When you have a child in your life that means the world to you, as I do, when I saw this story arise, made me sick, disgusted and so frustrated that any school or community program would allow their coaches and trainers to clearly assault and abuse teens on their cheer team as they did at East High School in Colorado.

As a WARNING, this video is very disturbing as you hear this teen crying out many times yelling for the coaches to stop as she cries and screams in terror and pain. It is terrible, sick and extremely disturbing. The trauma this teen and her colleagues experienced will affect them throughout their teen years and adult life. As a cognitive-neuroscientist myself, with their stage of adolescent brain development this trauma will have future consequences affecting brain development, putting them at risk of mental health issues.
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East High cheerleaders Repeatedly forced to do splits (Source: 9News Colorado)

As observed at East High School in Colorado, compare how the so called “adults” or “trainers” treated this one teen (although there are others) to the Mission Statement and Goals of the American Youth Football & Cheer (AYF), a National Service Organization for youth football and cheer. They failed in their mission and goals. This was clearly child abuse and neglect. This type of abuse will have acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) physical, emotional and psychological affects, having significant influence to their brain development and affecting them into adulthood.
Child Abuse and Neglect Defined: At the Federal level of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) defines child abuse and neglect as: “Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.” [CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-320), § 5101, Note (§ 3)]. Types of abuse include:
  • Physical abuse: Defined as “any nonaccidental physical injury to the child” and can include striking, kicking, burning, or biting the child, or any action that results in a physical impairment of the child.
  • Neglect: Defined as the failure of a parent or other person with responsibility for the child to provide needed food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision to the degree that the child’s health, safety, and well-being are threatened with harm.
  • Emotional abuse: Defined as “injury to the psychological capacity or emotional stability of the child as evidenced by an observable or substantial change in behavior, emotional response, or cognition” and injury as evidenced by “anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or aggressive behavior.”

WHAT CAN PARENTS & CAREGIVERS DO?
Parents need to empower their children and teens so their child or teen knows what to do and how to get out of a situation immediately, if they ever feel threatened, ridiculed or forced into anything they feel painful or uncomfortable with.

EDUCATE YOUR CHILD

While we want children and teens to follow rules, there are their own personal boundaries that need not be violated by anyone. These include unwanted touching, pain, discomfort, fear, put downs, ridicule, threats, to name a few. A child or teen might listen and follow instructions of the coach, trainer or other adult, because they have learned “listen to the adult”. But regardless, if there is unwanted touching, pain, discomfort, feat, put downs, ridicule, threats or otherwise that makes the child or teen feeling uncomfortable in any way, this can be child abuse and neglect and they need to immediately remove themselves from that situation any way they can. If this means like yelling out "stop", "I am in pain", "someone please call the police", or physically, out of self-defense to physically remove themselves from the coach, trainer or adult and run to get help, they need to do what they need to protect themselves. Do not wait and sustain abuse.

BE AWARE OF WHAT GOES ON AT PRACTICE AND GAMES

Remember you are the parent or caregiver, and the school, club or community program, these are the people you leave your child with to care for. With understanding that your child will be safe and not injured. They are responsible for your child and your duty as a parent or caregiver is to ensure those who you leave your child with, will keep your child safe from physical, emotional and psychological harm or they will be held responsible. And you as a parent or caregiver need to let your child or teen know, in addition to those responsible (and this means the principal athletic director, trainers and other adults).

1.      Be aware of what happens at practice and games: If you are not aware you cannot protect your child. For example, are coaches, trainers and other adults making positive and constructive comments to your child and team so they can learn and improve? Or do they humiliate, put down or force the child?

2.      Coaches, trainers and other adults must put your child’s safety first: While you put your child in their hands to care for, you are the primary advocate for your child. Do they put your child at risk of injury? Does your child feel safe? If your child is injured or feels pain, how do they respond? Do they ignore the child, put them down, or do they validate how they feel?

3.      Know the coaches and program priorities: First your job as a parent or caregiver is to make sure your child is safe. Does the coach care about your child? Or do they push them beyond a limit of personal boundaries, pain or fear? Is it only about winning? Or learning and to improve and support?

