It's been a tough few days for the swimming great, Michael Phelps. First, a photo of him inhaling marijuana from a pipe at a fraternity party surfaced on the Internet, and it immediately hit every news agency from here to Timbuktu. Next, Kellogg announced it would not renew its sponsorship contract with the swimmer due to the controversy, and now he's been suspended from USA Swimming for three months. Who knows what's in store next for this acclaimed athlete?
I'm a huge Michael Phelps fan and cheered him on every moment he was in that Bejing swimming pool. I'm an even bigger fan of his mom, Debbie Phelps (don't you love her?), so this week's news hit me hard. But I also wonder about all those kids who are his fans and how they are taking this.
Have you talked to your children about this Michael Phelps moment? I hope you're using this saga as one of those great teaching moments. After all, children are talking about this on the playground with their peers, so why not add a little of your perspective? Here are a few talking points to discuss with your kids:
Think before you act.
Conscience is a powerful motivator, but it must be cultivated--especially with teens because their impulsiveness takes over. "What's wrong with one little inhale?" they'll say. "Who will ever know?" Stress there are "no take backs," and tell your kid if they even have the slightest doubt that something is wrong, they shouldn't do it!
Use your conscience.
A simple conscience test to teach your kid is the Newspaper Test: "How would you feel if your action made the headlines and everyone could read it?" It's a test I'm sure Michael wished he would have used.
There is no privacy.
Stress how camera phones can make every private moment very public. The photo of Phelps is there for eternity. This Facebook generation better "know thy electronic consequences."
Actions have consequences.
Many kids--not yours, but the neighbor kid next door, right?--think they can get away with bad behavior. The lesson here is this: No matter who you are or how many gold medals you earn, there are consequences to bad behavior. You will be accountable.
Actions impact others.
Kids often are self-centered and don't see that their behavior is far-reaching. Use these empathy-stretching questions: "How do you think Michael's mother and sister feel right now?" Discuss the effect one bad move has had on Michael, as well as his family.
Apologize when you err.
I wish every kid could see the tape of Michael Phelps apologizing last night on TV. It was a sincere "I'm sorry." Stress to your child that though you can never take back any action, you need to do what Michael did--apologize, and try to make amends for the pain you caused (which he did beautifully).
Just turn to the sports page, cut out the story, and put it on the dinner table so you're ready for your discussion tonight. What are you going to say?