Whoa! Hands off Fred Rogers!

Jeff Zaslow wrote in a first-person column in the Wall Street Journal this week (July 5, 2007) that:

…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.” (Find the whole article here.)

I have to say I was a bit miffed for several reasons:

1.) Fred Rogers’ work with young children was terribly misrepresented and, unfortunately, he cannot defend himself from the grave.

2.) Fred Rogers NEVER advocated in young children a feeling of entitlement unless by entitlement you mean entitlement to kind, caring, loving adults.

3.) The author of this column is just one more person propagating the idea that being sensitive to children means creating a sense of entitlement. This attitude on the part of many–who don’t understand human behavior or child development–implies that the only way to raise responsible children is by continuously “taking them down a notch”.

4.) While Mr. Zaslow used Mr. Rogers as a jumping off point for a discussion of the issue of individuals who have a sense of entitlement, he picked a person who advocated responsibility to blame.

5.) Mr. Zaslow , unfortunately, sees a sense of entitlement only in the generation just now coming of age. Personally, I see it in folks of every generation. Perhaps, there has been an increase in this sense of entitlement. Perhaps, not. Either way, scapegoating a generation is at best lazy scholarship and at worst bigotry.

6.) This opinion piece talked about entitlement but was very lightweight in that he didn’t talk about what early childhood educators know about parenting styles (e.g.; Baumrind’s research) or give the readers any solutions. of which there were many.

So, what does it take to raise children who take responsibility for their actions and yet have a positive sense of self and a strong sense of confidence?

It takes respecting children, providing an environment of unconditional love, kindness, high and yet attainable expectations for behavior, sincerity, and adults who model appropriate behavior. We don’t end up with responsible adults who have internalized rules for living by authoritarian parenting or teaching. We also don’t get responsible adults through permissive parenting or teaching. Rather, we end up with children who become responsible adults when parenting and teaching styles are neither permissive or authoritarian but authoritative. Authoritative parents and teachers empathize with a child’s frustration that caused him or her to hit or bite another child, express that empathy, and still make it crystal clear that no matter how you feel, you cannot put your fist in another child’s face because s/he said something irritating.

We need more adults like Fred Rogers. We need more adults who see the value in each individual, who emphasize to children that even when you feel angry, you cannot hurt others, that every member our communities are important for both the work that they do and for who they are.

Blame Mister Rogers? Hardly.

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