by Wendy Occhipinti
Mister Rogers Neighborhood first premiered on television in 1968, the year I was born. I grew up watching Mister Rogers Neighborhood and what I remember most about the show was how kind and nurturing Mister Rogers was. If you have never watched Mister Rogers Neighborhood, take a minute to YouTube an episode and watch a portion. While it may seem out dated compared to today’s children’s shows, it was magical to the children who were watching in the 70’s like me. Mister Rogers would interact with the children who were watching the show by talking directly to the camera. While I was watching the show, I felt as if he was talking directly to me! I can still recall all the words to the opening song which ends with…" Won’t you be my neighbor?” Mister Rogers created a calm, safe place for children to learn about themselves and the world around them.
You may be wondering what Mister Rogers Neighborhood has to do with “Helping Children Deal with Violence” – the title of my blog post today. Well, when I think back to my childhood, I have a feeling of Shangri-La and that my childhood was a wonderful safe time in our society. Where there wasn’t anything to be afraid of. I feel like I lived in Mister Rogers neighborhood – this calm, safe place where everyone was good to each other and helped their neighbors. For those of you who know your history, 1968, the year of my birth, was anything but Shangri-La. 1968 was considered “The Year that Shattered America”. Movements that started in the 60’s – The Vietnam War, The Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement – exploded that year. The Vietnam War was in full swing and in March gave rise to The Tet Offensive – a series of surprise coordinated attacks by the North Vietnamese against 36 major cities in South Vietnam. The Tet Offensive is historically seen as the beginning of the end of US involvement in the Vietnam War. There were two assassinations - Civil Rights Leader, Martin Luther King Jr and Presidential Candidate, Robert F. Kennedy. It was a year of many civil rights protests – one famously at the Olympics where 2 black athletes took a stand against racial discrimination by raising their fists during the national anthem. If I didn’t know better, it sounds a lot like 2018 with one exception, the absence of school shootings. A more recent type of violence that seems never ending.
Which brings me to the reason I have decided to write my blog today on Helping Children Deal with Violence - the most recent school shooting yesterday in Parkland Florida. My heart breaks that yet again we are witnessing violence in our schools – the place where our children should have a calm, safe learning environment. I find my self thinking where is Mister Rogers and his Neighborhood? How do we give our children, a calm, safe environment in which to grow up in. While I always felt calm and safe growing up, the reality was that the world I grew up in was neither. What made the difference in my life? How was I shielded from the violence that was going on in the world? Many will say the difference is the media coverage. With news broadcasted 24 hours a day, violence can be seen and heard in our living rooms all day long. While there was not 24-hour news coverage in 1968, the 60’s saw the rise of television and by 1966, 93% of all Americans had a television. Television became THE most important news source for the Viet Nam War. So, I must ask myself these questions again…What made a difference in my life? How was I shielded from that violence? The answer…my parents and all the other important adults in my life – grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, coaches, neighbors and family friends. They were my neighborhood. They were my support system. They shielded me from the violence, answered my questions and made me feel safe. Another factor that made a difference in my life growing up was that many of these events didn’t feel personal to me. They didn’t feel as if they directly affected me. I didn’t live in Viet Nam, I didn’t know anyone who was in the military and as a young girl had never experienced discrimination. The problem with school shootings is that almost every child can relate to the concept of school. Children as young as 2 or 3 know the concept of school, have a sibling who attends school or attend school themselves. Because of the familiarity of school, children are more alert when they hear the word “school” and can make a personal connection through their own experience. This makes these types of events even scarier for children. They think - can this happen at my school? my brother’s school?
So, what can we do about it? How can we make our children feel safe and shield them from the violence around them? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but Mister Rogers does. That wonderful, calm soul who created a nurturing neighborhood for children in the 70’s has some great advice for all of us. "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world." – Fred Rogers
For more information and other resources visit https://www.fredrogers.org/parents/special-challenges/tragic-events.php