USA Today, September 16, 2009

    Parenting is complicated by adults behaving badly

    By Bruce Kluger

    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

    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.