David Ortiz and the steroid problem: What do I tell my children when their heroes do something wrong?

Michael RichMedia expert Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston answers your questions about media use. Last week, Sarah from Wellesley asked “Rather than relying on age, is there some developmental signal that indicates a child can handle/process television?” Read Dr. Rich’s answer.

And now, here’s this week’s Ask the Mediatrician query:

Q: My kids love David Ortiz. When we watch Red Sox games, they wear his jersey and cheer loudest for him. Now that he’s in the news for possibly using performance-enhancing drugs, though, I’m not sure what to tell them about their hero. What should I do?
Parent of Papi Fans in Danvers, MA

A: Dear Parent of Papi Fans,
It’s always tough to talk to kids about how their heroes might not be perfect, and David Ortiz’s case is particularly difficult because he was always known as a squeaky clean, all around good guy. I would view this situation, though, as an opportunity to teach your children some important lessons.

One lesson is that celebrities are people, too. Most of what we know about them is from what we’ve heard in entertainment news, which is usually written to sell the story, not to report reality.  If your kids are surprised at a celebrity’s behavior, you can use it as a chance to talk about how the media tells stories about people which aren’t always true.

So if we don’t really know our heroes, what is it that we admire about them? The answer is usually that they’re exceptionally talented at what they do. Ask your kids what they like about David Ortiz (or Justin Timberlake, or Miley Cyrus), and when they point out that he always seems to hit a home run when the team really needs it, you can explain that they can aim to do that for their own teams too.

Often, we either hold celebrities to higher standards than we hold other people to or we excuse them for inappropriate behavior. Neither of these extremes is healthy. Instead, focus on the learning that can come from a revelation about any such hero. In this case, watch for the consequences that Ortiz ends up facing, and discuss them with your kids. Ask them which of his actions they’d like to try to carry out in their own lives and which actions they wouldn’t copy. And watch how Ortiz handles the situation—there are ways to do so that could be worth modeling too.

Do you have a question about your child’s media use? Ask the Mediatrician today!

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician

It’s not just athletes who take steroids inappropriately. Click here to read about the dangers of adolescent steroid use and how to seek help.