What to Do When Your Kids' Sports Heroes Let Them Down
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Other feelings can also surface. "It may be a relief to understand that athletes are also complex human beings whose lives include a lot of nuances and complexities," Dr. Dorfman says.
Since kids are inundated with so much information -- on the Internet, TV, and even on the school bus -- initiating a conversation with your kids and helping them debunk the myths is vital. "They're going to form their own opinions so if parents don't talk to them about what the reality is, the opinions they form based on misinformation are going to skew reality," Dr. Bartell says. Asking open-ended questions like, "What did you hear?" or "What do you think about it?" can reveal how much the child really understands and how the child is feeling emotionally.
Also, making it a conversation rather than a lecture is a much more effective way to communicate. "Kids take in information in very different ways and when we think they understand it on an adult level, they absolutely don't," according to Dr. Dorfman who advises parents to share a minimal amount of information with their kids and then check in with them again to see how they've interpreted it. "In some ways, it's a safer way to talk about feelings because it's about a very distant person and it allows for a nonthreatening discussion."
Helping your children make the distinction between poor choices and bad people is also key. "In the case of Tiger Woods, you can explain that he's human and although he clearly made bad choices, it doesn't mean he's a bad person," says Dr. Schienberg.
Once you've acknowledged your kids' feelings and helped them make sense of these adult issues, it's important to give them permission to continue to follow their favorite athletes and admire those same qualities that made them become fans in the first place. "You can explain to your kids that this doesn't make them any less of an athlete and you can still appreciate what they did in the sport and continue to love what they do," Dr. Bartell says.
Finding An Opportunity
Parents can also use athlete scandals and headlines as opportunities to teach ethics and instill values in their children. "It's imperative that parents share what their expectations are and where they stand on the issue," says Dr. Dorfman, who adds that children, especially middle or high school ages, want to know what the limits and standards are. For elementary aged children, who have a simpler understanding of these issues, Dr. Dorfman suggests explaining that drugs, for example, are bad and can make you sick -- plain and simple. Even if your kid's favorite athlete isn't caught up in a major news scandal, but he or she's fined for yelling at an umpire, for example, parents can use these kind of incidents as teachable moments. "Those are the kinds of behavior your children will easily latch on to because they think it's acceptable," explains Dr. Bartell. "The more often you speak to your kids about these hot button topics, the more likely you are to have effective communication with them."