July 6, 2007, - 12:17 pm
By Debbie Schlussel
Is Mr. Rogers (you know–cardigan-garbed Fred Rogers of PBS fame) to blame for the problems we have with the bloated self-esteem, sense of self-entitlement, and narcissism among today’s younger generations.
My friend, Jeff Zaslow, the Wall Street Journal’s Detroit bureau reporter and columnist (who was plagiarized by Katie Couric and the “CBS Evening News,” earlier this year), writes that some wise experts think so, and I agree with them:
Don Chance, a finance professor at Louisiana State University, says it dawned on him last spring. The semester was ending, and as usual, students were making a pilgrimage to his office, asking for the extra points needed to lift their grades to A’s.
“They felt so entitled,” he recalls, “and it just hit me. We can blame Mr. Rogers.”
Fred Rogers, the late TV icon, told several generations of children that they were “special” just for being whoever they were. . . . 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?
Some are calling for a recalibration of the mind-sets and catch-phrases that have taken hold in recent decades. Among the expressions now being challenged:
“You’re special.” On the Yahoo Answers Web site, a discussion thread about Mr. Rogers begins with this posting: “Mr. Rogers spent years telling little creeps that he liked them just the way they were. He should have been telling them there was a lot of room for improvement. … Nice as he was, and as good as his intentions may have been, he did a disservice.”
Signs of narcissism among college students have been rising for 25 years, according to a recent study led by a San Diego State University psychologist. Obviously, Mr. Rogers alone can’t be blamed for this. But as Prof. Chance sees it, “he’s representative of a culture of excessive doting.”
Prof. Chance teaches many Asian-born students, and says they accept whatever grade they’re given; they see B’s and C’s as an indication that they must work harder, and that their elders assessed them accurately. They didn’t grow up with Mr. Rogers or anyone else telling them they were born special.
By contrast, American students often view lower grades as a reason to “hit you up for an A because they came to class and feel they worked hard,” says Prof. Chance. He wishes more parents would offer kids this perspective: “The world owes you nothing. You have to work and compete. If you want to be special, you’ll have to prove it.”
Zaslow discusses some of the symptoms of this excessive self-esteem building and the harms they cause, including parents who allow their kids to call them by their first name and dismiss bad behavior with the universal “but they’re just children” excuse. He quotes Alvin Rosenfeld, a psychiatrist who says that kids, today, have few important discussions with their parents:
He encourages parents to talk about their passions and interests; about politics, business, world events. “Because everything is child-centered today, we’re depriving children of adults,” he says. “If they never see us as adults being adults, how will they deal with important matters when it is their world?”
Amen to that. I think this has a lot to do with why so many younger people, today, don’t understand why we must fight terrorists, and why we can’t just turn a blind eye and regurgitatate phony mantras, like “Islam is peace.”
I’m very lucky because, from a very young age, my sagacious father, H. L. Schlussel, MD (see also, here), shared his interest in politics, current events, and the news with me. On Sunday mornings–we had only one TV, then–the television was tuned not to cartoons, but to the Sunday Morning political shows. My dad would always tell me about the various people and their views. And over the Jewish Sabbath, Friday Night and Saturday, when we don’t watch TV, my father would share with me–as he does to this day–important articles from Commentary Magazine or the Wall Street Journal or the local paper (or now, usually some other source) and read and discuss them with me.
Thanks, Dad, for being there, doing this for me, and being the parent many of today’s parents just aren’t.
And also, even though my Mom suggested I watch Mr. Rogers, and I often did, I always found him creepy and silly. That whole thing with putting on his cardigan and tennis shoes was just weird to me. And I’m sure he was a nice guy, but he was way over-rated, as much of PBS a/k/a Palestinian Broadcasting System’s offerings were and are. Ditto for Sesame Street (the only good thing about that show was “the Count”). Though I did like my Mom’s other suggestion, “Captain Kangaroo.” The Captain (Bob Keeshan) and Mr. Greenjeans didn’t fill us with the “you’re special” baloney, and instead helped us learn.
Tags: Alvin Rosenfeld, Bob Keeshan, Broadcasting System, bureau reporter and columnist, Captain, CBS, Detroit, Don Chance, finance, finance professor, Fred Rogers, H.L. Schlussel, Jeff Zaslow, Kangaroo, Katie Couric, Louisiana State University, psychiatrist, Psychologist, Rogers By Debbie Schlussel, San Diego State University, Sesame Street, Spock, tennis, the Wall Street Journal, Wall Street Journal, Yahoo