To hear my kids deride TV shows targeted at preschoolers these days, you’d think they’d never been preschoolers themselves.
But there was a time in their lives, whether they believe it or not, when Barney (the singing purple dinosaur) reigned supreme, when the four unintelligible TeleTubbies were greeted with delight, when dancing with The Wiggles was an afternoon highlight and when hearing Mr. Rogers croon, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…” soothed and satisfied.
While many parents report irritation–or even admit to passing homicidal thoughts–at the mere mention of Barney and his cast of precocious, over-perky pre-adolescents, I never minded the show as much as some adults did because I loved that my kids learned so many songs along with Baby Bop and B.J. Similarly, seeing my young ones move non-stop for a half-hour or more at a time with the Australian-accented Wiggles wasn’t annoying because they were simultaneously burning off energy and mastering some tricky dance moves.
Personally, I had a little more trouble with “Clifford, the Big Red Dog” and “Caillou,” the latter a Canadian children’s show in which the inexplicably bald preschooler, Caillou, would do the dumbest and most outrageous things–and his mother never, ever raised her voice or expressed the least bit of exasperation but merely chided (in a soft, patient tone I found wholly unrealistic, especially given the preschooler’s idiotic and provocative behavior), “Now, Caillou.”
When our first child was about six and the youngest of our three children was an infant, we pulled the plug on cable TV at our house out of concern the eldest son was becoming too attached to the electronic babysitter. Granted, it was the History and Discovery channels he was most drawn to, but his habit of walking into the house and immediately turning on the TV was becoming too ingrained, despite our threats and entreaties to cease.
Finally, we kept our word and eliminated the hazard. Lack of cable TV truly hurt us more at first than it did him, but it didn’t take long for the kids to get used to only having a grainy public TV signal, and two or so other channels, available intermittently, and for reading and other activities to take precedence over a regular viewing schedule.
Today our son will join his classmates in striding across the platform in the Worthington High School gymnasium to accept his high school diploma. We saw this coming some years ago–probably around the same time he was absorbing Barney’s songs and the Wiggles’ dances with fervor–and now I find myself hoping it is the lessons learned from many episodes of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood he will remember as he processes into his next stage of life.
Mr. Rogers, a kindly, caring soul out of whom a mean word could not have been tortured, gently preached to viewers in the spirit of the ordained minister he in fact was. His messages included respecting others and their feelings, finding the beauty in simple, quiet things, self-sufficiency (tying one’s own shoes, making one’s own nutritious food), forthright assurances (“You can never go down the drain,” for example), the benefits of regular exercise (walking and swimming were his personal favorites), nurturing creativity and imagination, and valuing the contributions of others, no matter how different their pursuits and jobs might be from those most familiar to you.
Taking viewers on videotaped trips to factories and other workplaces, Fred Rogers would look straight at the camera, marvel at a line worker’s repetitive assignment and exclaim, “Isn’t she GOOD at what she does?” or “He really does that well!” And viewers had to agree, however grudgingly, that this mundane function was, indeed, well-done by that worker, even if it was something others wouldn’t normally consider an important undertaking.
The train at our house has long since left Shining Time Station, but I am gratified to say a sneak peek at my son’s commencement speech has shown that some of Mr. Rogers’ lessons may indeed have taken a foothold in his brain, though there were moments over the years when I had my doubts. I will not prematurely give away his message, but suffice to say Mr. Rogers might look down from heaven with a nod and smile before zipping up his sweater.
It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…and a beautiful day to graduate. Congratulations, Worthington High School Class of 2013!