Family Therapist Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil on How New Football Rules May be Detrimental to Children

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Helmet covers are being required for students who play football in some schools as a way to help protect them from concussions, which can have detrimental impacts later in life (USA Today, Family therapist Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil says football - or any team sport - can be an important part of growing up, so it's imperative to make football safer instead of getting rid of it, but she agrees with experts who question whether helmet covers are the way to go.

Experts cited in USA Today ( are concerned that helmet covers for student football players - designed to make the sport safer and avoid concussion - may have the opposite affect. Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil also expresses concern that the increased surface area of the helmet may lend itself to more collisions, instead of fewer. A neurosurgeon interviewed in USA Today worries that any additional material outside the helmet will cause greater friction when two heads hit, which would mean more impact to the spine. Dr. Bonnie is worried, "this could result in further injury which is the opposite of what the regulations are trying to encourage - and counterintuitive to making the sport safer for our children," she says.
A previous article in USA Today addresses issues of concussions and safety, citing feedback from former NFL quarterback Kurt Wartner who says he'd prefer if his school-age sons didn't play football. And the father of Superbowl winner Tom Brady says he's not sure what he'd do if his son were just starting out (; if he were making the decision now he says he'd rather his son start later in his teen years than as young as elementary school.

Fortunately, Dr. Bonnie sees things heading in the right direction. "The NFL does it again," she says, "by providing warnings and preventions about how frequently hits should occur to prevent concussions - both with its own players and as a guideline for younger athletes." Brain studies of deceased NFL players who suffered from depression and dementia have found a condition known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which may further illuminate the connection between the physical trauma of football and later emotional problems. Additionally, former NFL players continue to sue the League over concussions. With the death of players like Junior Seau - whose suicide may have been connected to depression he faced as a result of concussions he suffered during his time with the NFL - the League is turning something negative into something positive.

The NFL has always been focused toward kids and families, observes Dr. Bonnie, who speaks to her experience at the Superbowl each year where "there are monitors, experiences, and activities geared toward children and their parents." The NFL is aware that young kids engaging in a contact sport can be dangerous, and since the season for youth football is here, the League is taking a firm stand about safety and hoping parents take note. Dr. Bonnie recognizes that parents face a big dilemma when it comes to letting their children play.

"A child's brain isn't fully formed, even as a teenager," explains Dr. Bonnie, "which explains why they sometimes make poor choices. So how will playing in high school, college, or even youth football leagues affect brain development?" Concussions when brains aren't fully developed are particularly dangerous. A study done by Virginia Tech and Wake Forest found that "although youth league players have fewer and lower-magnitude head impacts than high school and college players, high-magnitude hits do occur, and most happen in practice," according to the study. New types of equipment are emerging to better protect players and to provide data on the number and types of hits they sustain.

The NFL has limited the number of hits allowed in practice, and hopefully schools and community leagues will follow suit. Dr. Bonnie advocates that football remain a part of the American fabric, but that the issues which come along with it are addressed. "The answer is not to get rid of football, but to change it to make it safer. Don't take it away from young kids - it teaches them how to get along, how to follow rules, to be consistent and how to healthily sublimate aggression and not act it out in a sadistic way." In a world where bullying has become such a prominent issue, it's very important for kids to learn how to deal with their anger and aggression in the correct way, says Dr. Bonnie. This is even a lesson being learned in the NFL, with the recent scandal concerning players who were getting paid to hurt opposing players and take them out of the game. "The important lesson for our kids," points out Dr. Bonnie, "is that it's not ok to bully - and football can help them release some of the emotions that might other wise lead to bullying experiences." In the same way as going for a run or working out can help sublimate anger, football can as well.

Dr. Bonnie says the game can be made safer and still be a great way to have family and friends get together. It gets men and boys - who are often quiet - to open up. That's something worth saving, she says!

To see Dr. Bonnie talking more about dealing with emotions in a healthy way, click here: For more on the connection between finances and relationships, check out her book Financial Infidelity.

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