Is This Normal? Sports Parents

Children, Parenting

  • Do you direct players from your son or daughter’s team on where to go and what to do, but you’re not the coach?
  • Has your son or daughter ever asked you to be quiet during one of his/her games?
  • Do you yell at the referee for bad calls even though he/she is a teenager?
  • Do you get angry or frustrated if your child has a bad game or a poor performance?

Sports are a great way to cultivate hard work, sportsmanship, resilience, and the love of play for kids. Most kids love being active with their friends. One thing that spoils this love quicker that you can say, “Nice call, Ref!” is to become more involved in your kids’ sports than they are.

That being said, it’s very healthy to be involved with your kids’ teams. Your involvement provides a connection between you and your kids, shows your kids that you support their efforts, and builds community. However, sports parents take this connection too far and use their children’s success in sports to validate their own egos. They don’t separate themselves from their children. These are unhealthy boundaries that have devastating effects on sports parents, their children, and even on the sports parent’s marriage.

Many sports parents frame their neediness in insisting that their kids have real talent and have a chance at going professional or at receiving an athletic scholarship. This might be true. Their children may have real talent, but the odds aren’t with them. The odds for becoming a professional athlete vary from sport to sport but can range from .03% to .4% for high school seniors. The odds of receiving an athletic scholarship from a NCAA university are about 1 in 50. Odds are against most sports parents’ expectations.

Instead of cultivating your kids’ athletic ability, it’s healthier to cultivate a solid relationship with your kids. What are they doing outside of sports and who are their friends? What can you do together that will get you both really laughing? What are they afraid of? What have they always wanted to try?

Here are some guidelines on appropriate sideline behavior for parents.

  • If you aren’t the coach, don’t coach. Period.
  • Offer encouragement to all players.
  • Referees are going to make calls that are unfair, awful, and that may decide a game’s outcome. Yelling at them won’t change anything. It only gives you a momentary emotional release and an ego rush. Don’t yell at referees. Move on.
  • If sports parents are coaching your kid when they aren’t the coach, it’s absolutely appropriate to ask them to please stop.
  • Model good sportsmanship and good competition when you play with your kids.
  • Don’t complain about the field, the other players on the team, the other team, the conditions, or the coach.
  • If you’re more excited at your kids’ performances than they are, it’s a signal to check your boundaries.

It’s normal to want your kids to do well in whatever they try, including sports. It’s good health to use sports as only one avenue of connection in your relationship with them.

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Is This Normal? Teens, Tattoos, Piercings, and Technicolor Hair

Children, Parenting

  • For her birthday, is your teen asking for a tasteful tattoo of a ballet dancer on the moon holding a butterfly?
  • At a recent rehearsal, did your teen let his fellow cast member pierce his eyebrow?
  • Is your daughter showing interest in highlighting her hair in shades reminiscent of “My Little Ponies?”

It’s teens’ work to figure out their identities, and anyone who has been there knows it can be thrilling, exhilarating, and a rough slog.  Identity formation includes examining parental values, societal expectations, what their peers seem to be doing, and asserting bursts of independence.  Part of the process almost always includes redefining their appearances.  Most of the time, it includes redefining their appearances more than once.

The idea to redefining appearances is to stand out from their peers but not enough to be rejected by them.  It’s a tricky equation to balance.  Experimentation is often required.  This is why some teens go through several changes of clothing before going to the post office.

This is also tricky for parents who may not be comfortable with their teens’ experimentations in appearance.  Parental discomfort with teen appearances has been happening for decades.  While it’s expected and normal for teens to push their parents’ boundaries, it’s rarely comfortable for parents.

The pervasive thought in psychology is that parents can’t control what their teens wear or who their friends are.  If you forbid them to wear a certain clothing style, they can change their clothes in the school bathroom or at a friend’s house.  If you forbid them to get a nose piercing, they can try to do it themselves.  So, what are parents to do with teens who seem preoccupied with getting a tattoo, rocking a micro-mini skirt, nose ring or shaving their eyebrows? Try and use this as an opportunity to connect with your teens.

I have a few suggestions.  Please take what makes sense to you.

