When I was just six years old, I came home from school alone while my parents were away working long hours. Every afternoon, like so many children still do, I turned on the TV and got lost for three hours a day. It was my virtual babysitter. I watched re-runs of sitcom classics like Good Times and Three's Company, although hardly shows that a 6 year-old kid could relate to.
But within those few hours of television, I also watched a kind man from Pittsburgh--a guy named Fred McFeely Rogers. This man taught me some core values that are still with me today. Ever heard of him? Maybe you know him better as "Mister Rogers" from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
To some, he was just a kid's show host whose pure innocence was easily parodied by comedians such as Eddie Murphy and Robin Williams. But for millions of young Americans like me, he was literally a daily mentor. Not only that, he was a friend.
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood ran weekdays on PBS from 1968 - 2001 to an estimated 28 million viewers a day. But Fred Rogers was not only a television mentor, he was also a minister, an accomplished musician, songwriter and a teacher who earned more than 40 honorary degrees.
In an interview conducted by CNN a few years before his death, Rogers stated, "I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought there was some way of using this fabulous instrument to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen." And on he went for over 33 years, inspiring young minds from Harlem to Fort Worth.
Look up the definition of the word "mentor" and you'll find a very simple definition:
"A wise and trusted counselor or teacher."
Now more than ever, parents are working long hours just to make ends meet, and children are paying the price. Growing up in a tough economic climate can be a great character builder, but it also makes it harder for kids to get the guidance they need. Children are in desperate need of wise mentors.
According to the National Institute on Media and the Family, television is still a strong focal point when it comes to children's media entertainment. The Institute reports that up to 99% of American families have TV sets, but that only 1 in 8 of children's educational television programs meet high quality standards. At the same time, 60% of kids report that their parents do not know what they are watching on television.
Here are just a few examples of the wisdom of Mister Rogers, and what he could teach a new generation of children:
Self-esteem: "If only you could sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person."
Life's choices: "You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are."
Achievment: "It's not the honors and the prizes and the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish our souls. It's the knowing that we can be trusted, that we never have to fear the truth, that the bedrock of our very being is good stuff."
Parenting: "When we treat children's play as seriously as it deserves, we are helping them feel the joy that's to be found in the creative spirit. It's the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives."
Responsibility: "We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say 'It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.' Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes"
Mentoring: "Anything that's human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone."
Imperfection: "Some days, doing the best we can do may still fall short of what we would like to be able to do, but life isn't perfect on any front, and doing what we can with what we have is the most we should expect of ourselves or anyone else. "
Peace: "What really matters is whether the alphabet is used for the declaration of war or for the description of a sunrise."
Love and Trust: "Love and trust, in the space between what's said and what's heard in our life, can make all the difference in the world."
Over the 33 years of his broadcast, there have been so many children in need of mentors who had no one but Mister Rogers to turn to. Maybe (chances are) you also grew up watching Mister Rogers. Sadly, since his death, there have been fewer and fewer PBS affiliates airing the show. But there is hope: If your local PBS affiliate is no longer airing Mister Rogers Neighborhood, I encourage you to let them know how you feel about their decision to remove the show from their syndicated weekday lineup.
In telling PBS how important you feel the Neighborhood program is, you might want to relay a personal story of how Mister Rogers touched your life, or the life of a child you know. You can send an email to PBS Headquarters at the following address:
Linda Simensky, Senior Director, Children's Programming
Public Broadcasting Service
2100 Crystal Drive
Arlington, VA 22202
In the event that your PBS station has continued to make the Neighborhood program available each weekday, you may want to consider sending an expression of gratitude, and making a monetary contribution. It's important to remember that public television is substantially underfunded, and that your local station needs your support. Join the Save Mister Rogers organization on facebook and join their efforts to bring one of America's greatest mentors back to television!
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