By Susan Kurlander, M. Ed.
How do we explain to our children that Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, was arrested for a second time on a DUI charge and may spend time in jail? That Ray Rice, a Ravens football super star, was recently arrested for hitting his fiancé knocking her to the ground, and as a result is no longer part of the team? Unfortunately, I could add other names to the list of supposed sports heroes who chose to engage in behaviors that have toppled their downfall into disgrace. With modern technology, there is no way of getting around our children’s exposure to these events. We can’t hope any longer that our children will continue to look at sports figures through rose-colored glasses focusing on their athletic achievements without any regard for what they do off the field or out of the water.
The disillusionment we and our children feel when situations like these rear their ugly heads can be difficult and painful, but they can also provide teachable moments. Here are some suggestions to help guide you in talking to children: Make sure your child has an age appropriate understanding of what has happened. Ask your child to tell you in his/her own words what they know.
- Ask your child to express what he/she thinks about what the person has done. Hearing your child’s perspective will help you decide what message you want to impart.
- Talk about consequences that result from a behavior. Have them give examples of consequences they may have experienced as a result of something they did. You can then ask them about the consequences the sports “heroes” may now face.
- If it is age appropriate, talk about accountability. “If you choose a behavior, you choose a consequence.” The most important teachable word in this statement is “you.” On any level, it can be helpful to talk with your child about a behavior you chose and the consequence you faced.
- Encourage your child to trust his/her instincts about good/healthy choices and unhealthy choices. Describe that “yucky” feeling you get in your stomach when you are thinking about doing something that you know isn’t okay and may even be risky.
- Ask your child to identify a person to talk with when thinking about whether or not a decision is a good one. Besides you, is there another person with whom your child is comfortable enough to talk about important decisions?
- Help your child understand that people make mistakes, some more costly than others, and that it is important that we all learn from our mistakes so that we can make better choices.
We all hope our “super heroes” will live up to the status and prestige we’ve given them, but that is not always the case. It is a reminder that, after all, they are only human, like the rest of us. Use teachable moments when negative and risky behavior needs to be talked about, but try to balance those moments with positive examples of “heroes” who act accordingly. When looking for role models, remember to include teachers, team coaches, and other adults including yourself– the “super heroes“ who impact your children’s lives every day.
By Susan Kurlander, M. Ed., Health Educator, JCS Prevention Education
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