  • Use positive reinforcement when your kids and teens look beautiful, confident or even just clean.  Tell them that they look fantastic and that you can’t believe you have such amazing kids.  Tell them this when they aren’t dressed for a special occasion.  It goes a long way.
  • Differentiate if the changes they’re considering are permanent or impermanent.
    • If they’re considering a permanent change…
      • Take this seriously.  Reply with a neutral, “Oh,” or “Tell me more about what you’re thinking.”
      • Avoid a dictatorial response like, “Over my dead body will you ever tattoo yourself,” or the emotional response, “But your so beautiful already!  Why would you ever do that to your body?”
      • Try to channel this request into action.  Explain that action is stronger than appearance.  If they want a change to show that they are different, strong or brave, give them opportunities to volunteer or take a class outside school.  The urge to alter their appearance permanently might be fueled by the completely normal urge to engage in risk-taking behaviors.  Give adolescents opportunities to engage in healthy risk-taking.
      • Say yes but not until you’re 18… 25…30…40.
      • Say yes but it has to be a temporary tattoo or a false piercing.
  • If they’re considering an impermanent change…
    • Raccoon-eyes eyeliner, neon hair color, or all black clothing aren’t generally causes for concern.  Take pictures – lots and lots of pictures. It’s likely most teens won’t carry these styles far into adulthood.
    • Clothing that is revealing or suggestive does cause concern.  Young women are saturated with media images that tell them that their worth relies in their sexual attractiveness.  It’s normal for young women to internalize this unless parents teach them otherwise.  Ask what they want people to notice about them.  What are their best qualities?  Chances are their answers will include their personalities.  Run with this and offer clothing choices that reflect their outstanding personality.

If appearance issues interfere with school and home routines or if a change in appearance is accompanied by a drop in grades, social isolation or a change in peer group, it’s time to get help.  Start with the school counselor and share your observations.  It might be an overt rejection of parental values or a need for risk-taking opportunities.  If you can’t determine what your teens are saying with their appearances, you might want to consider professional counseling for you or for your teen.

Teens experimenting with their appearances are normal. Connecting with your teens about their appearances is good health.

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Is This Normal? The ‘Twilight’ Saga

blog, Children

  • Has your teenage daughter been wearing her “Team Edward” shirt every day for the past week?
  • Has your teenage daughter been wearing her “Team Jacob” shirt every day for the past week?
  • Has your teenage daughter been wearing her “Team Finish School, Go to College, and Quit Basing Your Life Around Men” shirt every day for the past week?

The latest Twilight movie, Breaking Dawn, is holding adolescents by their respective new moons.

Does the Twilight saga chronicle a timeless story of young loves from two different worlds who manage hardships and inter-species / intra-species conflict to fulfill their destiny?  Or does the Twilight saga put feminism back 150 years?  The story of Edward and Bella has been told before, and it’s not healthy.

Their relationship begins with Edward rescuing Bella from cars in parking lots, from tripping over logs in the woods, and from confronting her parents’ dysfunctions.  The rescuing theme in fairy tales is common.  A man usually does the rescuing, and a woman usually needs the rescuing.

A woman is portrayed as incapable of solving her own problems or managing tough situations by herself.  She endures loneliness, abuse, and danger with passivity and acceptance.  Think about Cinderella and Snow White.  Their lives aren’t secure until the princes come to save them.  There is no attempt on the part of Cinderella, Snow White, or Bella to improve their lives by themselves.

Edward’s rescuing of Bella develops not into love but into an addiction.  Edward, in the first Twilight movie, refers to Bella as his “own personal brand of heroin.”  This is allegedly a compliment, but this assessment of his feelings for Bella is accurate.  There are many scenes in the Twilight movies where Edward and Bella are looking into the other’s eyes in a lush meadow or where Edward is impressing Bella with his vampire powers.  There aren’t many scenes where Edward and Bella are laughing.  There’s no dimension to their relationship.  There’s only a compulsive satisfaction of being together.

In addition to an addiction, Bella is an obsession for Edward. Without permission, Edward enters Bella’s bedroom at night and watches her sleep.  This is obsessive behavior, and it’s assuming.  Edward assumes that his behavior, however it violates Bella’s privacy, will be interpreted as an act of passion.  Sadly, Bella interprets his voyeurism as just that.  Obsession and passion are two different entities.  Obsession is a preoccupation that interferes with normal functioning in work, school, and home.  Passion is an interest that inspires engagement and enhances normal functioning.

Edward and Bella’s relationship also echoes themes in Beauty and The Beast.  The Beast and Edward are reclusive, require that Belle and Bella leave their families and commit to relationships that may prove physically dangerous.  Both Belle and Bella commit to their inter-species loves without much hesitation or without thinking of their own safety.  Beauty’s challenge is that if she just loves him enough, he will change.  Bella’s challenge is sadder.  Because she loves him enough, she is willing to change for him.  This isn’t love in either story.  It’s codependence.

