Health and wellness tips from Indiana University
Living Well for January discusses the following topics:
Financial stress fueling violence at youth sporting events
Give your parties some oomph
Violence in youth sports -- a bottom line issue. Less than 1 percent of high school graduates in the United States receive sports scholarships to college. Still, financial pressure, fueled by the prospect of a scholarship and the expense of competitive youth sports teams, increasingly is pushing parents beyond the brink of good sportsmanship when youth sports become viewed as an investment. Fan violence at youth sporting events can range from yelling to physical violence, such as parents striking coaches. Lynn Jamieson, professor and chair of IU Bloomington's Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Studies, said the amount of sports violence occurring at youth sporting events has not increased but the negative influence of financial pressures has. "I know a woman who worked two full-time jobs so her child could compete with a traveling team," said Jamieson, whose research interests includes sports violence. "When your life revolves around the sport and competition, the stress and frustration can manifest itself in the player and parents." She suggests that parents consider the benefits of investing in a college savings plan. "There are other avenues of success for youth," Jamieson said. "Every dollar spent on leisure could be saved for higher education."
Jamieson offers these tips and resources to minimize the occurrence of violence in the bleachers and on the playing field:
- Verbal abuse can be worse than physical abuse when it comes from coaches, parents or other players. It also can accelerate physical violence. To address this, "silent" matches are held across the country. During these special athletic events, fans can only applaud -- no yelling or commenting on the game is permitted.
- Remove children from situations where there are abusive patterns. A bad experience can have a long-term effect on how youth view sports. "There's no reason to put yourself in a situation where there are no choices," Jamieson said.
- Keep the family's sporting activities affordable for the whole family.
- Be vigilant about unsportsmanlike behavior -- and don't take it. Jamieson encourages people to report unsportsmanlike behavior and to become aware of relevant codes of conduct and solutions employed by other communities. This can include lobbying community leaders for change.
Often youth sports leagues rely on parents and other volunteers to coach and referee. Volunteers might not be aware of training programs and other resources that could help them deal with violence and ethical issues. These resources could help:
- StopHazing.org, http://www.stophazing.org, contains information about many aspects of hazing including fraternity, sorority, athletic, high school and military hazing.
- The National Alliance for Youth Sports, http://www.nays.org, is a good source for codes of ethics and other youth sports guidelines.
- IUB's Center for Sport Policy and Conduct, http://www.indiana.edu/~cspc, has a useful "resource" link.
"Helicopter parents" stir up anxiety, depression. Indiana University psychologist Chris Meno counsels over-parented students in much the same way she addresses addiction: "I'll make suggestions like, 'Catch yourself when you are about to call home, and ask yourself if there is any way that you could figure the problem out on your own,' or 'If you are calling four times a day, try to get it down to one.'" She said that over-involved "helicopter parenting" is taking a serious toll on the psychological well-being of college students who have not begun to negotiate a balance between asking for consultation and independent decision making. "It's amazing how non-independent students have become," Meno said.
- Are you a helicopter parent? Helicopter parents can be identified by their tendency to hover close to their child, ready to come to the rescue at the first sign of difficulty or disappointment. They treat their college-age children to the same full-service parenting they have implemented since birth: they pay bills and do laundry; they arrange for utilities to be turned on and off. It is not uncommon for helicopter parents to contact professors about their child's exams or insist that a test be re-graded. Meno has received calls from parents who insist that their child be treated for depression when, she said, "the student is experiencing normal adjustment sorts of issues."
- Cell phones as virtual umbilical cords. "It's not unusual for students to be calling and checking in with mom three or four times a day. They are calling parents to make decisions about dropping a class, making a purchase, dealing with any kind of setback. Kids today are much more likely to say that their parent is their best friend, and it is good in a way that they have a close relationship, but this kind of dependency leads to a lack of confidence in being able to achieve things on their own."
