The Health of Millennials (and those coming next) Can Benefit from Lessons of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood

Posted by on November 20, 2019 in Entertainment, Media & Arts with 0 Comments

As a “Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” celebrates the life and work of Fred Rogers, we can look to Rogers’s work for lessons on building a healthier world for our youth.

By | Common Dreams

A recent Blue Cross-Blue Shield study of millennials health revealed startling declines in the health of younger generations, who suffer higher rates of major depression, hypertension, hyperactivity, type-II diabetes, and endocrine disorders, among others. Considering the social conditions shaping these trends—including precarious work, intensifying academic competition and high-stakes testing, consumerism, exaggerated digital media environments, and climate change—the health effects for the Z generation will only get worse.

Health and wellness are linked to our social and physical environments, which are shaped by social policies and practices on which we must focus efforts to address this health crisis. As “Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” celebrates the life and work of Fred Rogers, we can look to Rogers’s work for lessons on building a healthier world for our youth

Some highlights include:

1) Make time for play: Rogers learned from child psychologist Margaret McFarland  that “for children, play is serious learning.” He regularly invited his young audience to join him in the “land of make-believe,” modeling play and encouraging children to engage their innate creative tendencies. Conversations with make-believe neighbors opened possibilities for imaginative thinking not possible with today’s screen-based play. Researchers have shown important links between unstructured play and cognitive development and physical health, and educators at all levels are noting serious deficits in students’ critical thinking skills and creativity.

2) Engage in active listening: Rogers’s program was so popular because of his unusual skill at communicating with children. He listened attentively to them and could read the fear, excitement, or confusion they struggled to express. While Rogers was unusually gifted at this kind of listening, we all need such skills for healthy relationships.

Excessive screen time deprives developing minds of opportunities to cultivate listening and communication skills. Learning requires thoughtful, engaged listening, but digital dependence and multi-tasking tendencies obstruct this, constraining our capacity to express and manage thoughts and emotions effectively. Declines in empathy, linked with screen time, is one worrisome result.

3) Slow down For Rogers, “hurrying up and using a lot of shortcuts doesn’t get us very far at all.” Neighborhood life was not about accomplishing many things quickly—unless you’re Mr. McFeely delivering the things neighbors need—but rather, it was the quality of social interactions that made time there special.

Slowing down his speech helped Rogers ensure that all viewers could process and reflect on his messages. Nobody was too busy to make time to talk and answer questions in an attentive and thoughtful way. Slowing down and cultivating greater mindfulness of what we see and do in our daily routines can help reduce anxiety and its physical manifestations, such as hypertension and poor nutrition.

4) Cultivate community: For Rogers, “Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.”There was room for everyone in Rogers’ inclusive and mutually supportive neighborhood, and the community shaped who members were as individuals. Neighbors shared concerns and frustrations with one another, and they worked together to solve individual and collective problems. Nobody was deemed weak for needing to ask others for help, and membership in the community also brought responsibilities. Rogers worked to demonstrate for children how such two-way relationships—community-building—work.

5) Neighbors include non-human beings: As Rogers reminded his viewers, “There is something fancy about every … person, each fish, each bird, each living creature.” Recognizing children’s innate connections to animals and nature, and the importance of environmental health to human health, Rogers ensured that his framing of the neighborhood included non-human beings. We must be good neighbors to all: “If you were a fish, you wouldn’t want somebody dumping garbage into your home.”

Researchers now appreciate humans’ inherent need for connections with other life forms or biophilia. Not only is a connection to nature important for individual well-being, but it is also essential for our ability to be good neighbors with our Earth. Appreciating the complexities of the natural world and our impacts on it requires knowledge of this world. As children become more distracted by screens and enjoy fewer opportunities to explore outdoors, they suffer growing rates of “nature deficit disorder.”

5) Find good role models: The characters Rogers brought into his neighborhood were designed to help “children and their families…know that there are many constructive ways to express who they are and how they feel.” Conversations centered on the diverse things people did and often stressed how these were helpful to others. When Hall-of-Famer Lynn Swann visited the neighborhood, it was to share his ballet skills. The people and careers Rogers lifted up were valued not for their fame or how much money they generated, but for their value to people and community.

Growth and corporate concentration in mass media have generated unprecedented competition for people’s attention.  Messages targeting youth operate 24/7 and encourage them to find role models in celebrities more than in people they actually know. Mass media also encourages consumerism and the glamorizing of lucrative careers. Whereas children once aspired to careers in nursing, teaching, or firefighting, now they wish to be CEOs or millionaires.

6) Screen-free communication If Mr. Rogers was programming today, would there be smartphones in his neighborhood? Rogers knew that direct, face-to-face exchanges between children and adults were the foundation for joy, learning, and creative problem-solving, and they were the core of his program. While noting, “No computer will ever take the place of wooden toys or building blocks,” he did not see these as mutually exclusive.

Rogers would have been attentive to emerging evidence about the effects of screen time on young people’s mental and physical development. Today, young (and older) people spend an average of more than seven hours a day looking at screensPsychologist Sherry Turkle shows how increasing screen time undermines young people’s social development, making them less confident and capable of interactive face-to-face or even verbal telephone communication. Declines in empathy and compassion linked to screen time help account for today’s problematic social and political polarization.

We see these effects in our work with university students and entry-level employees: the manners and communications skills once taken for granted are often not nurtured in young people before they go into the world outside their immediate families. Although new forms of communication have value, we worry about their effects on longstanding social norms, conventions, and conflict management tools developed over many generations of human evolution.

Time spent cultivating real-time relationships helps children learn to create and maintain the meaningful friendships and adult relationships they need to thrive. Online “friends” can’t provide a warm shoulder for support, and a screen can’t take the place of offline human interactions.

The Millennial Health Study is a wake-up call: Young people need to be encouraged to develop effective communication skills and connections to communities. Declining physical and mental health is linked to social isolation, which is tied to atrophied social skills, practices, and values that were staples of Rogers’ programming.

Jackie Smith

Jackie Smith is a professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh and editor of the Journal of World-Systems Research. She is author or editor of numerous books and articles on global organizing and social change, including Social Movements and World-System TransformationSocial Movements in the World-System: The Politics of Crisis and Transformation, and Social Movements for Global Democracy. She helps coordinate Pittsburgh’s Human Rights City Alliance and is a member of the steering committee of the US Human Rights Network’s Human Rights Cities Alliance.

Bob Glidden has been an Environmental Health Sanitarian and Administrator for 33 years and presently works at the former location of Pittsburgh’s Arsenal Family & Children's Center, where Fred Rogers began his study of child psychology.

Our work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share it widely.

Read more great articles at Common Dreams

Tags: , , , , , , , ,


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on YouTube

New Title

NOTE: Email is optional. Do NOT enter it if you do NOT want it displayed.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

FAIR USE NOTICE. Many of the articles on this site contain copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making this material available in an effort to advance the understanding of environmental issues, human rights, economic and political democracy, and issues of social justice. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of the US Copyright Law which contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. If you wish to use such copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use' must obtain permission from the copyright owner. And, if you are a copyright owner who wishes to have your content removed, let us know via the "Contact Us" link at the top of the site, and we will promptly remove it.

The information on this site is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice of any kind. Conscious Life News assumes no responsibility for the use or misuse of this material. Your use of this website indicates your agreement to these terms.

Paid advertising on Conscious Life News may not represent the views and opinions of this website and its contributors. No endorsement of products and services advertised is either expressed or implied.
Send this to a friend