Monday, July 6th20.7°C
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Andrew Portwood

Should children play sports?

One of the issues that comes up often in my practice has to do with boys and girls participating in organized sports. This can occur at a school level of course, especially after elementary school, and also in the community with hockey, soccer and the like. There are many parents who place sports as one of the highest priorities in their kids' lives, and think nothing of driving them to countless tournaments and practices, sometimes at a frenetic pace. By the same token, there are other parents who place no priority on organized sports whatsoever, and their kids are more free to find other pursuits, including video games and home-based activities.

It is not for me or anyone else, in my opinion, to make a grand statement about the desirability for young people to participate in organized sports. This should always be a decision that fits a particular family, knowing that each is unique and has its own resources and challenges. Nonetheless, it is difficult to ignore the potential benefits that can come from playing organized team sports, and it can truly be a helpful and enriching element of a child's life, as long as a few important factors are observed and heeded.

1.  Sports bring an opportunity to create a healthier, more vibrant body and mind. Yes, mind is part of this equation! Regular FUN exercise not only helps to reduce any degree of obesity present or future, but helps the brain to function at its best. When our brains and bodies receive healthy blood and oxygen flow, they are simply more able to work efficiently and properly. The more opportunities we have to engage in active play, including sports, the greater the benefit.

2.  Being a member of a team can produce a result that is every bit as important: giving a child or teen vital opportunities to develop and refine social skills. This is seen perhaps most critically in learning how to create and strengthen friendships, though sharing laughs, solving problems, and learning what it means to work for the benefit of the group as a member of a team. Remember, kids are not born with social skills, they need to learn them, and team sports can have a healthy role in this process.

3.  Allow your child to have an active role in seeking out and choosing sports activities to try out. This helps a natural growing need for independence to further develop, and also gives him or her a critical piece of ownership over the activity they will be investing time and energy into. As an added bonus, when a child or teen has helped choose the activity they are far more likely to be excited to participate, as well as more willing to deal with those days when they DON'T want to attend (and these always appear from time to time). Any resistance to attending a soccer practice, for example, is likely to amplified 5 or 10 times potentially when soccer was at its core Mom or Dad's idea in the first place!

 

Be mindful also of any hidden dreams of athletic greatness you may harbor as a parent that are sometimes unwittingly transferred to your children. While these are not necessarily good or bad, they can push us as parents to be more aggressive and less able to hear what our children are saying; especially important if it turns out they would like to explore a different activity from what we had in mind for them. My son recently told me he would like to try Lacrosse, despite my own reservations about what looks to be a very rough and intimidating game. Nonetheless, I am choosing to remain open to the possibility in the near future, even if I kind of hope his interests move on and he remains happy playing soccer on warm Okanagan evenings.

 

Andrew Portwood is a certified Masters-level counselor in Kelowna with a heart for supporting and helping children, youth and young adults. He has also helped many parents to grasp a better understanding of why their children are choosing the behaviours they have, and how to move forward in a supportive, healthy manner. Creating authentic connection and clarity is essential in all he does, both as a counselor and in his life. Find more about him and his practice:

Website: http://clarowellness.ca/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AndrewPortwood/





Dads matter!

It is a huge privilege to be a father, and one that entails a large number of joys and responsibilities that go with it. In particular, it is a true gift and unique privilege to be a father of a son, and I would suggest there is something inherently special and almost magical about that bond. Now let me be clear, daughters are no less valuable or important, and for the record, I have both a son and a daughter, and couldn't imagine life without them. I love my little girl more than she can possibly know, and I always will. At the same time, the connection I have with my boy plays a foundational role in his life that is difficult to compare with that of my daughter.

As fathers of boys, it is important to be aware of just how much they look up to us. An article I once came across, that has stuck with me, nailed that point home in a way that was almost too painful to read. It related the story of a man watching another father and his young son waiting in line at Costco (parents know how daunting a challenge that can be with children!). The son knew ice cream cones were available at the concession just a short distance away, and excitedly asked his father if they could enjoy one together afterward. The father, likely frustrated from his wait in line and simply wanting to focus on the task at hand, quickly and sternly let his son know that no ice cream would be happening, and that he had better be quiet and stop bothering him. An effort to forget about the angry reaction from his father soon had the boy singing a tune to himself, only to bring about a scolding for making too much noise, and being told to be quiet in no uncertain terms. The boy slinked over to a nearby wall, his spirit crushed.

I'm sure you can imagine how crestfallen and hurt this boy must have felt. On one hand, it was an everyday situation, and children often have a way of testing our patience, and bringing forth needs and requests and the least convenient times. On the other hand however, words cannot express the degree to which, for a short period of time, fathers are no less than their son's biggest hero! Dad means everything to his boy, and the young pair of eyes wants nothing more than to spend time with him, learn different skills, and run and play with this magnificent individual. Allow me to make a bold suggestion: every father begins with this potential to meet his boy's hopes and needs, particularly during that critical period between about 5 and 8 years of age.