Rescuing, obsession, voyeurism, and codependence don’t make healthy relationships; they make fairy tales.  This is worth repeating.  Cinderella, Snow White, Belle, and Bella are in relationships that don’t work in real life.  Once in a committed relationship, dysfunctional traits like rescuing and obsession become more prominent.  They’re the only traits the relationship has to function.

These traits can’t manage the successes, the challenges, or the growth of daily life.  So, what does the parent of a teenager or a teenager do with the Twilight saga?

  • Talk about how the Twilight saga portrays love and the roles of men and women.  Is this kind of love really desirable?
  • Talk about Bella being 18 years old, married, pregnant, and without any personal resources like an education or a career.  Is this romantic?
  • Talk about the similarities between Twilight and popular fairy tales.
  • Compare Bella to other literary heroines: Hermione from The Harry Potter Series; Liesel from The Book Thief; Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing; Jane from Jane Eyre.  Which characters are more compelling and why?  Which characters would make good friends?  Which characters are funny?

Using film and literary works as a form of escapism is normal.  Emulating their dysfunctional relationship traits in real life is tragic.  Talking about what makes successful relationships work is good health.

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Is This Normal? Here Come the Report Cards

blog, Children

Is this normal?

  • Is your child showing a sudden and pointed interest in homework?
  • Is your child complaining that her/his teachers are too strict (…demanding, unreasonable, mean…), give unfair grades, and in addition, have remarkably horrible personal qualities?
  • Is your school-aged child saying that you look 25 in your new jeans?
  • Does your child seem to have more homework than usual?

It must be report card time.

For the last two weeks of a marking period, kids may discover that their grades were lost and forgotten at the bottom of their lockers, in secret backpack compartments, or on dumped cafeteria trays.  During those two weeks, you might see an extra effort towards school work, more complaining about teachers, and transparent flattery.

Report cards are a great way to connect with your kids about academics and school.  If the marks are good, it’s time to celebrate.  A celebration for good grades tells your kids that you recognize their hard work, that you’re proud of their work, and that you value education.

However, it’s not time to bring out the parade floats, the jugglers on unicycles, or the fire-eaters.  It’s important that the celebration doesn’t eclipse the achievement.  Keep the celebration about the grades and not the grades about the celebration.  Going out to dinner at their favorite restaurant, buying a new baseball mitt, or heading to the cider mill for doughnuts are great ways to acknowledge their work.  If you want to give money for grades, follow the celebration rule.  Don’t let the amount of cash overshadow the grades.

While celebrating, ask your kids which teacher gives the hardest tests, what’s the best way to study, and if they’re going to try-out for drama next marking period.  It’s better to use less than ordinary questions to begin conversations rather than “What’s your favorite subject?” and “Who’s your favorite teacher?”  Save those questions for the aunts and uncles at Thanksgiving.

If the grades are lower than previous card markings, it’s time to intervene.  The intervention isn’t just the one-time lecture about the importance of good grades, their future, their past, and how hard you had it when you were their ages.  From a calm, observational tone, tell them you noticed their grades are lower than previous card markings.  Ask them how they are going to raise their grades.  Then, listen.

Kids like to give vague answers like “Study (… Try, Pay attention, Turn in assignments  …) more.”  Vague generalities don’t work.  Kindly press for details until workable goals are formed.  “Complete homework every night” and “Do my best work on all assignments,” are goals that cover miles of academic ground.

Ask when they are going to contact their teachers to see what they can to do to raise their grades.  Kids can email their teachers or talk with them. Follow up with these contacts.  Review their homework planners every night and look over their homework when it’s finished.  Propose that you have a two week review of grades to determine if the grades are rising and to determine next steps if the grades haven’t improved.

This is the work of parenting, and it isn’t easy.  Most kids will test their parents to see if a nightly homework check is going to happen with any consistency.  Count on being tested.  This is a tough parenting assignment, especially on those nights where you work late, everyone is hungry despite having eaten dinner, two kids need rides to two different soccer practices, and one kid is trying to fit himself into the dryer.

A dramatic drop in grades can indicate that your child is having a problem in a nonacademic area.  Investigate dramatic drops in grades by discussing it with teachers, counselors, and your child.  A dramatic drop is a highly sensitive subject to a child, and one that won’t benefit from “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  Listen to your child and be gentle.

Academic struggles are normal.  Being involved and participating in your kids’ education is good health.

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