With the recent drug scandal rocking the NRL industry it raises again the issue surrounding these sport stars as positive and appropriate role models for our kids. As a sport-loving country, Australian kids are raised with the idea that our sporting stars are heroes and are held to a different set of rules and expectations than the general public. Given the high esteem in which sport stars are held by Australian society and the media, athletes are often portrayed as role models. As parents we may want our children to look up to intelligent and successful people such as scientists, Nobel Prize winners or people who have defied the odds to succeed in their chosen field. Irrespective of who we may choose for our children to idolise, the reality is that sporting stars are often the most widely respected and admired role models to our children. In particular, boys identify with and often idolise sporting stars from their favourite sport such as NRL, AFL, Cricket and Rugby Union more so than from any other background. Impressionable children and adolescents who are in the process of forming their own sense of identify look to these athletes for guidance on how to behave.
So what happens to their devoted fans when time and time again these sporting stars engage in high-risk and even illegal behaviour? Research from US studies show that children and adolescents often observe behaviour and the consequences of that behaviour and this may lead to them accepting or rejecting that person as a role model. Therefore, this suggests that if our children see sporting stars engage in illegal behaviour such as substance use it may glamorise and embellish these behaviours. In addition, when our sporting stars are accused of, or found to have done something illegal or wrong, the ripple effect can be huge as it extends past the individual person, their team but to their entire fan-base generally filled with loyal children who admire and respect them. These children alongside other fans may experience feelings of disappointment and confusion as they struggle to process the dissonance between the sporting star on the field and their behaviour off-field. For parents, this provides a vital opportunity to support children to process the information and come to a balanced view of their role model. This past week has been hard not only on team officials and team-mates but on a population of obliging and unassuming children who may be feeling disillusioned about their sporting stars they so deeply admire.
Some parenting tips to encourage conversations with your children and adolescents around positive and appropriate roles models are:
If you have concerns about your child or adolescent and drug or alcohol use please contact the 24 hour Alcohol and Drug Information Service on 1800 177 833.
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