John – I must confess I was never a huge fan of Mr. Rogers. When I was a kid I watched him for a little while, but I quickly grew tired of him because he was so “soothing.” I wanted more smashing and lasers — that’s just the kind of kid I was. But I have to say I grew to respect the man much more than I liked the show. Just this morning I was listening to him on NPR in an old interview. He had some profoundly conservative ideas about how children are and should be raised. First, he explicitly confirmed that children ape what they see grown-ups do — one of the chief arguments for censorship. Second, he gave a great explanation of why kids need rules. I’m paraphrasing, but he said that if a kid runs away from you down the street and you don’t yell “Stop! Come back!” that kid will reasonably assume that you don’t care if he runs off. Children respond to limits on their behavior — and test those limits — because it is one of the most concrete ways we have to teach them that we love them.
Thankfully, this sort of thinking may be increasingly popular today, but I grew up among a lot of kids with parents who believed setting rules and limits for kids was a terrible idea. Being told that all of your ideas are brilliant and all your impulses should be acted upon teaches almost precisely the opposite lessons parents intend. Unconditional love is good, but unconditional respect and self-esteem-boosting creates not only dumb people but annoying ones. And, yes, this is a sweeping generalization with all sorts of exceptions.