Lifelong lessons from children’s shows

Photo by Sara Schmitt

It should be a given that, as humans, we respect each other and our surroundings. However, we seem to have lost a hold on that concept in today’s society — and perhaps we’ve never really had a grasp on it in the first place. This isn’t an issue that is confined to one demographic either — the lack of respect and rights for women, the impulse to murder innocent people and the hunger for power and control that often is the motive for sexual harassment, assault and domestic violence are pervasive issues around the world.

While children’s television programs are not the only solution, I know they have shaped me into a human being with morals and respect for myself and my surroundings. I grew up watching Arthur, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, Cyberchase and Between the Lions, among many others, and I can wholeheartedly say that these children’s programs have helped me to live a peaceful, nourishing and productive life, and taught me interpersonal skills that have helped me become, at the very least, a non-terrible, non-malicious human being.

In vying for increased funding for his PBS television show, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, Fred Rogers spoke to the Senate, reasoning that his television program deals “with such things as the inner drama of childhood. We don’t have to bop somebody over the head to make drama on the screen. We deal with such things as getting a haircut, or the feelings about brothers and sisters and the kind of anger that arises in simple family situations. And we speak to it constructively.”

These children’s programs teach kids integrity, respect and empathy. They
allow children to experience a wide range of emotions, and learn how to deal with those emotions and understand that having emotions is okay — that feelings of anger, grief, sadness and loneliness are okay.

The television programs I grew up watching discussed the power of communication — encouraging children to articulate themselves in order to understand a rational progression of thoughts and to follow the steps of conflict resolution through situations that children can relate to.

These programs give children the ability to reflect on their actions and gauge the consequences of their future actions.

Programs, like Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, give children confidence in themselves, a foundation that will last into adulthood. They tell children that they are special and have worth, especially when a child’s environment is lacking in a developed world-view, or is not a supportive

In a world where cultures are rapidly integrating with each other and people of different physical and mental capabilities interact with one another, it is important to understand that the differences between people are what allow children to grow.

Children’s television allows children to accept and learn from other people’s differences and to make an effort to respectfully learn about them, from learning about people who use wheelchairs, to people who practice a different religion.

Shows involving violence or those that are plotless might be a good temporary resolution to get kids to calm down and quiet down, but wholesome children’s programming has a longer-lasting effect that carries on to adulthood, developing these children into mature, expressive adults.

In his statement to the Senate, Rogers recited a song that he sang on one of his programs.

The moral of the song was to remind children that they are in control of their actions and emotions. “What do you do with the mad that you feel? When you feel so mad you could bite. When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong, and nothing you do seems very right. What do you do?” The lyrics then go on to describe actions children can do when they are angry — punch a bag, play a game of tag, pound some clay into dough.

The end of the song reads, “I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish. Can stop, stop, stop anytime. And what a good feeling to feel like this! And know that the feeling is mine. Know that there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a lady, and a boy can be someday a man.”

I’m not a parent or a child educator — I don’t work with children in any way. However, if through public broadcasting for children, Mr. Rogers can help kids realize their ability to control their emotions and master that control into adulthood, maybe we’d live in a better world, a world where we can respect each other, control our emotions and rationalize our thoughts.