keeping their kids out of the game.

Much of the concern has come from the professional football arena. Studies on adult professional football players have been looking at the effects of repeated head trauma, including mild concussions, over the long term. One study indicated that injuries from just one game are roughly equal to the damage done when someone hits a brick wall while driving 30 miles per hour -- over 60 times. The injuries are known to lead to a disorder known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is associated with everything from violent mood swings to dementia and early death.

In response to many recent stories of brain-damaged players, schools and parents are switching to flag football instead of the full-contact game -- or taking up alternative sports altogether. Officials at the University of Colorado are also calling for a study in the effects of the game on college players.

While football coaches and sports officials are trying to reassure parents and players alike that they're teaching new blocking styles that are safer, instituting "concussion protocols" to give injured players appropriate healing time and eliminating drills that pose a risk of brain damage, parents really do have good reason to be concerned. There really isn't enough information yet on how concussions may affect a brain that's still in development, so it may be wise not to risk it.

If you do let your child play football, be on guard against traumatic brain injuries. If your child shows any signs of injury, make sure that he or she gets immediate medical care. You may also want to determine if the school or sporting club that supervises your child's activities may be liable to pay for medical expenses.

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