As parents, we spend a significant amount of time watching our children perform. We watch them play sports, dance at recitals, act in school plays, or just play on the playground. The list seems endless of the things that we watch them do. It is great encouragement for our kids to look into a crowd and see us there supporting them. There should be some concern though that this becomes our method of parenting instead of a part of our parenting. There is a huge difference between being a spectator of your child’s life and a participant in your child’s life. Though being a spectator at events can play a huge role in the confidence that our children have, there is a big difference between spectating and participating. Let’s take a look at how they might differ.


Sporting events thrive on spectators. Texas A&M even calls their spectators the “12th Man” because of the contribution they make to a game. Spectators do have some influence, even if minimal, on the action going on with the participants. Spectators are not short on knowledge either. They often know every player’s number, their position and all of their stats. They call them by their first name or nickname as if they are close friends. The lack of knowledge is not the issue. It is the lack of influence on the outcome that is the issue. They cheer for good plays and jeer at bad ones. The encourage when something positive happens and blame others (especially referees) when the right call wasn’t made.

When we spend most of our time as spectators in the lives of our children, we limit our influence on the outcome. We are not usually short on knowledge. We know most of the things that are happening in their lives. We are just not having much influence on the things happening in their lives. There is something to be said that we are interested enough to support our children in their activities. However, we limit our influence as parents when we spend more time “watching” them perform than we do anything else.


Participants can have a much greater impact on the outcome. They are actively involved and have specific responsibilities that often determine how effective the other participants are. In football for example, an offensive lineman has a tremendous impact on how well a quarterback is able to carry out his responsibilities. Your suggestions on how to carry out the game plan are received more readily because you are a participant. When you are actively involved as a participator, you can appreciate the difficulty of a situation as well.

As parents, when we participate in the lives of our children, we have much more influence on the outcome. Often because of our own limited schedules we choose the events where we are spectators over actual participation. For example, if we are pressed for time on a game evening and we have to choose between having dinner with the family and attending the game, we often choose to attend the game instead of dinner. However, one puts us in the position of spectator where the other gives us an opportunity to participate. I am not making the case against watching your children perform. It is just much more important to participate than spectate. If we teach our children that we only pay attention when they perform, they will continually find ways to perform so they have our attention, and sometimes they will perform in unhealthy ways.

I encourage you to watch your children as they participate in events, but be a participant in their lives when possible. Do life with them, don’t just watch them do life. Just because we know what is going on in their lives does not make us involved. Get involved. Be a participant!