August 14, 2007

mr. rogers My good friend Pasquale (a.k.a. “Mr. Waltham”) alerted me to this article by Jeff Zaslow of the Wall Street Journal, who writes how educators and researchers have begun taking a second look at that icon of children’s television, Mr. Rogers, and his influence over several generations of parents and children now approaching their own adulthood:

Fred Rogers, the late TV icon, told several generations of children that they were “special” just for being whoever they were. He meant well, and he was a sterling role model in many ways. But what often got lost in his self-esteem-building patter was the idea that being special comes from working hard and having high expectations for yourself.

Now Mr. Rogers, like Dr. Spock before him, has been targeted for re-evaluation. And he’s not the only one. As educators and researchers struggle to define the new parameters of parenting, circa 2007, some are revisiting the language of child ego-boosting. What are the downsides of telling kids they’re special? Is it a mistake to have children call us by our first names? When we focus all conversations on our children’s lives, are we denying them the insights found when adults talk about adult things?

I was too old for the Mr. Rogers series, but every now and then you couldn’t help but catch him from time to time, and he was OK. Kinda dopey if you ask me, but definitely a whole lot better than the awful crap they have for kids on television and video games today. I never really thought about it, but I do think there’s something to this article, although to point the blame for a lot of what’s going on today on good ol’ Mr. Rogers seems a bit over the top to me. Was he a cause, or simply a reflection of a change in attitudes towards parenting and children? One certainly cannot deny the way relations between parents and their children have changed since I was a kid, and this whole idea of making children the focus of television commercials and/or the “smartest” people in television commercials (keep track of this the next time you’re watching TV – notice how the children are always either smarter than the adults or the focus of the product being sold) has always annoyed the hell out of me.

Because I travel a lot and do the shopping for our household, I can’t help but notice how much things have changed. At airports, you see six year-olds dragging their own kiddie luggage around. At supermarkets, you see parents asking their children what kind of snacks and food they want them to purchase. And don’t even get me started on that whole thing where fathers call their sons “buddy”, or that child/parent first name business, or parents asking their children when they want to get picked up from whatever activity they’re off to. You see, when I was young, you didn’t have any rights. You ate what your parents put in front of you, you wore what they bought you, and and life didn’t revolve around you, your needs, or your schedule. That was for grown-ups to decide. I don’t recall ever being told how ‘special’ I was, but I certainly knew I was loved. Did I have self-esteem issues? Yeah, like just about ever other teenager my age growing up, but I don’t see that as being necessarily a bad thing.

Frankly, I don’t buy the whole ‘special’ and ‘precious’ thing when it comes to children today. After all, they may indeed be precious and special and the focus of their parents’ lives while they live under their parents’ roofs, but if they expect to be given the same treatment by society once they’re out of the house, they’ve got another thing coming. I’ve always felt the primary role of parents is love their children, provide them a safe and secure homelife, and – most importantly – prepare them for life after the nest, not bestowing upon them every material wish they have in order to: a) show them how special they are, or b) to cultivate their love and affection. In my view, to do either amounts to a dereliction of duty that creates more problems for society in the end than anything else.

I often wonder what will happen when this child-centric, spoiled generation is all grown up with children of their own. Will they be able to handle the challenges, difficulties, and setbacks life hands out to everyone on a regular basis? I often wonder. While Mr. Rogers and his enduring influence might be a reflection, or even a small part, of the problem, I think there are plenty of other causes for people to focus on. Either way, I don’t see any kind of easy solution in sight.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 01:48 | Comments (0)
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