10 Reasons to Talk to Your Kids About Tiger

mama-to-mama1111When this blockbuster first hit the news I really didn’t think much about it beyond ‘Oh gee … another celebrity who can’t live up to the hype … how not-surprising’.  But as the days go by and more astonishing details are disgorged onto our TV screens and into our kids’ ears every 15 minutes, I feel differently.  And here’s why:

Domestic violence was involved. Every bit as much as it was with Rihanna.  This is an opportunity to let even the youngest kids know that it’s never OK to intentionally harm someone you love, or to accept being harmed.  No exceptions.

Tiger has been a role model with a capitol ‘R’. From the moment he became a golfing superstar, he was the poster child for all that is best about our country and the opportunity it offers to all our kids.  He was an amazing athlete of character, and a black man in a white man’s sport.  Kids need to know that no one is one dimensional.  Everyone is a mixture of good traits, and not-so-good.  It’s important to point out that even the best of us can make terrible mistakes. ‘Bad’ and ‘good’ are relative.

They’re going to hear about it … shouldn’t it be from you? My philosophy about kids and information is ‘don’t protect, explain’.  After watching thousands of families over the years, I’m convinced that forbidden fruit is way more powerful than something violent or scary that parents discuss openly.  Their friends are talking about it, OR they’re seeing it on TV, OR they’re overhearing you discuss it with your friends.  If you talk with them about it their understanding of events will be shaped by that.

All parents fight (occasionally).  And kids don’t always know the difference between you and Dad having a spirited argument about who took the trash out last, and the prospect of you smashing the windows of the Escalade with a 9 iron (or a wedge, or whatever it was).  It’s important to explain that though you and hubby may get loud once in awhile, this is a whole different universe.  They need to know the boundaries so they can feel safe.

It’s never their fault. When parents disagree, kids often jump to the conclusion that they did something to cause it.  They see themselves as an intrinsic part of Mom and Dad’s bond, and if things aren’t happy there it must be because of them.  Don’t miss a chance to point out that the kids did nothing wrong here, and that they did nothing wrong when the two of you are having an argument.  Your kids represent the best of Mom and Dad and they need to hear it.

Our celebrity culture has a dark side. The fascination with reality programming has created a norm that says the sky’s the limit.  Your most intimate secrets are fair game as long as you’re famous.  Whatever those nosy tabloid reporters can dig up will appear on Good Morning America. Ask kids what they think about this.  Is it fair?  Do they have things they’d rather not share with just anyone?

Fame corrupts … and super-fame corrupts famously. Pardon the paraphrase, but there’s a life lesson here.  When people treat you like you’re special, mega-special, and super-human, you may start to act like it.  This applies to the star of the Little League team as much as it does to the greatest golfer of all time.  Extraordinary talent in one arena doesn’t change a simple truth: you’re just like me.

When stuff happens, the kids always get caught in the crossfire. I don’t know about you, but in all the excruciating details that have been revealed in this story I haven’t heard anyone raise concern about what those two kids are being exposed to.  No one. I have to think the level of stress in that home is way high.  They are at risk.  Are we worrying about the right victims here?

Update: On Tuesday, 12/15, officials from Florida Children’s Services paid a visit to the Woods home to evaluate conditions for the 2 kids.  Better late than never.

It’s not about the sex. Yes, he cheated, but the betrayal is so much bigger than that.  It comes down to intent to deceive. Over and over again.  Keep that in mind when you talk to kids about right and wrong, and the consequences of the choices we make.  Often it’s not about the specific behavior, it’s about the intent.

Life circumstances can change in an instant. And they do.  It’s not about how much money you have, or how famous you are, or how much better you are at (fill in the blank) than anyone else.  All that can disappear in a split second.  Who you are at the core is all that matters.  It may sound like a sappy cliche, but not to our kids.

So talk.  Keep it age-appropriate.  You don’t even need to mention him by name if yours are too young to know, but talk.

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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