For years, Avery Krut was a familiar fixture on the youth soccer circuit in Beverly Hills where he volunteered to coach and referee games for kids from preschool through high school. But the behavior of some parents drained away his joy of coaching and drove him to pen a flaming missive that went viral in recent days.

“This will be my last year as your referee administrator,” he wrote, “And there’s a reason I have come to despise so many of you and I hold so many of you in contempt. Your behavior on the sidelines has, for far too long, been disrespectful and you are damaging the children. I can no longer be involved with so many people who feel so entitled.”

Avery Krut

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Krut described parents who routinely yell at coaches and opposing teams, and at the kids themselves. “It’s the venom. ‘Kill them; get in there, girls, hit them hard.’” One father smuggled an older child onto his son’s team to help them win. The final insult for Mr. Krut was when a mother complained about the post-surgical protective boot that one referee wore. She worried he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the players and might make bad calls.

We all know parents like this, people who feel that every interaction is a battle, who view every situation as a zero-sum game they absolutely must win and whose only priority is elevating their child, stoking their self-esteem.

And throughout it all our kids are watching and absorbing this toxic view of life, resulting in students who have never felt so entitled. After a childhood of hearing from their parents and coaches how special they are, some of today’s young adults have no idea what it feels like to be “ordinary”. A majority of American college students now define themselves as “above average” in most areas. Researchers now talk about “ambition inflation” as students harbor grandiose expectations that don’t match with real-life talents and abilities.

When reality comes crashing in, it can be painful to learn that they aren’t always as special as they’ve been told. For children who’ve grown up hearing nothing but praise and flattery, it can be devastating as they lack skills and abilities to bounce back after failures.

Krut on the field

Parents’ noxious behavior is also eroding common courtesy and with it kids’ ability to relate to other people. When children grow up seeing their parents able to discuss issues with people they disagree with, they get the message that the world is basically a safe place and that people can coexist even when they hold different views or goals.

When we scream at coaches or publicly denigrate others, we’re giving our kids the message that we can’t trust coaches, teachers or other authority figures, and that the world can be an unsafe, chaotic place. That is an unsettling message to hear.

Incivility seems to be growing at alarming rates, not only in our schools and on our sports fields, but in the nation at large. One 2016 poll found 75% of Americans agree with the statement “Incivility in America has risen to crisis levels”. Clearly, modeling respectful behavior is more important than ever.

Jewish sages long ago told a story about a little boy who lived with his father and with his elderly grandfather. The grandfather was feeble and frail and would often drop his plate, shattering it. Finally, in frustration the little boy’s father yelled at the elderly grandfather and told him that from now on he wouldn’t be allowed to use the family china, but he would eat out of a wooden bowl. Later that day, the father was surprised to see his son carving something out of wood. “This is for you, Dad,” the little boy explained, “for you to eat out of when you’re old and your hands shake and you might drop a plate just like Grandpa!”

What we say in front of our kids matters. It shows them how to navigate the world and gives them an example of how to cope. It might seem obvious that we don’t want our kids to learn to meet disappointment with outrage, to react to challenges with cheating, or to be callous or rude. But the only way to impart those lessons is to live them. Holding our tongues at our kids’ next sports game, even when we disagree with the ref’s call, can make a real impact on our kids.