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  Safety Net  
  Keeping kids safe in today’s world of technology and competitive sports programs is a priority.

Byline: Kimberly Kimmel
By Kimberly Kimmel

Extra care must be given with our most prized possessions: our children. While they’re growing up, you may teach them to look both ways before they cross the street and not to talk to strangers. You take them to swim lessons should they get too close to the water’s edge. 
These days, kids are spending more time than ever staying active with sports and participating in online activities. With a little awareness, injuries and risks can be avoided during these activities. Here, experts in their field share their knowledge about avoiding sports injuries and protecting your children in cyber space. 

The Basics of Sports
Katerina Backus, MD, FAAP, is a board-certified pediatric sports medicine physician who specializes in non-operative treatment of musculoskeletal injuries at Pediatric Orthopedics at Florida Hospital for Children in downtown Orlando
She notes that most types of sports injuries occur when kids are overdoing it in one prime activity. “In this culture, we have a lot of children specializing in sports early or children with year-round participation in only one sport. This puts them at high risk of overuse injury,” says Dr. Backus. 
One way to avoid this is to introduce your child to multiple sports that allow them learn a variety of skills. Once they have explored what’s out there, encourage them to choose the one they enjoy the most to focus on so they don’t spread themselves too thin. “Children who are on multiple teams increase their risk. Make sure they have at least one day off and two months a year where they are not participating in that one sport. Specialize in one type of sport at middle or high school age,” says Dr. Backus. 
The main thing to remember is that being involved in sports should be fun for the children. Dr. Backus recommends that they focus on socialization and learning the rules of the game rather than pushing themselves to be perfect in their chosen sport. If you suspect your child is experiencing mental burn out from the stress of the game, or isn’t feeling passionate about the sport any more, cut back their time on the field to give them time to re-group. Dr. Backus stresses the importance of setting realistic goals for children who participate in team sports. 

Avoiding Sports Injuries
When it comes to getting hurt, parents should be aware of prior injury, which is a strong predictor of future injury. Dr. Backus encourages parents to make sure their child has healed from a prior injury before they get back in the game, mainly because young athletes are at higher risk to their growth plates. For example, a gymnast can get a stress fracture from repetitive force on an extremity.  Parents should understand the risks that come with the sports their children choose before sending them off to practice. “Some have a higher proportion of injuries. Recognize the sign of injury and use protective gear that fits appropriately,” says Dr. Backus. 
Young children need to avoid heavy lifting because their bones are still developing. “Have the kids with someone who knows what they are doing. Any sign of injury should prompt discontinuation of the strength training,” says Dr. Backus.  
Concussion is another frequent sports-related injury. Some schools offer a baseline test. This lets the coaches and parents know when the child is ready to return to play. Florida Hospital offers this type of computerized testing.
“The most common misconception is that young children who participate in sports need to wait until they have a serious injury to seek advice from a healthcare professional,” says Dr. Michelle M. Ramirez, PT, DPT, OCS, who serves as a physical therapist at Florida Hospital Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation at the RDV Sportsplex. With recent advancements in the physical therapy profession, children now have accessibility to have their throwing, running, or strength analyzed by a physical therapist to prevent any sports related injuries. “A young child’s neuromuscular system is not yet fully matured. Developing proper movement patterns during training is critical for the prevention of injury.”

Cyber Safety
  In this technically advanced age, new threats are out there against children. They include not only cyber bullying, but identity theft against kids. Florida is ranked number one in identity theft, so staying educated on how to lessen your child’s risk of becoming a target is of the utmost importance. 
Theresa Ronnebaum of downtown Orlando is an identity theft and victim service program specialist who works with the attorney general's office. She lectures students on how to prevent cyber bullying, identity theft and peer-to-peer safety, as well as discusses how to avoid viruses that are attached in emails or appear as downloads in music.
“Kids need to be aware that everyone they come into contact with online cannot be trusted. Talk to your kids. Listen when they discuss someone they've met online. It is easy for someone to hide behind the computer screen. Once they post something, they cannot take it back, so think before you post,” says Ronnebaum. 
To avoid identity theft, adhere to common sense rules. “Don't put your date of birth on anything. Don't even mention what your school mascot is. The more info you put on your screen name, the easier it is for someone to identify you,” says Ronnebaum. 
Be very careful with social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. “Use privacy settings. Phishing scams can come in the form of texting. Be aware if someone asks you for any personal information,” adds Ronnebaum.
One of the latest scams involves a child getting a call from their “grandfather” asking for money. “Do not reply to them. Have a family password,” says Ronnebaum. “Shred all bills and never carry a social security card in your wallet. And, if parents suspect their minor child has had credit activity, call the police.”
Julia Malenke, extended care and summer camp director at Trinity Lutheran School adds, “There appears to be an increasing number of ways in which children can be targeted through cyber space and concerned parents need to be informed. Educational opportunities such as those Theresa provides help equip us to provide a safety net for our precious children.” 
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