How to talk to your children when their sports idols fall
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How to talk to your children when their sports idols fall

Conversations surrounding rugby league players' daily atrocities are taking part without, arguably, their greatest fans: children.

Kids play the game, watch it on TV, attend live matches, mimic their favourite players' post-try celebrations in the backyard, act as ball boys and girls, collect footy cards, and wear their team's jersey at any opportunity.

But, one aspect of rugby league kids generally don't take part in is the water cooler dissection of its off-field scandals.

Penrith's Tyrone May is understood to have been arrested in relation to the release of sex tapes.

Penrith's Tyrone May is understood to have been arrested in relation to the release of sex tapes.Credit:NRL Photos

Children don't sit in the playground talking about the real reason why Jarryd Hayne doesn't have an NRL club, they don't debate the merits of St George Illawarra player Jack de Belin's indefinite suspension, they won't weigh in on the unusual punishment meted out to Cowboys prop Scott Bolton, and they won't understand what Tuesday's headlines about Penrith youngster Tyrone May mean.

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Modern-day parenting can be challenging: monitoring screen-times, picking the right school, what they should watch on TV, diet, when they should sleep, and, now (particularly for parents of young rugby league fans) how, if at all, to discuss scandals.

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My son is eight and, in our household, we do not talk about these constant off-field player indiscretions.

In fact, I've found myself actively changing the topic whenever a friend or neighbour raises the subject of Dylan Walker, Dylan Napa, Hayne, de Belin...

"What did you say about Jarryd Hayne, Dad?" my son recently asked when he overheard some chit-chat around the former Parramatta Eel, who is maintaining his innocence as he faces aggravated sexual assault allegations.

"Oh, err, we are just wondering who will sign him up next."

Should I have said more?

Child psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says parents should be "guided by their kids' curiosity" when talking about sensitive topics.

"Don't give more information than they are asking for and keep it age appropriate," he says

For older children, there could even be a lesson in discussing the Tyrone May story.

"This is a teachable moment for all parents in that it illustrates that we should never post anything online without the consent of the person featured," Dr Carr-Gregg says.

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As for whether parents should be looking to sportspeople as role models for our children in light of recent events, Dr Carr-Gregg says there still are "a lot of league players who behave well and are great role models".

Children are taught to idolise sportspeople primarily through messaging in the home, but also through media, says the University of Western Australia's Associate Professor Sandy Gordon, who specialises in sport and exercise psychology.

Associate Professor Gordon believes, particularly in light of recent scandals like Cricket Australia's ball tampering incident, we might be holding these individuals to too high a standard.

"Like most Western societies where sport is a significant socialising agent Australia expects elite sport organisations and cultures to set high standards for excellence in behaviour on and off the field," he says.

"Because of the pressures to win and the financial incentives to do so these standards, including moral and ethical practices, get compromised."

As for the NRL, the code is currently actively trying to attract youngsters as players, fans and members through various junior rugby league programs.

It's a tough sell for parents, but the kids appear to lap it up, oblivious to the game's unrelenting open wounds.

Dr Adam Cohen, lecturer in sports management at UTS, says this isn't the first, and "almost certainly won't be the last", off-field scandal to leave supporters, and parents of younger supporters, asking questions.

"A lot of people ask, what is the tipping point for people to say I don't want to give this league my support, or my fandom, or my money?"

Dr Cohen says, for parents, it is a matter of weighing up whether you want to take away the "awesome experience" of being engaged with sport from a child due to the actions of "a few bad eggs".

"These decisions are going to have to come from the parents: when is enough enough, and [parents] decide they don't want to invite their kids to emulate or idolise what these guys are doing?"

Ultimately, Dr Cohen believes the NRL should be helping parents by punishing the mistakes of players, but also highlighting the good: "Reward the good actions and promote the good actions: for every couple of players who are doing these awful things, there are probably 50 who are out in the community and doing good things."

with Mary Ward

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