Physical talent, drive, and discipline -- those qualities abound in star athletes, which is why so many kids identify with them and put them up on pedestals. Problem is, they can't seem to stay there. Whether it's Yankees star Alex Rodriguez finally fessing up to taking performance-enhancing drugs, or Andre Agassi admitting he got high on crystal meth while on the pro tennis circuit, the playing fields these days are littered with scandals of every stripe. "So many stars have failed or fallen off the wagon in some way, and it's really had an impact on kids," says Stanley Teitelbaum, PhD, author of Athletes Who Indulge Their Dark Side: Sex, Drugs, and Cover-Ups (Praeger). "The younger they are, the stronger the sense of disappointment. With older teens, the response is more like 'Whatever' or 'Who cares?' They're not even surprised, just disillusioned and indifferent."
There are many lessons for parents to drive home here. "Start by having a conversation with your child about human frailty and imperfection, and how we all succumb to temptation," suggests Teitelbaum. Even the most cynical teens, he adds, still connect with sports figures on some deeper, subconscious level; when their heroes succeed, kids bask in the glory and feel good about themselves. So it's natural for them to want athletes to be strong and flawless in every way. "I call it the halo effect," says Farley. "It's part of a parent's job to take it off and teach kids that athletes often do destructive things despite their accomplishments."
Then move on to the issue of steroids. Doping is illegal, and it undermines everything that sports is about by giving an unnatural advantage over the competition -- whether it affects a game, a championship, the record books, or the Hall of Fame. "Simply put, it's living a lie," says Farley. "So if your teen says what's the big deal or that everybody's doing it, you've got to help him grasp the larger legal and moral repercussions." Make like Socrates and ask lots of questions to help him get the big picture. Is bulking up on steroids any different from cheating? What about fair play and everybody sticking to the rules? Is winning really the only thing that matters? Your end goal is for your kid to come up with the right answers on his own.