Watching Games: A teachable event

TV with kids can be golden.

Posted: August 01, 2012

The Olympic Games are the rare event when experts encourage parents to switch on the TV and settle in on the couch alongside their kids.

The three-week coverage will quickly max out a family's screen-time limits, but what's being shown can break records in the teachable-moments category.

Child development specialist Betsy Brown Braun wrote an essay on Huffington Post last week titled "Why You Should Watch the Summer Olympics With Your Kids."

"Beyond sheer entertainment, there's much to be learned by watching the games on the demon screen - exposure to different sports and their rules, learning about other cultures, and experiencing the more subtle points of competition like effort, loss, and sometimes winning.

"Don't miss this opportunity to teach your kids important lessons. Join your child on the couch and be a student in one of the world's great classrooms: the Summer Olympics," she urged.

Similar advice comes from another surprising source:

The Olympics provide "plenty of opportunities to engage kids in deeper conversations," writes Common Sense Media's Sierra Filucci in the group's guide to parents on how to get the most out of the Games.

Yes, that's the same Common Sense Media that usually advises against television, especially spectacles overrun with commercial sponsorships.

Even with all the passive engagement, the advertising, and the likelihood of mindless munching, child experts say the opportunity for good outweighs the bad.

The key is to use the Olympics to look for broader themes of sportsmanship and global awareness and ask open-ended questions to trigger conversations.

Below are excerpts offering more specific advice from Common Sense Media:

Talk about inspiration. Point out the kind of practice, dedication, and sacrifice that go into becoming an Olympic athlete. If there are certain competitors your kids like, find out more about their lives and how they pursued their athletic goals.

Ask: What are you willing to work hard for?

Discuss teamwork. Watching team sports can be a great chance to point out how everyone's contribution is key to a team's success. Help kids make the connection between teamwork in sports and other collaborative efforts, like a group school project.

Ask: What makes a good teammate?

Comment on competition. Winning feels great, and most kids have experienced that thrill themselves, so they can identify with the athletes wearing their medals proudly. But point out the other athletes, too. This can help kids develop empathy and reinforce the idea that winning isn't everything.

Ask: What's the difference between good and poor sportsmanship?

Go global. The Olympic Games offer the perfect opportunity to learn more about other countries.

Ask: What did you learn about another country or culture that you didn't know before?

Point out advertising. The Olympics is a huge advertising opportunity for marketers. Try to DVR events when possible so you can skip through the commercials. With older kids, talk about the relationship between athletes and corporations and why they depend on each other. Point out any ironies - like an ad showing an athlete eating fast food - and you'll pump up kids' media literacy skills.

Ask: How many advertisements can you spot during an event, and what are they selling?

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