Watching the Olympics with Your Child: Five Ancient Lessons for Modern TimesHere are a few tips to help you focus on the positive lessons that can be learned by watching the Olympics while relating to your child.
The Olympic Games are right around the corner and families worldwide will soon share the excitement and drama of watching top-level athletes reach for their dreams. This is where men and women become larger than life. At the very least they become role models whether they win a medal or not. A medal-winning athlete may even achieve hero status.
But wait a minute. Do heroes still exist? Whatever happened to the iconic Olympic athlete? In ancient Greece they represented an ideal: the best that a man could be (women came later).
More recently, in 1984, Mary Lou Retton catapulted to international fame by winning the All Around Gold medal for women's gymnastics, plus a handful of silver and bronze medals, before landing on a Wheaties cereal box -- the corporate-sponsorship equivalent to a gold medal. Her image remained untarnished over time -- a shiny symbol of hope, determination and accomplishment.
Today, the sheer athleticism of an Olympic athlete is partially masked by a haze of what our children refer to as "TMI" (too much information): a post-medal discovery of performance-enhancement drug use. An embarrassing photo of a record-smashing Olympic athlete smoking a bong at a party.
The truth is Olympic athletes were never perfect. Granted, it was easier 20 years ago to freeze an Olympic moment in time and cherish it forever. But these days our children have much more access to real-time news, celebrity-athlete website blogs and the vortex of Twitter. The line of privacy that once divided personal and private information is effectively gone. And our kids often hear the latest news before we do.
Whatever label you want to place on an Olympic athlete, they are still healthy role models for our children and the Olympics are ripe with lessons that you can teach your kids.
Here are a few tips to help you focus on the positive lessons that can be learned by watching the Olympics while relating to your child in a way that takes into account today's media- and image-saturated environment:
1. Nobody is Perfect
Here's where you can get ahead of the stories that can knock Olympic athletes off their moral pedestals faster than you can say "tweet." Remind your kids that nobody is perfect and that "perfection" is an unattainable ideal.
In fact, an Olympic athlete's accomplishments can be seen as even more impressive when a child understands that athletes struggle with the same personal issues and shortcomings that challenge us all.
2. Discipline Trumps Image
There's a lot of hype surrounding athletes once they reach the Olympics. What fans, and especially children, don't see is the slow accumulation of small moments that made them superb athletes and got them to the Olympics: early morning starts, solo training sessions, unrelenting travel schedules.
By the time an athlete reaches the Olympic Games, they've stepped onto a slippery media slope that can quickly turn a hardworking athlete into an instant worldwide celebrity or image. Some would say a product.
Remind your child that the performance and fan adulation is the end result of years of solitary work. And after the Olympics are over, most athletes will continue working hard outside the public spotlight.
3. Role Models Can't Replace Good Judgment
Discipline is a trait that every Olympic athlete has, and it's a trait that deserves admiration. Interestingly, the word discipline comes from the word "disciple," which in essence means to emulate someone whose qualities you seek to develop in yourself.
But what happens when an athlete verbally assaults a judge, shows poor sportsmanship, or wins by breaking the rules? Do you encourage your child to admire and emulate that behavior, too? Of course not. That's when you teach your child to separate the things they admire about their role model from those they don't. That's when the "disciple" must develop their own discipline.
4. Practice, Practice, Practice
There's no escaping this time-honored adage. The Olympics present the perfect opportunity to talk to your child about how important it is to practice their own sport (or musical instrument or writing or whatever they are passionate about).
Watching the televised Olympic athlete profiles with your child, and talking about the years of practice that got them to the Olympic Games, is just as important as watching the actual competition.
5. If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It
OK, so not everything has to be a lesson. You can simply watch the Olympics alongside your child with no agenda. It's more important to show unconditional love and acceptance of who they are than to secretly groom them into a version of who you want them to be. Here's where you can give them some space.
Whether your child is an aspiring athlete or not, they learn what's possible by watching, and more important, by imagining. Watching the best athletes in the world shows your child what their mind and body is capable of. In every Olympic contest, there's bound to be some magic; you can both be there when it happens.
When you strip away all the hype, the media and the corporate sponsorships, the Olympics will always demonstrate what's possible when someone has a dream and the courage to pursue it. And that's the best lesson of all.
Michele Bianchi is a retired beach volleyball player, an avid skate skier and the mother of an active yet discerning 9-year-old daughter. She lives in Winthrop, Washington and is looking forward to watching the Olympics on a nearby flat screen.
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