If you've got young baseball fans at home, you might have some talking to do. With an all-star roster of players linked to performance-enhancing drug use in a much-awaited major league baseball investigation, children are likely to have some questions and concerns about what's happening.
Don't wait for children to bring up the topic, recommends psychologist Rona Novick.
"Open a dialogue with your child about them striving for excellence in sports," says the associate professor at Azrieli Graduate School at Yeshiva University in New York. "Tell your child, 'As proud as I am of you when you score a goal, I never want you to do it at risk of your body or in a way that compromises your integrity or morality.' "
Use the opportunity to talk about playing fair, the price of winning at all costs and the importance of making good decisions, suggests sports psychologist Joel Fish of the Center for Sport Psychology in Philadelphia.
"Discuss how does this apply to their own life," he says. "Parents have most influence on what their kids think about winning and losing and success and failure."
Novick, Fish, sports psychologist Stanley Teitelbaum, author of "Sport Heroes, Fallen Idols" and the American Sport Education Program in Champaign, Ill., offer the following tips to get a difficult conversation going:
- Be proactive: Ask children open-ended questions to start the conversation.
- Give children the opportunity to express themselves: Before turning the conversation into a lesson of right and wrong, let the child share his or her feelings about the news. A child whose favorite player was named in the report may be angry, disappointed or sad.
- Put the story in perspective: Remind children only a small percentage of athletes have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs.
- Find new role models: Introduce children to sports figures who have succeeded without breaking the rules.
- Encourage children to continue to play sports: Don't let the news deter the child's interest in sports because they are an important part of their physical and social development.
- Instill a sense of fair play: Ask children what they think about cheating and whether they would want to be seen as a cheater.
- Discuss the consequences of breaking the rules: Talk about what punishments the players may face and what would happen to the child if he or she got caught cheating on a test or on the ball field.
- Don't shy away from the health issues: Stress the dangers of using drugs to improve athletic performance. Talk about the known side effects — psychiatric problems, strokes and heart attacks. Remind older children that little is known about the long-term affects of these drugs.
- Set realistic expectations for children: Let children know that very few athletes make it into the pros. Make sure they realize health and enjoyment of the game is more important than athletic success.