4.      Know your child-their physical, emotional and psychological ability: You know your child. All children are different. They learn differently and coaches, trainers and other adults also have different methods. But they need to understand that they are also responsible to protect your child’s boundaries. If they cannot that is not the best environment for your child. If a team or program seems abusive, research it by talking to other programs or schools to compare. If it is abusive, remove your child and find another program they will enjoy. But also, if needed, report them by contacting your local health department children's services (local child abuse hotline) if things go too far like in this video. Also make sure your child understands so they can learn and be empowered. Keeping your child safe is most important, not worrying about what their peers or other parents think or say.

5.      Teach your child about the role of the coach, trainer and other adults: As a parent or caregiver talk to your child so they understand the role of a coach. A coach, trainer and other adults need to be supportive, kind, compassionate. Sometimes they can go too far and violate personal boundaries, physically, emotionally and psychologically.

6.      Make sure your child knows they can talk with you openly about how they feel: As a parent or caregiver, if you feel your child is having problems or if there are signs of abuse, “listen” to your child and “respond” being compassionate with understanding. This will help your child feel more comfortable coming to you if there is a problem. Sometimes the best thing is to listen, give the child options to consider and often they can make the best choice. You are there to help stimulate and help them make the best choices. If you need to take more control, then you do, but listen and respond, do not react to quickly. Allow them to continue to come and talk to you. 
 
 
A LEARNING OPPORTUNITY FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS WHO PLAY SPORTS AND PERFORM: You have natural dopamine and skill development, you do not need performance enhancing drugs.

As fall sports practice in schools and colleges will soon begin, this is a learning opportunity for children and teens who play sports or perform at school. In the video below, hosted by the Oxford Union Society, "The Truth About Doping in Cycling", Tyler Hamilton discusses doping, the use of performance-enhancing drugs (or PEDs) in professional competition.
Photo credit: CDC & Pro Consumer Safety
In this video, he discusses the pressure, need to succeed, etc. etc., how they never wanted to use PED's, but once started they knew they crossed the line but was too late. For professional sports, its difficult to have sympathy for those who have intentionally cheated by using PED's (I do however have respect those who have come clean and take responsibility for the choices they have made). I also do understand that pressures do exist, making it difficult for those exposed to corruption and feeling no way out. For those I do have sympathy. But when they continue using, become arrogant, and lie to the public, media, their family and friends, not to mention themselves, it is more difficult to have sympathy. Nevertheless it will and does catch up to them, and according to this video it did. Tyler Hamilton makes comment to resist the temptation to cheat and dope. He further says he wishes he knew "how numb victories would feel when they were achieved dishonestly" and that "giving back a Gold Medal would feel better than winning it".

I have competed myself, not professionally, but in high school and some in college. I learned how to built my own skills. Emotionally and physically I had enough natural dopamine to challenge myself and not by comparing myself to others or worrying that I needed to be at the top, because I already was. In tennis for example I was at the top of my school and in college I had a full scholarship offered (although I declined because I wanted to focus on my studies and I was fortunate to have had that opportunity). Even in other sports, in water skiing another example, again I could out-slalom and the top of my team. It was amazing. But it was about me, not about others and no need for pressure, and no PED's. It was what I wanted and I learned the skills I needed. I eventually learned how to condition myself and learned many other outdoor physical activities and again without the use of PED's. If I could not do it, its likely it was not for me and I would choose something else. It's a choice to play or perform, if you cannot handle it, choose something else, you will find your passion or skill, but never give in to cheating by doping. If you cheat, it's not the real you and it will come back to haunt you in many ways. Generally those who do cheat have other mental health and interpersonal issues in their life. It's not about the sport, competition or drugs, its their untreated mental health and interpersonal issues that influence their poor choice to cheat. When I hear of professionals who have used PED's, "idiots", this is sad, because they are role models to children, teens and adults. For those I have no sympathy for them. From how difficult it was, blah, blah, blah. I guess time will tell. I do not wish this on anyone, but for those who have cheated with PED's are at significant health risks including, but not limited to stroke, heart attack, pulmonary embolism, cancers, to emotional, psychological and even social effects. It's not worth it.

