Note: This column was published in Barrow Journal on April 3, 2013.
We just passed what would have been Fred McFeely Roger’s 85th birthday. If you are like me, you remember him as “Mr. Rogers,” and you couldn’t wait to visit him everyday in his friendly television neighborhood. Recently I discovered that I could share my childhood favorite with my sons because many of the full episodes are available for viewing at http://pbskids.org/rogers/index.html.
My six-year-old loves it, and watching the show with him, I can see why I loved it too. Mr. Rogers doesn’t speak down to children. He treats them with the respect they deserve, and every episode deals with real situations that children encounter in their young lives like having to share, fighting with friends or having to buy a new pair of shoes.
Mr. Rogers is my hero for many reasons, but what I most admire about him is how he saw the potential to use television for good, and he didn’t just give that lip service – he actually got into television to try to change it. He says he went into television because he hated it.
As a mother living in a time when many parents restrict media for their children and scoff at other parents for using it, I find his stance refreshing. He saw television as I see it: a valuable tool. In a video clip I watched of him online he said,
The space between the television screen and the person…whoever happens to be receiving it…I consider that very holy ground. A lot happens there.”
He was a patient, kind person who never acted phony because he thought children were smarter than that. He stood up for what he believed in. When he accepted his Emmy award, he made everyone in the audience take ten seconds of silence to remember the people in their lives who had helped them get where they were that day.
He was a Presbyterian minister, a vegetarian, a puppeteer and a songwriter. He worked and voiced most of the puppets on his show, and he wrote all the songs for it. He taught children that music was a good, healthy way to express their feelings. Much of his work had to do with teaching children that all their thoughts and feelings were okay.
His messages made long-lasting impressions. When I wrote on my Twitter feed recently that “Mr. Rogers is my hero,” I got two, quick replies. The first one: “Are you going to write about him? He was my first friend.” Another said, “He was my surrogate parent because my biological parents were so crappy.”
This is exactly why Mr. Rogers advocated for government funding for children’s programming. Kids need this kind of programming. We all do. We don’t always get the role models we need at home.
In another interview Rogers said,
There are those people who sometimes say that T.V. doesn’t affect us all that much. Well, all I can say is then why would advertisers pay so much money to put their messages on a medium that doesn’t affect us all that much? I do feel that what we see and hear on the screen is part of what we become.”
I don’t restrict my children from watching T.V. or playing on the computer, but I do monitor what they are watching, and by taking advantage of Netflix, I have eliminated advertising from their viewing. I would never use these mediums to replace real-life relationships, unstructured playtime, or other modes of learning, but good television can provide excellent social and educational lessons that compliment their other experiences.
There’s a lot of bad television, computer games, websites etc., but thanks to people like Fred Rogers, there’s also a lot of awesome television, computer games and websites that we can all use and benefit from.
Links You May Be Interested In:
My Previous Posts on T.V. Viewing and Children:
- Will T.V. Hurt My Kids? Part 1 of 3
- Will T.V. Hurt My Kids? Part 2 of 3
- Educational Television for Kids, Part 3 of 3
In addition, I have begun a Pinterest board of our favorite Netflix shows which I’m adding to (with commentary) as we watch them. Check it out here.
What are your childhood television memories?