09/16/2009 01:32 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Talk About Bad Manners


So the kids are officially back in school, and like most parents, I'm delighted to know that my daughters have returned to their familiar routine, and to a place that is dedicated to enriching their minds.

Still, I'm no dummy. I also know that when the dismissal bell rings, the teaching continues at home. After all, there are plenty of lessons to bestow on our kids besides calculating the length of the hypotenuse or parsing a participle. Paramount among these is helping our children learn to be decent and civil--guiding them to goodness--and, for me, this is the most rewarding of all parenting assignments.

Which is why, for the past seven days, I've felt like putting my foot through my Sony Trinitron--because every time I turn the damn thing on, some idiot is undermining my lesson plan with yet another exhibition of bad manners.

For example, in my house, expressing oneself is the sport of champions; and though my daughters bicker a lot--and loudly--they know the rules: speak respectfully, listen to one another, and try to work out your differences.

Too bad for them that when we turned on the TV last Wednesday to watch President Obama's address to Congress, they saw South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson heckle the Chief Executive, calling him a liar. Talk about your lousy role models.

I also tell my girls that competition is a healthy thing; and whether they're playing softball in the schoolyard or a board game in their bedroom, the real thrill of victory is in learning sportsmanship, respect and teamwork.

Too bad for them that they flipped on the news last weekend to witness Serena Williams' toddler-like outburst at the U.S. Open--which included finger-pointing, profanity, a smashed racket and a vivid description to the line judge of where she wanted to shove her tennis ball. Williams might have lost the match, but by that evening she was a YouTube champ.

And, more than anything, I constantly advise my girls to be sensitive to the feelings of others, and to know when to step out of the spotlight and let someone else enjoy a little attention.

Too bad for them that they watched the MTV Video Music Awards on Monday (a special treat on a school night), only to reel in shock when America's most reliable moron, Kanye West, interrupted Taylor Swift's acceptance speech for her video award, swiping the mike from her hand and announcing to the audience--and 11 million viewers--that he liked Beyonce's video better.

If this is the kind of example America's "grown-ups" are setting for the nation's youth, maybe there's a reason our kids tune us out and talk to each other on Facebook instead.

Although all three offenders made their apologies (West, three times) and paid their penance (Williams was fined $10,500--that extra five hundred for "racket abuse"), you have to wonder if they've really leaned their lesson.

Wilson returned to South Carolina to high-fives from like-minded constituents, not to mention a spike in campaign donations that have exceeded one million dollars.

Williams went on to pick up a paycheck for $350,000 (that $10,500 fine looks pretty pathetic now, doesn't it?) and will now head off to her next tournament and, no doubt, new and improved tantrums.

And West convincingly boo-hooed as a guest on Leno, which will probably earn him ample sympathy from his fans--or at least enough that they'll continue downloading him from iTunes.

And what about our kids? They'll probably discuss all of this with each other at school--that is, until their teacher tells them to shut up and pay attention.

[This essay originally ran in in September 16th, 2009 edition of USA Today; Bruce Kluger is co-author of the new book, Dear President Obama: Letters of Hope From Children Across America]

* * *



Dear President Obama: Letters of Hope From Children Across America (Beckham Publications Group, Inc.)
By Bruce Kluger and David Tabatsky
Foreword by Linda Ellerbee