Teens can be at particular risk of making a choice to use PED's, due to their stage of brain development. In brief, with the reduction of dopamine (feel good neurotransmitter) and serotonin (brings one down to homeostasis) to making decisions with the limbic system (emotional center of the brain), because their prefrontal cortex (responsible for executive functioning, decision making, understanding future consequences, etc.) is not fully developed until mid to late 20's. These neurodevelopmental factors can significantly influence the teen to try PED's, especially with peer and parent pressure, and someone says, they are natural, it will make you feel better, it's not a drug, it's okay. Parents need to remind teens that as a competitor or otherwise, if someone ever gives you anything to help you feel better, perform better, IMMEDIATELY, step away from the situation, don't take it and talk to another adult at your school or college, parents or professional. This helps give the teen time to assess if this is something they need so they can make the best choice. It is helpful for parents and teens to understand the risk of feeling the need to use PED's. Understand, that while it might help make you perform better and make you feel like you are on top of the world, you will end up at the bottom, physically, emotionally and psychologically and even socially, even if you do not get caught. It will catch up to you. Don't use PED's, some natural or not, don't dope, don't cheat. You have too much to loose and you truly do not need them. Compare and challenge yourself to only "you". Parents and teens need to also understand that performance enhancers are not sport specific, that teens can also be influenced by academic and testing pressures as well. See "Smart Drugs", again putting teens at significant neurodevelopmental risk.

For more information on substances and effects of performance-enhancing drugs (PED's), visit the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).


The info-graphic below illustrates how teens can be at risk of using performance-enhancing drugs for school and tests, that puts their developing brain at significant risk. However there are alternative choices as described.

 
 
It's that time of year when parents and children start to think and talk about summer camp. Whether it is a summer day camp, equestrian riding camp, or a traditional overnight summer camp, as a parent you need to know what to look for to make sure it is an appropriate camp for your child but also to ensure it is a safe camp.

As a parent myself, an injury epidemiologist, and a former summer camp counselor for four summers, I know when selecting a camp for my child, that all summer camps are not alike and just because it is a designated summer camp does not mean they are all safe. When I first took my child to an equestrian riding camp, I wanted to know if they were certified. For example the American Camping Association (ACA) does certify summer camps. I learned quickly that equestrian summer camps do not have such certification, unless it is part of a traditional overnight summer camp.
Equestrian day summer camps do not have to meet the safety standards and requirements that are required among ACA Accredited summer camps. However this does not mean that the camp might not be safe. However a parent must know what to ask and what to look for. For example the Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA) does certify those who are trained to teach riders. However there are no guidelines specifically for summer camps. As a parent I also wanted to know if they have safety requirements to protect children from injury and if the staff who work with children if they have been screened to make sure they do not have a criminal background. Even further,  what emergency planning are in place in case of an injury. Unfortunately some camps we searched did not have any and some had very little. Because of my background and training I knew what to look for in the summer camp, but many parents might not be aware.

So we developed the Pro Consumer Safety Summer Camp Guide for Parents which has been approved by both the American Camping Association and the Certified Horsemanship Association.  This guide helps parents to make sure the summer camp is appropriate for their child. It gives the parent the necessary questions to ask to ensure the staff and administrators have systems in place to sustain a safe, protective and encouraging educational environment for their child. Don't just assume because it is a summer camp that it is certified, they have emergency protocols in place, they have safe educational practices or safe and psychologically healthy staff. As a parent myself, this guide will help empower you as a parent to know what questions to ask and what to look for to make sure the summer camp provides a safe and healthy learning environment for your child. 

 
 
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Watch these Super Bowl video's. They remind those that friends and family are waiting, some never make it home. So plan ahead and remember if you drink, please don't drive!

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If you are around someone who has lost a loved one, just out of a relationship and feeling down, do them a favor and drink non-alcoholic beverages with them. Alcohol is a depressant and will make them feel worse after. Be a true friend.
Super Bowl plans never include loss of life, trauma or jail time. Unfortunately Super Bowl Sunday holds the title for the most DUI related deaths. 

On Super Bowl Sunday, DUI crashes increase by 41% and DUI related crash deaths are 75% higher than any other Sunday in January and February. Super Bowl Sunday has more DUI deaths compared to New Year's Ever, 4th of July and Cinco De Mayo.

DUI crashes are 100% preventable. Game goers and fans can however enjoy the game by planning ahead, drinking responsibly and if you drink, don't drive.  Here are a few tips to help:
If children or teens are around, remember they learn from how you behave. Behave the way you would like them to behave when they are teens and adults. 

Pro Consumer Safety wishes you an enjoyable and safe game!
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