Monday, July 2, 2018

Being a Neighbor in 2018

By Jason V. Terk, MD
Keller Pediatrician
Chair, TMA Council on Legislation
Committee on Federal Government Affairs, American Academy of Pediatrics

Fred Rogers dedicated his life to making a connection to the children around him by staying connected to the child within him. He knew how important it was to provide a mass media counterbalance of love and sensitivity to the detritus that otherwise existed in children’s television programming and child marketing at the time, and which still exists today. He knew how important early childhood experiences were to the ultimate end product of humanity that children become.

As a child, I watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and enjoyed the familiar safe and wonderful space that was created by that television show. Through my own childhood’s eyes, I witnessed a place where people talked about things in a way that kids could understand, and where helping kids understand clearly mattered to the people on the show. All of this was driven by Fred Roger’s deep desire to reconcile the pain of his own childhood by making the childhoods of others better.
Fran├žois Clemmons and Fred Rogers on the set of
Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

As an adult, I revisited my memories of Fred Rogers through the recently released documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”. And, what a counterbalancing message and life mission Fred Rogers provides in the year 2018. Our current season of distrust, nativism, and tribalism is so far removed from what Mr. Rogers was trying to teach us when we were kids. What an important time to hear from Mr. Rogers again!

As a pediatrician, I too have dedicated my life to the welfare and health of children. And, as the years have passed since the days of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, science has come to an even greater understanding of how critical the experiences of early childhood are to the adults our children will become. I have seen so many examples of the wonderful effects of love and mentorship on children at crucial times for them. I have also seen the empty eyes of children who have been deprived of the message that they are good, important, and necessary persons among us…that they are nothing less than children of God!

Only by convenient compartmentalization can one justify the treatment that too many of our children are experiencing. Our children include the ones who have been cruelly separated from their parents as a part of our government’s border policy. Actions like this are essentially psychological and emotional shrapnel that these children will carry with them in one way or another for the rest of their lives as toxic stress. That stress will lead to social consequences in the form of maladaptive and unhealthy personal relationships and parenting. It will also lead to physical health consequences in the form of increased adult heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and earlier death. Very truly, the cracks we make in our children will endure.

The ultimate message from Mr. Rogers to the adult children like me who enjoyed his neighborhood is to remember for a quiet moment the person or persons who made a critical difference in our own lives, and to try to be that person for each other and our children. In an intensely beseeching appeal, Fred’s message is to love one another and care about each other in meaningful ways and to remember we are all — each one of us — children of God!

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