Knowing this range, all fathers have an important decision to make; and they will make it, even if they do not realize they are doing so. The decision is this: what, if anything, do I wish to create with my son's limited-time openness to connect on a very personal, joyful level? I have an invitation to show him what it means to be a person and a man with a level of respect from him that will be unmatched through the rest of his childhood - how do I choose to respond? Our actions as fathers will give our sons all the answers they seek. We have the right to make the most of that critical time, or alternatively, give them a message resembling "we will be together once I have time, but until then, give me the space and quiet that I need."

In my own life as a father, I am very fortunate to have a son who naturally gravitates toward high-energy, and traditionally "male" activities, such as fishing, hunting, plenty of sports, and even building war machines out of Lego. I say fortunate because he is actually leading me into interest areas that I have long been interested in, but seldom given any time for. As a result, we both grow and benefit from taking part in these activities together, and build more stories, skills and laughs that become part of our memories together. In addition we add to the common experiences and stories ("Remember when your sunglasses fell out of the boat, Dad? That was funny!") that are a critical part of developing meaningful connection with any child.

The true challenge comes in prioritizing time with our boy(s) who are at this special age, and making it clear to them and to ourselves that spending time together is important, and though life is busy and full of demands, there comes a place where even the most critical work responsibilities and home tasks must take a back seat to connection. What are we prepared to delay or cancel in the name of feeding a boy's need to spend meaningful and fully-present time with his Dad? Can we show patience when we are most tempted to yell or get angry? This can be very difficult, and I am far from the perfect father in this way, let me tell you. Your son is getting to know your heart at this special age, and your choices will help him to know who you are, deep down, for years and even decades to come.

 

Andrew Portwood is a certified Masters-level counselor in Kelowna with a heart for supporting and helping children, youth and parents. He has also helped many parents to grasp a better understanding of why their children are choosing the behaviours they have, and how to move forward in a supportive, healthy manner. Creating authentic connection and clarity is essential in all he does, both as a counselor and in his life. Find more about him and his practice:

Website: http://clarowellness.ca/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Andrew-Portwood-Youth-and-Family-Counsellor/



Addiction to gaming

One of the benefits of spending each day working with children, youth and families is, I have to be honest, the many different ways I am reminded of my own years growing up. Though much is of course different now from the 1980s, there are a surprising number of themes and challenges that have withstood the test of time. Having my own phone and number would have been completely unthinkable at that time, for example, as would semi-regular vacations to sunny climes like Mexico or Cuba. However there is one dominant theme today that was already present 30 years ago, that of the prevalence of video games and their strong allure for kids and teens alike.

Though I often hear through social media and parents the incredible degree to which their kids are "obsessed" with video gaming, it is easy to forget that this has been going on for a period that can now be measured in decades. Being so focused upon gaming so as to forget all about homework, chores, and even connecting with friends and family could in fact happen just as easily over hours of playing Centipede or Mario Brothers as when immersed in Halo or Game of Thrones today. In fact, I have not seen any long-term studies done that have concluded exposure to the content of video games themselves provides the primary negative effects on the development of young people, particularly when they lead otherwise healthy lives. As I have found however, there is also a significant difference between today's gaming and that of the 1980s and 90s that we need to be aware of.

The difference today is the ability to play with one's friends online, and how there is now an opportunity to attempt to have all one's needs for connecting with others met through one medium. This is a quantum shift in gaming, and one that affects the growth and development of young people much more than the actual content of any single game itself, I will argue. An example might be a 14 year old boy who loves to play Halo with a number of friends; some from school, and others he may never have met from places across the continent or even around the world. Suddenly his need for community is being met in a powerful and personalized way: he has a means through which to meet up with others having this similar interest, participate in adventure and action together (something boys usually crave), and create common experiences that potentially bring him closer together with others.

The need to connect should never be underestimated, and can help explain what many parents describe as a "gaming addiction". I would respond that indeed gaming can be a sort of addiction, though with a very clear cause and purpose that can be counter-balanced. Why would we want to provide such a counter-balance? Long hours of gaming, even with many others from school or the neighbourhood participating, seldom involve groups of friends getting together in the same physical space, and almost never seem to lead to discussions of non-gaming experiences and teenage life in general. In essence, when we allow this to become the de-facto method for creating community for a young person, we enable them to miss out on more and more in-person communication, and there is no substitute for this. To grow up in the healthiest way possible, we each need to be able to develop and practice social skills with others, and develop critical confidence in our ability to meet new people and conduct ourselves appropriately, whatever the situation.

