His show was an integral component of my childhood, as I’m sure many other baby boomers can relate. We may not have even realized it at the time, but watching him hang his suitcoat in the closet and put on his sweater and sneakers provided a sense of normalcy and routine that resonated deep within us and helped us embrace the ordinary habits of everyday life and thrive within our communities. He fed his fish. He cleaned up his kitchen and toy room. He sat on his porch and greeted neighbors who stopped by to visit.
Fred Rogers not only changed the face of public television, he became a sort-of superhero for parents and kids of the 1960s and 70s. As a child, I was soothed and intrigued by his kind, humble and gentle tones. Some kids loved the “World of Make Believe” portion of his show the best. I gravitated more toward the realistic parts of the show.
When I became a parent myself, I saw Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood from a whole new perspective. I still loved it. I wanted my children to watch it. They loved it. However, whenever Rogers would sing songs with messages that told kids they were perfectly fine “exactly as they are” I would cringe. I wasn’t sure it was a message I wanted to inculcate in my own children’s psyches. It is one thing to teach that God loves all people as they are; it is quite another to insinuate that no change is needed – that wherever you happen to be is fine and no matter what you do, it is acceptable.
I typically used to shrug off the unrest such songs sparked in my heart, thinking I must be misinterpreting the message. I tend to overanalyze most things and I simply told myself that the show was definitely worth watching, even if that tiny part of it didn’t sit well with my conscience.
Until I recently borrowed the “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” dvd from my local library, I had absolutely no idea that hundreds or thousands of other parents had similar concerns about possible underlying messages subliminally transmitted through songs on my old childhood favorite show. In fact, many people used extreme measures to shout their distaste, going so far as to call Fred Rogers a communist and someone acting against God’s commandments. While my own reservations nowhere near approach that line of thinking, it was somewhat of a relief for me to realize that I wasn’t the only young parent at the time who worried that teaching kids they were perfectly fine exactly as they are could have negative consequences.
What happens if we convince ourselves that we never need to change? What happens if we believe that no matter how we feel, what we think or what we choose to do is “okay?” The reality is that some things are definitely not okay and that we are capable of making choices that are detrimental to our own (and possibly to others’) well-being. As a Christian, I believe we live in a fallen world and that once we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, we should try to imitate Him as we live out our own callings in life.
Last time I checked, I still had a lot of room to grow and change to become more like Jesus. He loves me as I am, yes; however, that doesn’t necessarily mean He is not leading me to “tweak” some things.
When my children would listen to Mr. Rogers’ songs, I always found myself interjecting, explaining to them that God loves us as we are but we must be willing to change to grow close to Him as we navigate our lives. I never realized at the time that there were people out there decrying what they believed was an underlying agenda toward political socialism or communism.
I still don’t think Fred Rogers was a communist but I also don’t think that it’s helpful to repeatedly tell kids they are fine, exactly as they are, no matter what. Isn’t it better to tell them that they are loved as they are but also that they have the power to rise above circumstances, to change their lives and to
change the world, that there is grace in acknowledging our own faults and striving to overcome them?
Incidentally, if you plan to watch the “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” dvd, I should warn you that it is rated PG-13. I was quite disappointed to hear multiple uses of profanity throughout the film and wondered what Mr. Rogers himself would have had to say about that.
As for whether or not Fred Rogers did more harm than good for children and their families, I personally think the good far outweighed any potential bad and I’m glad that I watched the show when I was a child and that I allowed my children to do the same.
Writer Bio: Judy Dudich
Judy Dudich resides in the beautiful woods of Pennsylvania, where 24 acres of land and a home-office provide the perfect setting for her children’s home-education and her own homesteading and business ventures. Life is full of blessings (and challenges!) for Judy, as a wife, mother of 10 and Grammy to six. She is a published author, whose book, “I Surrender/A Study Guide for Women” continues to encourage and support others in Christian family lifestyles throughout the world. Judy has also previously worked in the online speaking circuit. Her passion for permaculture, re-purposing, foraging and organic gardening fills her days with learning and adventure that she loves to share.