Parental Consent for Youth Contact Sports Participation

As we enter into the fall sports season, it’s unlikely that a week will go by where we don’t hear the current buzzword in sports community: concussion. Whether in reference to an acute player injury, an untimely death, new or ongoing litigation, or rule changes in sport, the athletic community and the public are increasingly aware of the impacts of these brain injuries. Although much of the media attention is directed toward college and professional athletes, youth and high school athletes significantly outnumber their older counterparts and it is thought that they take longer to recover from these injuries.

A recent publication by Mannings and colleagues surveyed 369 parents of 5-15 year old full-contact football players in order to assess the parents’ understanding of concussion (1). Although the study does have limitations, its finding could have important implications. The parents surveyed were often missing critical information about concussions. For example, less than half of parents correctly identified that concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury. Additionally, none of the parents surveyed correctly identified all of the symptoms of concussion queried in the study. Although it is mandated by statute in the majority of states (2) that parents and/or athletes are provided with information about concussions prior to sports participation, the extent to which the information provided (normally in the form of an information sheet) is read, understood, or retained is not well understood.

Sports participation is associated with a myriad of positive physical, psychological, and social outcomes. However, it also comes with the risk of injury, including concussion. For youth and adolescents, parents play a critical role. Most often, children and adolescents rely on parental consent to participate in sports. Given parents’ role as decision-makers, and the finding of Mannings and colleagues, an important ethical issue that needs to be addressed is what level of knowledge should be required for parents to provide informed consent for their child to participate in inherently risky activities such as contact sports?

[This post reflects my own views only.  It does not necessarily represent the views of the Petrie-Flom Center or the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University.]

christinebaugh

christinebaugh

At the end of her fellowship year, Christine Baugh was a PhD student in Health Policy at Harvard University. She received her BA in History and Science from Harvard College in 2010 and her MPH from Boston University School of Public Health in 2012, concentrating in Health Law, Bioethics, and Human Rights. At the time, Christine's primary research area was brain trauma sustained through sport, and she has written about the epidemiology, risk factors, policy approaches and implications, as well as the possible long-term effects of repeated brain injury. Broadly, Christine’s research interests involve the interaction between evolving science, policy, and society. While a student fellow at the Petrie Flom Center, Christine explored conflicts of interest in the collegiate sports medicine setting in a manuscript titled "Trust, Conflicts of Interest, and Concussion Reporting in College Football Players."

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