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Our Children are Watching

May 19, 2016 | by Emuna Braverman

What are we teaching our kids when parents are screaming and cursing during a soccer match?

In 1991 after the Rodney King trial, there were riots in Los Angeles. One of the major components of those riots was the looting of local stores. The looting was broadcast on television with very clear pictures of men and women walking off with bikes and diapers, televisions and bicycles, clothing and toiletries.

Now I assume that the homes they returned to also had televisions. How did their children feel when they recognized their parents walking out of the store with all that “free” merchandise? Were they just excited about their new toys? What lesson did they think they were teaching their children? Did they even care?

How did they reconcile their actions with what they were showing their children?

I wondered the same thing when I heard some women discussing their children’s soccer coaches – and, what is apparently worse, the other parents. It seems that the soccer field has become a laboratory for character, a field where both the good and the bad are on display. While I’m sure that most parents want their children to enjoy the sport, to develop healthy exercise habits, to learn good sportsmanship and to just have a good time, they are not the only ones out there. There are parents who are yelling, parents who are swearing, parents who are nasty, parents who are abusive, parents who are violent...all in the name of winning a middle school soccer game.

Do they even stop for a moment to reflect on what they are teaching their children? Do they engage in the briefest of self-reflection before screaming at their children or their children’s teammates?

It seems incomprehensible and yet, I am told, this bad behavior is a routine occurrence, forcing some mothers to take matters into their own hands and insist on firing certain coaches or banning certain parents from the stands.

I don’t really understand it. (Am I that naïve?) Are we so fragile that our self-esteem is tied to a little league baseball game and the physical prowess of our 10 year-old? Are we reliving our childhoods, trying to right past wrongs and slights? Whatever the underlying motivation, the behavior is clearly wrong and needs to be checked. Why aren’t these parents noticing and thinking about the impact they are having on their children (who are probably cringing at the back of the field in embarrassment)?

They seem to have lost all perspective. They seem to be focused on mistaken goals. It surprises me because we live in a very psychologically-aware age. It surprises me because parenting classes and books abound. It surprises me because my generation and those after us pride ourselves on being thoughtful and involved and concerned parents.

But when it comes down to it, unless we train ourselves to respond differently, it is our most basic character that reveals itself in moments of stress, excitement or any great emotion. This is a sobering thought that applies to all of us in all situations. We are all prone to “losing it”, to not rising to meet the occasion, to having our buttons pushed, to indulging our baser instincts.

Our job is to recognize those trigger situations and be prepared. If watching our children on the soccer field leads to negative emotions and actions, we should stay home. We may think we are supporting our children by showing up, but take it from me, if we are losing our temper, they would rather we weren’t there. If we are too invested in whether our children win or lose, we should stay home. They don’t want or need the pressure and it ends up being destructive to all involved. If we can’t enjoy it as a light and fun childhood experience, we should stay home. Maybe we’ll be embarrassed when our neighbor asks where we were but we’ll be more embarrassed if we show up and act inappropriately.

Our every action is an opportunity for our children to learn and grow. It’s also an opportunity for us. We can take advantage of these opportunities or we can miss them altogether. However we respond, our children are watching. It’s up to us to ensure they like what they see and that what they see is a good lesson for their future.

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