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Parents Behaving Badly


I’m one of the local leaders of the New Canaan Society in Grand Rapids, a mentoring ministry to men. A few weeks ago, we had a dozen young men, most of whom are still indifferent to God, over to my house for a meal and discussion on the topic of engineering a more purposeful life.

Two of the young men coach high school teams in an upscale community nearby. I asked them what the most challenging part of their job was. They looked at each other and almost simultaneously blurted out, “Kids screwed up by their parents!” I pressed them to elaborate on their assertion. The parents are the problem. Over the course of our discussion, I heard them identify three types of parents who they believed were toxic to their sons.

  1. Bulldozer Parents – “Winning is everything – they don’t just want their children to win a game. They want them to be winners! They’ll spend a fortune on camps and private lessons to make sure their child is aggressive and the best. These parents believe they are simply wanting the best for their children, but most of their sons just aren’t great players and never will be and these kids are scared to death of disappointing their parents.We can tell who these kids are by where they look when they make a great play or they make a mistake. They are constantly looking over at their parents – checking to see either approval or disappointment on their face. We could almost cry for those kids.”

  2. Divorced Parents – “Most of the kids on our team who have divorced parents are screwed up. We have no idea exactly why, but many of our players with divorced parents are angry, they’re often bullies, and they tend to be selfish. They’re prima donnas! We’ve come to the conclusion that unlike the kids of the bulldozer parents, these kids could give a rip about pleasing their parents. They know they can play one parent off against the other and get away with murder. So they do. These kids are often our greatest discipline challenge.”

  3. Indifferent Parents – “These parents show up at the games but are constantly talking to the other parents, or looking at their phones. They are almost completely indifferent to what’s happening on the field and their sons know it. We can see it in their son’s eyes. When a boy makes a great play and glances over to his parent, who missed it texting, we watch them shake their head with either disgust or sadness.”

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children.” Ephesians 6:4a

The Solution? As a parent of six children, I know how easy it is to fall into habits that are counter-productive for true followers of Jesus. So, here are some of my recommendations for parents or grandparents for changing the sports culture in your family, and on your team.

  1. Leave your phones in the car when watching your child play sports. (Don’t even tempt yourself to look at it!)

  2. Cheer your child for their hard play and teamwork, not winning.

  3. If you are not able to attend the game, do not make your first question, “What was the score?” Ask them how their team played. (In fact, don’t ever ask the score.)

  4. When they make a mistake on the field or court, let them see kindness and empathy in your face, not anger or disapproval.

  5. Go out of your way to praise good character, in your children, rather than performance. (“I really admire that you’re a team player, or how hard you practice.”)

  6. Have your child’s teammates, or friends over to your home for a meal so they see how a healthy family functions.

  7. If you see a team member “behaving badly,” ask your son or daughter what they think is going on. This is an opportunity to help your child build empathy for others. Then pray for whatever it is that’s contributing to their teammates stress.

  8. Make sure they know, “It’s only a game.” Losing well, builds character also!

  9. Pray regularly for every team member, the coach and the parents.

  10. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you radar for parents who are hurting or lonely. Consider building a redemptive relationship with them. Win the right to speak truth to them, by loving them first.

  11. Ask your child if there is anything you’re doing at a sports event that embarrasses, or discourages them.

A few blogs ago, I made this observation:

Your children will probably forget 99% of what you told them. But, they’ll always remember how you made them feel!

How following Jesus works in real life.

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