Did You Talk to Your Kids About Michael Phelps?

by | Feb 6, 2009 | Late Breaking News

It’s been a tough few days for the swimming great Michael Phelps. First that photo showing him inhaling marijuana pipe at a fraternity party surfaced on the Internet and immediately hit every news agency from here to Timbuktu. Next Kellogg Co. announced it would not renew its sponsorship contract with Phelps. (His photo currently graces the front of Yesterday USA Swimming suspended him from competition for the next three months. corn flakes boxes). 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 even a bigger fan of his Mom (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. So here’s my question, “Have you talked to your children about this 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 peers so why not add a little of your perspective? Here are a few talking points:

Think before you act. Conscience is a powerful motivator, but it must be cultivated and especially with teens because their impulsivity takes over conscience. “What’s wrong with one little inhale?” they’d say. Who will ever know?” Stress there are “no take backs” in an action so tell your kid if they ever have even the slightest doubt that something is wrong, don’t do it!

Use your conscience. A simple conscience test is to teach your kid to ask 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’d use.

There is no privacy! Stress how those cell phones that feature built-in cameras can make every private moment very public. The photo of Phelps with that one inhale is there for eternity. This Facebook Generation better “know thy electronic consequences.” Talk about it!

Actions have consequences. Many kids (not yours but the neighbor kid next door, right?) think they can get away with their 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 are often self-centered and don’t see that their behavior is far-reaching. Use those empathy-stretching questions: “How do you think Michael’s mother and sister feel right now? Discuss how 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 a local TV station. 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?