How can parents encourage and create this healthier dynamic? Setting clear boundaries with gaming, such as hours per day and/or scheduled days for play, is usually an essential start. A conversation where boundaries are set, but the child or teen has a voice in creating these boundaries, can often lead to a sustainable hobby that everyone can live with. When time for playing video games has ended, there will also be needed time to create face-to-face experiences with friends and peers, such as going biking with a family member, or even heading down to Dairy Queen with friends! Video gaming can actually be a healthy part of a young person's world, as long as it has clear boundaries, and becomes only a part of their world of creating meaningful connections with others.





The Mini-Me syndrome

Signing my seven-year-old son up for soccer this season was a decision my wife and I made without hesitation. He loved hockey after all, and soccer involved far less equipment while offering a unique chance to watch games in practices in a warm Okanagan spring, rather than freezing in a town rink. My wife was especially enthusiastic about his playing soccer, as she played at a high level for many years, and still enjoys playing for her indoor team.

Imagine our reaction when, as it turns out, our son has not picked up skills like dribbling and shooting as quickly as we had envisioned, and in fact appears far more interested in goofing around with his teammates between (and during!) drills. While he may be exceptionally talented with Lego and can list five unique traits of every Pokemon character ever created since the dawn of time, he has yet to show he can shoot a ball in the net from three yards away. My wife can hardly contain herself, and numerous times has found it very difficult to watch as he bumbles, stumbles, and laughs his way through almost every practice and game, and has a fabulous time doing it.

All of us want our children to grow and learn at a rate at least on par with their peers, and it is hard to disagree with this. I wish for the same thing! However, potential problems can emerge when parents begin to conclude that the path to success for their child is through them mirroring the parent's success, and following a very similar route. This can often occur with highly successful parents, wishing for nothing less for their son or daughter, and naturally wanting similar success to occur for them as well. To bring this about, a very strict regimen of specific homework times, team sports, and very structured, intense parenting is not unusual. The phrase "I don't want her to make the same mistakes I made", while perhaps coming from a healthy place and with the best intentions, can actually really hinder positive growth for a young person.

I call this the Mini-Me Syndrome; a desire (and sometimes a demand) for our child to enjoy success that actually looks very similar to what we currently enjoy, but without having to endure nearly as many pitfalls along the way. In effect, we want our children to enjoy our success, and do it our way, because we know it works, and they might run into far too many problems if they try and plot their own route to success. In some of the more serious cases, there can also be a great deal of ego involved: if our child follows our path to glory, it is a confirmation of our own greatness, and provides a deep personal satisfaction through passing on a legacy that shouts out the victory we have made happen.

The Achilles Heel of such a parenting approach comes through taking away the single largest opportunity a young person can have in developing a healthy sense of independence - that of taking ownership of creating his or her own path, being allowed to deal with obstacles and natural consequences that are not always easy, and even being permitted to fail as required in learning valuable lessons in life. When we choose to invite our children to find and embrace their own interests, and plot (with support from us, of course) their own route into a purpose-filled future, there is an inherent risk that they will choose something other than what we had in mind. Their interests may be completely different, their beliefs about the world and how it works may not match up very well with our own, and they will almost certainly make mistakes that we as parents knew were coming, and that we could have helped them avoid!

Nonetheless, the gift of allowing our children to choose much about their own path helps them to grow resilience and a sense of purpose that is all but unachievable through any other means. Though it is very difficult for many of us, it usually is a very healthy exercise to encourage our children to develop their own paths forward in ways that resonate with them. They much more quickly take ownership, responsibility, and grow immeasurably from the experience - tears and all. Mini-Me is almost always an illusion, and might prevent us from experiencing the deep satisfaction of raising our children toward growing into adults who love us, are fulfilled, and who we couldn't be more proud of.

Andrew Portwood is a certified Masters-level counselor in Kelowna with a heart for supporting and helping children, youth and young adults. He has also helped many parents to grasp a better understanding of why their children are choosing the behaviours they have, and how to move forward in a supportive, healthy manner. Creating authentic connection and clarity is essential in all he does, both as a counselor and in his life. Find more about him and his practice:

Website: http://clarowellness.ca/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AndrewPortwood/



Read more Youth & Family Dispatch articles




About the Author

Andrew Portwood is a certified Masters-level counselor in Kelowna with a heart for supporting and helping children, youth and young adults. He has also helped many parents to grasp a better understanding of why their children are choosing the behaviours they have, and how to move forward in a supportive, healthy manner.

Creating authentic connection and clarity is essential in all he does, both as a counselor and in his life.

Find more about him and his practice:
Website: clarowellness.ca
Twitter: @AndrewPortwood

Contact him at The Core Centre of Health (250) 862-2673.







The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.


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