07/25/2012 05:27 pm ET Updated Sep 24, 2012

How to Turn the Olympics into Teachable Moments

By Sierra Filucci, Common Sense Media editor

The Olympics are an exciting time to gather your kids around the TV and watch the world's best athletes go toe to toe. But beyond the rippling muscles, athletic prowess and Spandex, there are plenty of opportunities to engage kids in deeper conversations. Seize the moment by asking open-ended questions and seeing where the conversation goes.

Try the following six ideas to convey powerful life lessons over the course of the Games:

1. Talk about inspiration. If nothing else, the Olympics are a time to be awed by the abilities of the human body. 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?

2. Explore backstories. Reporters covering the Olympics dig up inspiring stories about athletes overcoming obstacles to reach their goals. These emotional tales can make watching an event all the more compelling and give you a chance to talk to your kids about perseverance. Of course, some stories can include grim experiences -- death, illness, injury -- that might be too much for very young or very sensitive viewers. Chime in when reassurance or more explanation is necessary.
Ask: What would your backstory be?

3. 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 group school projects. Point out how athletes show their support for each other and also how they handle winning and losing.
Ask: What makes a good teammate?

4. 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?

5. Go global. The Olympic Games offer the perfect opportunity to learn more about other countries. Olympics coverage can be educational, giving kids a chance to identify country flags and watch different cultural traditions play out. Use the Olympics as a jumping-off point to learn more about particular countries or cultures. Talk about the origins and goals of the Olympics.
Ask: What did you learn about another country or culture that you didn't know before?

6. Point out advertising. The Olympics are 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?

Read more from Common Sense Media
2012 Olympics Guide for Families
Six Ways to Be a Media Savvy Parent in 2012
Yes, You Can Make TV Time Count