When The Hero Takes a Fall - Talking to Kids About Athletes and Scandal
MADISON - Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, apparently busted for using performance-enhancing drugs.
New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress, sentenced to two years in jail for discharging a gun in public.
Tennis star Serena Williams, unleashing a profanity laced tirade at a line judge.
Every week seems to bring yet another new story of a disgraced sports hero behaving badly. That can make things hard for parents, who are faced with discussing uncomfortable issues with their kids - the same kids who wear the athletes' jerseys and have posters of them plastered across their bedroom walls.
It can be a tricky conversation, says Dr. Claudia Reardon, a psychiatrist with UW School of Medicine and Public Health, who also serves as a Member Expert for the American Psychiatric Association on sport psychiatry. But it's also an important one parents should make sure they have.
"Media stories like these are a great opportunity for parents to talk to their kids about pressure," says Dr. Reardon. "It's easy to look at these athletes and say they have a charmed life. The truth is, they face tremendous pressure to perform at a high level, and sometimes that leads them to make questionable decisions."
Talking About Healthy Ways to Deal with Pressure
The pressure athletes face is not so very far removed from the kind of peer and performance pressure kids may face at school and in sports. Using the mistakes of a famous athlete as a starting point can open up a conversation about healthy ways to deal with pressure - like choosing exercise instead of alcohol and drugs.
"No one is perfect," notes Reardon. "It's okay for us to look at athletes and say that we don't have to admire and emulate everything about them."
If the athlete owns up to and apologizes for his or her behavior, as Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps did last year after being photographed with drug paraphernalia, it can be another opportunity for parents to discuss personal responsibility with their kids.
Don't Forget 'Everyday Heroes'
Too often, however, parents dodge the subject the same way a running back dodges linemen.
"In cases like this, the kids usually haven't brought the subject up," says Dr. Reardon. "Usually, that means it won't get addressed, because the parents don't know what to say."
Reardon also suggests parents look at star athletes' missteps as a way to talk about the everyday heroes in their lives who also deserve admiration.
"Teachers, coaches, firefighters and pastors do all sorts of heroic things in children's lives," says Reardon. "Do you have to be famous and be on TV to be a hero?"
Date Published: 10/23/2009