by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

You’ve seen these bumper stickers. “My kid made the honor roll at blankety-blank school.”

I used to think they were harmless. A declaration of parental pride. Now, I’m not so sure. Parental pride, it seems, can get you killed.

Earlier this month, in a Boston suburb, two fathers took their kids to hockey practice. One father never came home.

A fight broke out, between the dads, over how rough the kids were playing. By the time the skirmish was over, Thomas Costin, a 40-year-old father of four, was dead. Thomas Junta, a 270-pound truck driver, allegedly pummeled Costin, banging his head on the concrete floor over and over until a blood vessel broke.

This, by the way, with children present.

Over what? Over what? That is always the question, isn’t it?

A few months ago, a Pennsylvania father was convicted of offering money to a 10-year-old Little League pitcher to hit another kid in the face.

The previous month, a New York father took a hockey stick and broke the nose of his son’s hockey coach.

Back in May, a Texas father, during a high school hockey tournament, grabbed an official and put him in a headlock. Try to picture that. Middle of a high school game — high school, remember! — and this parent jumps out of the stands, grabs a referee and puts him in a headlock in front of the whole building, in front of the players, in front of his neighbors and friends.

Makes you wonder who the children are, doesn’t it?

Don’t assault the ref

“We have too many parents trying to live through their kids,” says Fred Engh, president of the National Alliance for Sports in West Palm Beach, Fla. “They all think they’re raising the next Michael Jordan.”

Engh has seen it all. He has seen people you would never want around your kids serving as Little League coaches. He has

seen violence encouraged and practiced — by the adults.

“We all understand it’s a very emotional thing, watching your child play sports. It can be a terrible moment, sitting there, praying that he catches the ball or that he doesn’t strike out. Parents will do anything — anything
— to make sure it comes out right.”

Unfortunately, what

they do is all wrong. They scream at the umpires. They abuse them. They threaten them so often, the National Association of Sports Officials now offers amateur referees “assault insurance.”

Assault insurance?

And that’s just the referees. What parents do to each other, from cursing to fistfights, is enough to make you sick. And what they do to their children?

It can break your heart.

Don’t scare the kid

Is there any sight more pathetic than a father screaming at a 9-year-old for making a bad pitch? Or a mother chiding her child to “hit that kid, hard!”

Parents who insist on dressing their kids in uniforms worthy of professionals, driving them 50 miles to be in the right league, pushing them at all hours, harder, faster, stronger — these parents are not doing their children any favors.

Quite the opposite. They are showing their children an obsession with winning that only will make the kids as dysfunctional as Mommy and Daddy. And please don’t tell me how sports should “mold” children for adult life. Adult life will take care of itself. Can’t we save childhood for a few precious years to play, laugh, have innocent fun?

The problem is, parenting has become an ego thing. People now brag blatantly about how much better parents they are than others. Their children become prizes on the mantel.

But when things don’t go perfectly — as they never do with kids — these parents become enraged, they can’t stand to lose control. They scream. They push. They hit.

Now they kill.

In a better world, we don’t let anyone coach our kids who isn’t trained. We don’t tolerate anything but applause in the stands. We don’t buy expensive uniforms, maybe we don’t even keep score.

Pride goeth before a fall, remember? And it’s time to get adult pride out of children’s lives. After all, you’ve seen that other bumper sticker, “My kid can beat the snot out of your honor roll kid.”

Only if the parents don’t do it first.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581.


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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