Now that your son is allowed back in school and has the opportunity to play with his friends, the chance of head injuries will increase. It won’t surprise you that most children who are diagnosed with concussions are male, and those with serious concussions are overwhelmingly male.  However, recent data indicates that those who sustain concussions during sports activities are more likely to be female and girls are more likely to suffer symptoms longer than boys do. Admittedly, the fact that girls get more sports concussions than do boys is due in part because more girls are now engaging in sports and that is a good thing. So, do girls really get more concussions and suffer longer? Or could the problem be that boys are reluctant to admit to minor head injuries? 

When talking about this issue to those who teach and coach at boys’ schools, it’s generally understood that boys get many more minor head injuries than are reported to those in charge. I’ve had a student ask – well, actually plead – with me not to make him go to the infirmary as a result of slipping on a wet hallway floor and hitting his head.  His point was that if he had to report to the nurse for a suspected head injury, he wouldn’t be allowed to practice with his team for three days, and he was trying to convince the coach to let him start in the next game. If he didn’t get to practice, the coach would certainly pick someone else to start in his position. 

My position was that even if he had a minor head ding, he would be subject to some sort of effects which almost certainly would adversely affect his schoolwork.  It was plain from his reaction that his schoolwork meant less to him than did his playing sports. This brief report on the results of a study of the effects of even minor head injuries on young people will astound you.

The point here is that many of the symptoms don’t seem necessarily to be connected to head injuries.  My student’s insistence that I not report his head injury may well be part of the irritation and depression that many children suffer. The day after the student’s slip, I asked him whether he still had a headache. The wording here is important – if I had asked him if he had a headache, he likely would have said that his head never hurt. However, by assuming his head still hurt, he was much more likely to be honest with me.  He agreed it still hurt a little, “nothing to be concerned about,” and I promptly sent him to see the nurse.  Yes, he had a minor concussion, and the nurse told his coach who benched him for three days. 

The student was mad at me, but we discussed what repetitive concussion damage could do, especially if he didn’t rest sufficiently between events.  At the time, the term CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) was not known, but today we would have a discussion about why repetitive concussions, even if mild, are so dangerous.

The problem is that boys are reluctant to admit to head injuries. They can be proud of stitches and casts as they are a visible badge of honor, but head injuries are subtle and unseen.  Make sure that your son knows about the long-term effects of concussions and be extremely diligent about making sure that if he is diagnosed with a TBI (traumatic brain injury) that he fulfills all of his quiet time to the letter.  Watch out for some of the symptoms mentioned in the article especially minor headaches, light sensitivity, and changes in mood.  Because of the light sensitivity, it would be best if your son did not spend a great deal of time on the computer or other electronic devices.  The light emitted by such sources can be especially irritating to someone with the effects of TBI. 

You will note that the referenced article mentions that the subtle changes can last for months after a head injury, so make sure that your son knows this as well and don’t be surprised if you do see such effects.  Don’t expect them, of course, but don’t ignore the possibilities.