sports, politics, and family communication

All I’ve been paying attention to lately is American Football and computer science. Why this is I’m not sure. Mostly because I don’t have time to get exercised over things I can’t change, and I get much less upset about football than politics.

Football doesn’t matter, and I know it doesn’t matter. I watch it, and I care, because it creates a neutral topic to talk to my son about, and I believe that eventually I’ll need that topic. My dad has started watching football for exactly the same reason. This is probably a good thing.

Sports creates common enemies. My Dad and I disagree about politics. We disagree about child rearing, religion, and working late at night. But we can agree that Florida should be facing TCU and not Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl, and even if we disagree, neither of us care enough to get mad about the discussion. There are points to be made on every side, and no one actually cares if they’re right.

Politics is a different animal, as is religion, or even science. It actually matters a lot whether the Obama economic plan is a mitigated or unmitigated disaster. It matters whether the Copenhagen summit represents pure stupidity or merely incompetence, it matters whether the good folks at the University of East Anglia were actually flat out lying or merely snarky idiots.

Discussions on these matters get hot and desperate, as we are gripped by terrifying forces beyond our control. Football is also beyond my control, but it doesn’t grip me. Teams win, teams lose, teams try again next week or next year. We cheer, we boo, we experience momentary happiness and sadness.

There are deep physiological roots to the enjoyment of watching sports, of course. Our ever handy mirror neurons create a vicarious sense of playing when we observe others at play. So to watch virtuosity makes us feel, however briefly, like virtuosos ourselves. And this can be a powerful good feeling.

As a geek, I occasionally feel guilty about this. Most of these guys are probably jerks. They probably tortured geeks in high school. And now they sit on top of the world.

On the other hand, every one of them represents the failure of a thousand other jocks, jocks working dead end jobs and looking back on high school as the pinnacle of their life. So there’s a little sweet revenge there. And the Highlander doesn’t have that experience yet. He hasn’t been to secondary school. He’s just a kid, and he loves football.

But this theory of mine, that sport fandom will lead to a better relationship with my son later in life, is pretty untested. My brief literature search hasn’t led to much data.

My question to the readership: what plans are you laying for navigating the teenage years? What do you think of creating a “safe” subject to discuss when parent/child resentment/embarrassment closes down other topics?


8 Responses to sports, politics, and family communication

  1. Pete Schult says:

    My 13 year old daughter has gotten into *Star Trek* (mostly TNG and after), so that gives my wife and me something we can talk to her about.

  2. aaronhelton says:

    I’ve heard (pretty sketchy start, I know) that the key to communication in the teenage years is to remember that, even from 8-12, your kids still need you to be there and communicate with them. Many parents wrongly assume that the self-sufficiency their kids exhibit during those years mean they need less direct involvement. In fact, they need the same level of involvement. I wouldn’t worry about trying to force the creation of common ground, at least not by pushing kids into something that may not interest them. They tend to develop some of their interests based on what they are exposed to (either by you or, increasingly, by what they find online), and my thinking is that it’s more powerful when you take an active interest in the things they are already interested in (resisting that urge for vicarious living, of course).

    We’ll see how that approach pans out in about 8 years :)

  3. Ticktock says:

    I think it’s sad that politics and religion have become so polarizing and unsettling that we can’t have honest discussions with family members about those topics. I think there’s a danger, however, in not bringing up uncomfortable issues. Communication breaks down, nobody feels like they can talk to each other, and then, eventually your daughter is silently struggling with an eating disorder or your son is impregnating a mormon.

  4. Lexi says:

    Wow, I hadn’t even thought about this one yet. Thanks for stirring up my new-mom anxiety!

    But seriously, I really want to foster open communication with my son. I’d like him to learn that it’s OK if he doesn’t agree with his parents, but he can still talk to us. My husband and I both disagree with our parents about a lot of things, but we’re still able to have discussions with them about pretty much anything, even politics!

  5. I think the key is treating all subjects as safe subjects. Just be honest and non-judgmental about everything and your kid will give it right back. Honesty is actually liberating for both parties. So what if you have major fundamental differences with someone? After you find that out, you just set that topic aside and talk about other things instead. Preferably the stuff you agree on. I’ve found that deep down inside most people share the same concerns, it’s just the solutions differ. By taping into their common humanity, two very different and passionate people can be civil with each other if they choose to. However, if one of the two wants to be an A-hole, well there’s not much you can do about it.

    • philosodad says:

      “After you find that out, you just set that topic aside and talk about other things instead.”

      Hence the idea of sports as a topic.

      • Yes, I understood your premise, I’m just saying you can’t cultivate a safe topic. To a sports nut, sports is anything but a safe topic. So watching sports with your kid could quite possible lead to really intense opinions about sports. It’s kind of like music. You’d think that music could be a safe topic until you get into a argument with a teenage boy over which bands suck and who shreds harder on guitar. Sports dudes have the same passionate responses.

  6. Lain says:

    Loved this – added it to our weekly “best of” round-up at Parenting Squad!

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