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The foam crushes when you hit the road - that cushions the blow and usually saves your brain. The shell makes it skid on the street so your neck does not get jerked. The shell also keeps the foam in one piece. The straps keep it on your head.
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A helmet protects your brain when you fall. It has a thin shell on the outside and thick foam inside. It has a strap to keep it on when you fly through the air. It only covers your head, and the rest of your body is exposed - so you still have to be careful.
If the strap is not right, your helmet can slip to the side or to the back. Then your bare head can hit the road, ouch! The pavement is very, very hard. Being careful and not crashing is the best way - that's better than crashing in a helmet!
The helmet only covers your head. So you need to learn the rules of the road and ride that way. But even the best riders crash.
If you hurt your brain it can change you. You may not be able to read this page, or play video games, or talk, or run, or tie your own shoes or even feed yourself. Some people do not wear helmets, do not let that stop you. You need one when you ride your bike or skateboard; they do too, but they just don't know it yet.
Finding a helmet that fits you is the most important part. That will keep it on your head while you fly through the air or over the handlebars. Work on the straps to get the fit just right. It's easier if you have somebody help you.
You don't have to pay a lot for a good helmet, but be sure it fits you, you like it and you will wear it. Your helmet is good for only one bad crash. That damages the foam and you have to replace it. So you can wear a bike helmet to skate if you use inline skates and don't crash every day.
For skateboards where you do crash a lot, you need a different helmet that recovers after a crash. Skateboard helmets should have a sticker inside that says ASTM F-1492.