Lessons from Superbowl XLVIII Dr Shimi Kang.

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A historic 700 000 people showed up in the City of Seattle on February 5th, 2014 to celebrate with their champions at the Super Bowl Parade. Many of us cheered from a distance, but as a parent and youth psychiatrist, I couldn’t help but notice that the 48th Super Bowl supplies us with a unique teaching opportunity for our kids.

The Super Bowl (or any current event you are following together) can be used as a springboard for meaningful discussion and debate. By creating a conversation and remaining open to everyone’s thoughts and opinions, taking in events like the Super Bowl can actually prove to be one of the best ways to ‘check-in’ with your family. Communication is key. Whether you ask your children what they think about Syria or Justin Bieber, the most important thing is that you ask!

Listen to their thoughts and treat every moment as an opportunity. You might agree with your child or feel that they have missed a boundary you are trying to help them draw. Either way, you have the perfect opportunity to share. The specific nature of the 2014 Super Bowl game provides a few great areas to explore.

Here are 5 sample conversations you can have with your kids:

1) Never underestimate the underdog. The Seattle Seahawks entered the Super Bowl as a team that many touted as being “too young to pull it off.” There were many naysayers. What are some of the advantages to being an underdog? What are the dangers of being the favorite to win? Malcolm Gladwell’s book David And Goliath explores these questions in detail and in classic “Gladwellian” style, he treats us to the most delightful of conclusions – that teams don’t win despite being underdogs, they win because of being underdogs. Struggling through challenges gives us the skills to overcome further challenges. Adversity makes us stronger.

2) Celebrate the ’12th Man!‘ It is a little cliché, but we can’t discuss team sports without looking at the team! There is a reason, after all, that the players always thank the whole team whenever they accept an award. This year Seattle Seahawks fans have been an integral part in their team’s success. Their title of the ‘loudest fans in the NFL’ is merely one example of the enthusiasm and passion of the Seattle crowd. Many players, including quarterback Russell Wilson, gave tribute to the fans. Could the Seahawks have performed this well without their fan’s support? This is a great opportunity to discuss how a team is more than merely a sum of its parts. It is also a stunning reminder of the power of being part of a community.

3) The importance of sportsmanship. The fact that the Seahawks won was a surprise to many. The fact that their victory was so decisive is still a shock. A lot of attention has been paid to Peyton Manning from the Denver Broncos and how painful this loss must be to him in particular. Looking at his previous career success and then comparing it to his last two Super Bowl performances has been a favorite exercise of sports announcers. What an excellent opportunity to look at the importance of sportsmanship. How did he react when the results were not what was expected of him? Life is a journey through ever-changing waters and it is how well we manage the ups and downs of those waters that define our character. This was a moment to see the humility, respect, and integrity that defines true athletes.

4) There are always two sides to every game. Despite all glory and fanfare, it is important to remember the downsides of the game of professional football. This is a sport with the highest rate of concussions leading to CTI – chronic traumatic encephalopathy, not to mention recent issues of bullying, addiction, and a high number of player arrests. So although some athletes may be exceptional in their game, does that make them successful in life? Let’s tell our kids that one can admire specific athletic feats and still be critical of behaviors that may seem unethical or unhealthy. Thankfully, there were no concussions in this year’s Superbowl and with the new rules, the rate of NFL concussions in 2014 dropped 13 percent from the 2012 season.

5) An opportunity to bond and play. Events like the Superbowl are a whole lot of fun for the whole family! Whether it’s the commercials, halftime shows (gotta love Bruno Mars and the Peppers), or all the yummy (and hopefully some healthy) food, enjoying the game is an opportunity to just spend time together. In a hurried world of schedules and assignments, these opportunities are few and far between. And you never know…it may even lead to a family football game in the backyard!

I must add that I am not really a football fan and I certainly don’t really understand the game very well. However, if we look for opportunities to teach lessons of character, to bond, and to have fun with our children, we can find them even in the most unlikely of places. It’s important to ask open-ended questions and listen to answers in a curious (non-judgmental) way.

So did you use the Super Bowl to start a quality discussion with your family? If you try some of these tips, let me know how it goes!

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