Use your head, wear a helmet!

Shannon Linden

It’s that time of the year, when the bittersweet bite of fall signals the end of summer and the start of a new school year. And back to school means all kinds of kids, walking, scooting and, of course, riding their bicycles, safely making their way along our city streets.

At least that’s the idea — to get there safely — but on a recent commute through several school zones, I noticed something disturbing: most kids were wearing helmets, a concerning number of adults were not.

Never mind it is the law in British Columbia, it’s our responsibility as grown-ups to ensure we set an example for youth. One of my personal pet peeves is spotting a helmetless parent riding alongside their helmeted kids. You don’t need a knock on the noggin to get the message: once you’re an adult, you don’t need to wear one of those hard-shelled contraptions to protect your brain.

That’s irresponsible. Helmets save heads. According to BrainTrust Canada, a non-profit organization with a mission to bring brain injuries to the forefront, wearing a helmet while riding a bicycle can reduce the risk of brain injury by up to 85%.

My neighbor is mom to two active elementary-aged kids, and as her son zoomed by me on his bike the other day, Evil Knievel-ing over a jump he’d set up near their driveway, I noted his super cool, flashy helmet. From the time he was a toddler, riding a tiny bike balanced on teeny training wheels, I’ve never seen him without his trusty head protection. And that, experts say, should be the rule for every one of us: no helmet, no ride.

If my neighbor thinks her son is a daredevil now, wait until he’s 16. That’s when he’s most at risk. According to BrainTrust, 30% of traumatic brain injuries are sustained by children and youth, often during sports or recreational activity, and most of those traumatic brain injuries occur in young men between the ages of 16 and 24. In fact, brain injury is the greatest killer and cause of disability under the age of 35.

Our brains control everything from walking and talking to breathing, to our personalities and how we make decisions. As the epicenter of the body, it behooves us to protect our brains and one of the easiest ways to do so, is to wear a helmet for sports that involve speed or hard surfaces.

Helmets work by absorbing the energy of an impact so that less force is transferred to the head. A helmet, especially a brightly coloured one, also makes a cyclist more visible on the road. To offer sufficient protection, a helmet needs to fit properly. According to bodyandhealthcanada.com, it should touch all parts of the head, but not be too snug. It shouldn’t shift around more than an inch in any direction and should be impossible to pull off when the chin strap is done up.

Approved helmets will bear the Canadian Standards Association sticker or CSA, assurance they’ve been put to the safety test. The specialized foam lining the inside of the helmet is the part that absorbs impact and it can break down over time, so check manufacturer’s recommendations for replacement. Never wear a helmet that has been in an accident because that foam is likely crushed and thus compromised.

BrainTrust works tirelessly in our community to help prevent brain injury, with a number of programs and services aimed at youth. SKULLWISE is a tool kit for middle school students and teachers. The P.A.R.T.Y Program (Prevent Alcohol and Risk-related Trauma in Youth) aims to educate high school students about the dangers of drinking and driving as well as distracted driving. Students visit trauma rooms and the morgue at Kelowna General Hospital and listen to survivor stories.

Then there is the Helmet Safety Program. In partnership with Kelowna and Vernon RCMP Community Policing, BrainTrust promotes helmet compliance and encourages safety practices like walking your bike across the road. Kids earn rewards like coupons for burgers and pizzas from participating restaurants. BrainTrust even provides helmets for those under 19 who cannot afford them.

If your child, aged five to 25, has been affected by a concussion, BrainTrust now offers a Concussion Clinic. By providing families with one-on-one guidance, information, tools and reassurance post-concussion, the clinic provides specialized care that gets children and youth back to regular activities quickly and safely. Head injuries can be terrifying for families. Resource Development and Community Engagement officer, Dawn Charles, says concussion clinicians who monitor an injured child’s progress daily, significantly help to ease a family’s angst.

Our children’s safety is our top priority, so let’s set a good example and play it safe this back to school season: use your head, wear a helmet.

For more information, contact BrainTrust at braintrustcanada.com or call the Kelowna office at 250 762-3233 or the Vernon office at 250-542-3555.

Shannon Linden writes magazine and newspaper articles, kids’ books and grocery lists. See shannonlinden.ca.