, Salem, MA


July 5, 2013

How to talk to kids about Aaron Hernandez

Recent news of ex-New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez’s arrest has left football fans throughout the country feeling shocked. Disappointed parents and crestfallen kids may still be processing the events involving one of their sports heroes. But is Hernandez a hero? Our society’s obsession with celebrity leads to confusion about the distinction between being a star and being a true hero. Athletic talent and performance can make a football player a star, but true heroism is based on strong character and heroic acts. While adults are struggling to separate his character from his talents as an athlete, children may be feeling outright betrayed by the notion that Hernandez might be a murderer.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to maintain perspective regarding the human-ness of today’s celebrity athletes who are often overexposed, overpaid, and over-idolized. Because of his success in professional sports, people assumed that Hernandez was someone to look up to and emulate. He is skilled and talented, and until last week, he was part of the elite and revered New England Patriots.

Many adult fans convince themselves that it’s OK to idolize celebrity sports stars out of loyalty to their local team. Parents may unwittingly pass this on to the children around them without recognizing the message they are sending. Like many professional athletes, Hernandez came to be looked upon as a role model for the wrong reasons.

Hernandez’s tragedy is an opportunity for families to talk about values and character. Here are some tips for parents when discussing Hernandez with their children:

Consider a child’s developmental age. Children younger than age 10 lack the abstract thinking ability to process how a sports star could be both a great and popular athlete and a murder suspect. Avoid discussing details of the violence. If the topic of Hernandez comes up, focus on things that are easier and less troubling for them to process. Tell them that since Hernandez is not a professional football player anymore, it’s no longer appropriate to display gear with his name and image on it.

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