By Sierra Filucci, Common Sense Media Movie and TV Editor
The Olympic Games can be such an inspiring and exciting time to watch TV as a family. But beyond the fantastic feats, breathtaking speed, and colorful outfits, there are plenty of opportunities to engage kids in deeper conversations. Seize the moment by asking open-ended questions, and see where the conversation goes.
Try these ideas for turning this family viewing opportunity into powerful life lessons.
Talk about inspiration. If nothing else, the Olympics is 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 life and how they pursued their athletic goals.
Ask: What are you willing to work hard for?
Prep for controversy. Every Olympic Games includes some sort of controversy -- whether it's a disqualified athlete or the politics of the host country. Be ready to hear the same issues discussed over and over again during commentary periods, and have some answers ready for your kids' inevitable questions.
Ask: If you were in charge, how would you handle the controversy?
Explore back stories. 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 back story be?
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 a group school project. Point out how athletes show their support for each other and also how they handle winning and losing.
Ask: What makes a good teammate?
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?
Go global. The Olympic Games offer the perfect opportunity to learn more about other countries. From identifying country flags to watching different cultural traditions play out, Olympics coverage can be educational. 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?
Point out advertising. The Olympics is 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?
What more ways to make the most of the Olympics?
2014 Olympics Guide for Families
Mute the Commercials: Tips for Watching Sports as a Family
Yes, You Can Make TV Time Count
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