- Psychological symptoms of over-parenting. The fruits of parental over-involvement include higher levels of anxiety and depression among adult children, Meno said. "When children aren't given the space to struggle through things on their own, they don't learn to problem-solve very well. They don't learn to be confident in their own abilities, and it can affect their self-esteem. The other problem with never having to struggle is that you never experience failure and can develop an overwhelming fear of failure and of disappointing others. Both the low self-confidence and the fear of failure can lead to depression or anxiety," she said.
- Growing up is hard to do. Meno also sees a connection between helicopter parenting and difficulty in landing a job after college. A combination of discomfort with uncertainty and overblown expectations of success leads many students to march back home after graduation, she said. "College used to be the time when you had to figure things out for yourself. But these students haven't learned how to sit with not knowing or vagueness or confusing feelings. At the same time, they have been told that they can be anything they want to be. So when they try to go out and get the 'perfect job' and find they can't get it right away, they feel lost. And they move back in with their parents."
- The path to recovery. Meno works with students to help them build confidence by making independent decisions. "I want the students to find support and counsel within themselves," she said. "I want them to learn to trust their own judgment."
- Threat levels, shootings and unstable regions. A glance at the morning headlines is all it takes to understand why parents may be more concerned about their children than in recent decades, Meno said. "Helicopter parents may need to first give themselves a break -- of course they want to protect their sons and daughters from the world's perils. But they need to follow this with considering the vital role of developing independence in their child," she said.
Why should kids have all the fun? If the thought of another wedding shower or run-of-the mill mixer leaves you yawning, channel the child inside and plan an active-themed gathering. Active-themed parties can liven up social gatherings, teach new skills and reinforce the fun of physical activity. "We just lose our sense of fun and movement, and we become slower at everything we do," said Tatiana Kolovou, a long-time group exercise leader at Indiana University Bloomington and a fitness consultant. "Instead of seeing movement and activity as a stress reliever, we see it as a stress creator." Not so for Kolovou and her friends. The group celebrated a friends' wedding plans last fall with a 30-minute bike ride around Bloomington, Ind., followed by a 30-minute walk that even more friends joined, and then bagels and pineapple mimosas at a popular eatery. The bride-to-be wore appropriate cycling apparel, topped off with a wedding veil, and the group all wore Hawaiian-print clothes and leis in honor of the location of the approaching nuptials. Everyone was talking about the shower long after the activities ended.
Here are examples of other active party themes or ideas:
- Spend money on an expert, not catering. Kolovou and a friend, for example, hired massage therapists to teach those in their group of friends some new massage techniques. They learned new skills and left the party feeling fine (they practiced on each other).
- Family fun. Kolovou and her friends rented a rock-climbing wall and ordered pizza, arranging for a fun party for the whole group.
- Searching for treasure. Kolovou has planned several birthday treasure hunts for her jogging group. They look for clues along their early morning route -- which requires Kolovou to hide clues and treats beforehand.
- Cha-cha? Salsa, perhaps? Treat your friends to a dance class at a professional dance studio.
- An active happy hour. Meet for a walk and then continue the gabfest over coffee.
- Yoga for all. Kolovou and her friends hired the instructor of their weekly 6 a.m. yoga class to conduct a special session later in the day so their spouses could join them.
- Who to invite. Active-themed parties work best with people who already are active, not necessarily friends from work or extended family.
Kids like to be active, for sure, but it doesn't happen "organically" if the children do not know each other well. Kolovou suggests planning results-oriented activities, such as obstacle courses and treasure hunts, so the kids have something specific to do.
"We as adults have to become kids to facilitate this more," Kolovou said. "Kids respond well to seeing the parents and other adults play."
EDITORS: This monthly tip sheet is based on Indiana University faculty research, teaching and service. "Living Well Through Healthy Lifestyles" is the guiding philosophy of IU Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. In keeping with that philosophy, this tip sheet offers information related to both physical and mental well-being. Faculty in other IU schools and departments also contribute their expertise in this area.