A note from Badger Parent Advocate, Mike Conaton:

Caeleb Dressel, Social Media and Internet Safety

When both swimming and non-swimming friends send me the same article, it’s a pretty good indication that there are some good stories involved.  Indeed, this recent article by Karen Crouse in the New York Times contains messages for parents of swimmers young and old. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/29/sports/for-a-natural-swimming-isnt-always-easy.html?_r=0

The article features Caeleb Dressel, the rising US sprinter who recently set new American records in both the 50- and 100-yard freestyle at his college conference championships.   The article summarizes Dressel’s meteoric recent rise, his ironic challenge, and his humble beginnings as an age group swimmer.

Badger 10U parents may hear their kids complaining about having to learn the difficult butterfly stroke.  Well maybe it will make the kids feel better to learn that even American record holders once struggled, and even cried over having to swim Butterfly.  And add yet another funny story about young kids and their early swimming lessons – Dressel once jumped into an empty lane during a meet and actually won the heat.  The problem was that he was not entered in the meet!  He was there to watch his older brother.

Later as an age grouper, the article makes reference to a valuable tool that many kids use today: Dressel still keeps detailed notes in a logbook to chronicle his workouts and performance.  His entries were much more detailed than other kids’ books, focusing not only on recording sets and pace times (as I know some Badger veterans still do), but also on how his body and muscles felt in the water under different conditions.  He was a study on form and technique.

Dressel would emerge onto the national scene, first at the age of 15 as the youngest male competitor at the 2012 Olympic Trials, then a year and a half later making the 2013 Junior World Championships in Dubai.

But when he came home from Dubai, despite all his success, Dressel unbelievably quit swimming.   Introducing one of parents’ greatest challenges with their kids – Social Media and the Internet.

Dressel suffered from feeling the burden of expectations.  It seems his days of racing anonymously were long gone.  Dressel said in the article, “as a 17-year-old kid, people put you on this podium, and it seems like you’re just a source of entertainment for people.  I felt like I was swimming for other people and they’d never be satisfied”.

The author of the article summed it up – “The “other people” are strangers on the internet.  Dressel’s ascent has coincided with the rise of social media, where every person with access to Twitter has the equivalent of a megaphone”.  Dressel was feeling the pressure from social media that expected him to be something special every time he swam.

The point combines two concepts, one we have written about in the past regarding the need for kids to swim for THEMselves. To me the second point speaks volumes of some of the other pressures our kids face today. You can literally be the fastest kid in the world and still feel peer pressure and feel bad about yourself – in this case delivered through the internet and social media. How many times have we had discussions (ok, fights) about social media in our household…It’s obviously here to stay so we all have to figure out how to deal with it – both the unintended and the very intentional and downright mean communications via the internet. I don’t know what the answer is, and obviously there are a lot of great things about the internet (I know I’m showing my age and tech inexperience), but I believe we parents can’t be blind to what goes on with social media and just hope for the best.

Back to the story…Dressel was back in the water after a much needed six-month break from the water.  With continuing support from family, friends and coaches, Dressel is constantly reminded to keep his success in perspective and his focus on himself and his teammates.

Three time Olympian Brendan Hanson is quoted in the article, summing up this last point very well when he spoke to Dressel’s mom – “the best thing you can do for your kids is put away your stopwatch and let it be THEIR sport, not yours”.

As for social media…hope is not a method – very coincidently, our local high school recently hosted a presentation by Laura Forbes, Senior Assistant District Attorney with the Office of the Westchester County District Attorney and member of the High Tech Crime Bureau.  Ms. Forbes spent a couple hours scaring parents with horrible stories and describing the many risks presented by the internet. In short, the following top 10 list of recommendations were discussed:

  1. Set parental controls on devices
  2. Talk about content with your kids (violence, language, other)
  3. If you give a 10-year old a phone, limit it
  4. Don’t let young kids play games or watch movies made for older kids
  5. Tell kids not to give away passwords, personal information or disclose their location
  6. Turn off devices at bedtime – take it away if you have to
  8. Tell your kids to stop if you don’t like what they’re doing online
  9. Help your kids or find help if you don’t know what to do
  10. Be aware of Apps that hide content from you on their phones and computers

So we’ll add to the list – Parents are awesome…it ain’t always easy…and it can be really scary…


Michael Conaton, Badger Swim Club Inc. and Badger Swimming Inc. accept no liability for the content of this article, or for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of the information provided.

Recommended Posts