With so much attention and speculation surrounding Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey one thing remains certain, our children will hear about it. As such parents have an opportunity to talk about a variety of important issues with their children, from cheating, to drugs, to confessing. The question for parents then becomes, how do we talk to our kids about such weighty and important issues?
Firstly, parents want to consider what exactly they want to communicate to their children. While the temptation will be to simplify the situation into dogmatic assertions like, “Cheating is bad!” or “Drugs are bad!” the reality is a bit more complicated. Cheating, drugs, and dishonesty have made Lance Armstrong a household name, a millionaire, and a hero for almost two decades. An immature mind might even feel that Lance Armstong’s personal failings were in fact great victories, albeit costly in the end. Such is a childish mind.
Perhaps the message ought to be one of cause and effect, choices and consequences, personal responsibility. This is the lesson parents teach children when we discipline them. While discipline often has the goal of behavior modification discipline actually serves a greater need, the need for personal empowerment. Discipline teaches children that their choices matter. Bad choices result in unpleasant outcomes while good choices result in pleasant outcomes. Discipline does not always alter bad behavior but it does always teach a child that his choices matter. The threat of force will not always deter a bad choice but the knowledge that they are in control just might. Therefore, the lesson to share with children about Lance Armstrong is the lesson that his choices matter, just like their own.
If your children are a little older it is appropriate to discuss the issues of trust and integrity. Talk about how nothing Lance Armstrong will do for the rest of his life will be free from skepticism. Talk about how he will never be allowed to compete, something he loves, ever again. Talk about the heavy consequences of his choices, not just the threat of jail time and the loss of fortunes, but the loss of trust from a community that once adored him. People can rebuild fortunes and sometimes even strength. But they can rarely ever rebuild a reputation. And the thing that builds or destroys a reputation is, of course, our choices.