When I was a kid, I'd sprawl out on my parents' bed each morning before kindergarten to watch Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. I loved Mr. Rogers. Not so much the show, which creeped me out a bit (particularly the puppet Lady Elaine Fairchild). I loved the man. He was handsome and soft-spoken. He would smile gently and tell me I was special. He wanted to be my neighbor, and that was OK with me.
Now it turns out that Mr. Rogers may have unwittingly contributed to a kid-centric culture that nurtures its children on empty praise and breeds narcissistic adults with an inflated sense of entitlement.
Jeff Zaslow, in his July 5 Wall Street Journal column, quotes a Louisiana State University professor who, puzzling why so many B and C students demand A's, ultimately blamed Mr. Rogers and his unconditional acceptance. "Fred Rogers, the late TV icon, told several generations of children that they we're special just for being whoever they were....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," Zaslow writes of Mr. Rogers.
Children who are told endlessly how wonderful they are by adults who never demand anything of them grow up to believe the world owes them. Worse "tragic event” are the children who eventually realize that they're not special "just because."
As a parent, I know my children are special. But I'm not naive enough to think they'll believe it without hard and fast proof. And the only way they'll get that proof is to probe the depths of their abilities, to make mistakes, and to live through them. Kids need to earn their rewards and then bask in their own pride.
I still love Mr. Rogers. But I can't help but think I would have been better prepared for the real world if he were just a bit critical and demanding. Maybe while he was asking to be my neighbor, he could have set a condition that I keep up my yard. Wouldn't want property values to slip, you know.