Written by The Canadian Red Cross Respect Education Program; Photo: Fotolia.com
As summer approaches, tweens and teens with growing independence tend to spend more time on the field or in the pool being active in sports. Participating in team sports is an excellent way for youth to develop new skills, become good team players, and build new relationships with others. Youth have a strong and normal need to experience a sense of belonging with their peers, and team sports provides this kind of experience.
Parents agree that playing sports should be fun and rewarding, but recent history has proven that sometimes it isn’t. Being part of a team can have lasting negative consequences if youth experience or witness painful hazing/initiation rituals, peers bullying less-skilled players, or abusive episodes instigated by coaches or teammates.
Every relationship affects a young person’s development into adulthood. Research has proven that when young people have healthy, positive relationships, they have a good chance of growing into adults with good physical and mental health. They are also more likely to stay in school and be caring, kind people with lots of good friends in their lives.
We also know that when young people are surrounded by unhealthy relationships, it has a negative impact. It can lead them into unhealthy pathways where they are more likely to experience bullying, victimization, dating violence, substance abuse, and poor physical or mental health.
As parents, we can help keep the fun on the field and promote healthy relationships by modeling and teaching youth to be respectful of themselves, teammates, coaches, and opponents.
Help support your tweens and teens to have an enjoyable, safe experience in sports by considering your answers to these 20 questions:
- Do you teach your children to help when they see someone being hurt instead of watching, laughing, or joining in?
- Do you discuss with your children how to have healthy relationships on the field and in the locker room using age-appropriate information?
- Are you modeling and teaching values that promote healthy relationships, such as respect, equality, independence, healthy boundaries, and assertive communication?
- Do you discuss good sportsmanship with your children?
- Does your teenager understand the importance of including everyone in social situations? (Social exclusion has long-lasting consequences, and is one of the most common types of bullying among tweens and teens.)
- Have you discussed appropriate use of power with your children? We all have power. Being good at a particular sport is a specific skill that results in personal power. It’s important to use this power to help others rather than to hurt others. All bullying incidents involve a misuse of power.
- Do your children and youth know how to say “No”? Young people need to be reminded that it’s okay to say no if they are asked to do unwanted or uncomfortable actions.
- Do your teenagers know it’s important to tell someone? Youth need to be encouraged to tell an adult if they are forced to participate after saying no; if they are bullied, harassed, or abused; or if they witness mistreatment of others on the team.
- Are you setting a good example? Children learn what they live. Model respectful behavior at home, in the field, and in your daily interactions with others to ensure your children also make kind, inclusive, and respectful choices.
- Are you really listening? Be sensitive to your youth’s needs by paying attention to them and actively listening while they talk to you, rather than reacting to what they are saying or focusing on your own response instead.
- How do you show support? Be responsive by acting on what you see and hear. As kids get older, supporting their independence is important, but it’s also important to be there for them when they need you.
- What language and tone of voice do you use when talking to or about the other parents, players, or coaches both on and off the field?
- Have you considered whether the environment your youth plays in is safe? How do you know?
- Does the group have an anonymous way for youth to report violence, bullying, etc., if experienced or witnessed?
- Are there policies or guidelines that will help adults intervene effectively if there are violent incidents?
- Are certain areas monitored? Unmonitored areas, such as locker rooms, can create an opportunity for bullying, harassment, and abuse.
- Are you aware of warning signs of violence and abuse, such as anger, fear, substance use, and problems with relationships?
- Are you aware of the problem of hazing? Hazing is an initiation practice that may humiliate, demean, degrade, or disgrace a person regardless of location or consent of the participants. It can have lasting negative consequences.
- Does the sports group have strategies or guidelines to help parents intervene if bullying happens?
- Finally, are you fostering a sense of belonging in your own teen and others? As a parent, be sure you reinforce and reward it when you see youth showing respect, inclusion, kindness, and social responsibility toward others.