Q. My 10-year-old son really admires a professional basketball player who I feel displays unacceptable and sometimes borderline illegal behavior, both on and off the court. My son has a jersey with the player's name on it, and he loves it whenever the player is on TV, whether he's playing basketball or not.
But the more I hear in the media about this player's foul conduct, the more I'm concerned about my son's admiration for this player and what it says about my son's values. How can I help my son separate this player's athletic ability from the player's unacceptable behavior?
A. It's natural for kids to look for heroes. And sports figures especially represent big ideals that get kids excited: celebrity status, TV appearances, fantastic athletic ability, and unbelievable fortune.
But while parents need to encourage kids to have role models and dream big for themselves, it's equally important for you to point out to your children how truly human these sports stars are. Many kids may have difficulty processing the difference between media hype over a player's big win and his latest messy domestic dispute or drug problem.
At age 10, a child is old enough to understand that people are complex and have many dimensions. Tell him, "On the court your favorite player is fabulous, but off the court his behavior is questionable." Then discuss what your child finds so admirable and respond to his answers. Acknowledge the player's amazing free throws, incredible record, and great charity work -- but also point out some of his bad off-court choices. Be specific, and address what the media has uncovered. Chances are he's heard the news reports and may have questions that he is too embarrassed to ask.
When you first explain about this player's troubles in his personal life, your son may look perplexed and disappointed. In time, he'll appreciate your honesty. In fact, he may just decide that this player really isn't worth his admiration. But don't force it -- your son needs to make this decision on his own, and your conversations can help him make it.
Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of two parenting books, Mommy, I Have to Go Potty and Unplugging Power Struggles. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for HealthyKids.com, and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times newspaper. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.
Originally published on HealthyKids.com, December 2004.