You’re not all that special

Just being yourself isn’t all that special, writes Jeffrey Zaslow in the Wall St. Journal. He blames Mr. Rogers for “telling children they were ‘special’ just for being whoever they were.”

As educators and researchers struggle to define the new parameters of parenting, circa 2007, some are revisiting the language of child ego-boosting. What are the downsides of telling kids they’re special? Is it a mistake to have children call us by our first names? When we focus all conversations on our children’s lives, are we denying them the insights found when adults talk about adult things?

He quotes a post on a Yahoo Answers site discussion thread:

“Mr. Rogers spent years telling little creeps that he liked them just the way they were. He should have been telling them there was a lot of room for improvement.”

College professors complain that too many students think they’re entitled to an A for mediocre work because everything they do is special.

Some parents have so much trouble setting limits they hire parenting coaches to dispense common-sense advice, reports the Boston Globe.

About Joanne


  1. Nels Nelson says:

    I loved watching Mr. Rogers when I was a kid, but it was for the puppets, the songs, the fish, and that wonderful trolley. Even at age four I understood that a man on television didn’t know a thing about me.

    I’d want to see some evidence, even anecdotal, that his message of specialness had much effect on kids who were well-loved and happy. Watching episodes as an adult my impression is that he was trying to reach children surrounded by negativity and chaos.

  2. You know, I think the big message here is that parents and teachers don’t get to be Mr. Rogers. We’re all entitled to a feel-good moment now and again, but the problem comes when people who deal with kids turn Mr. Rogers’ message of unconditional specialness from one that’s on the TV for 30 minutes to one that a kids hears almost 24/7.

    Kids need to be taught that the world expects things of them, and that real, honest-to-goodness pride comes from meeting and exceeding these expectations. Part of being a parent and a teacher is kicking a kid in the (psychological) behind when you know they can do better than they are doing. Heck, Mr. Rogers was known to do the same to his guests if they weren’t doing their best on his show, so it’s not as if he were against it, he was just smart enough not to try and do it from a thousand miles away.

  3. Cheap shot, Jeffrey Zaslow — picking on the late Fred Rogers — and wrong….

    How long do kids watch Mr. Rogers? My children lost interest by the time they were four or five. Even if some children have enjoyed his show until they were six or seven, did his message so resonate that as to be a significant cause of the adolescent “entitlement” some college students now express?

    I suspect that there are many other factors.

    One reason, I think — perhaps a leading cause — of these expressions of entitlement is that those students believe it might be persuasive.

    That is how it has seemed whenever I’ve been told by a student that she or he deserves an A for showing up, for trying his or her best, etc.

    Students have also attempted to compromise the integrity of my class by offering bribes, issuing flattery and sycophancy, and threatening to have this or that gang exact retribution against me.

    Almost always they are kidding — because they know none of it will work, because they know they must, alas, earn their grade.

    They are entitled to a quality education.
    They are entitled to a well-conceived curriculum and my feedback and a safe — physically and intellectually — learning environment.

    The idea that they are entitled to an A is stupid.
    They know it.

    Any teacher — high school or college or whatever — who takes such nonsense seriously is a fool.

    Anyone who gives in to it is spineless.

    Blaming Mr. Rogers is foolish and spineless….

  4. I thought that was snort-out-loud funny! But I wouldn’t blame poor Fred. And I think Larry is definitely on to something. This immediately brought to mind two other interesting related anecdotes:

    School districts which won’t allow teachers to use red pens because it traumatizes students (purple and green are now favored). I am not kidding.

    The lowest category on state tests is called “step one” and just a step above it is called “progressing.” Neither one is even close to sopmething that might be called “passing,” if we could use such terminology without traumatizing someone.

    There is no doubt, however, that many people are so frightened of deaing a crippling blow to self-esteem that they can’t– or won’t– honestly critique student work. Sadly, there is a kernel of truth to what the original author stated.

  5. The leading cause for the sense of entitlement are the Boomers, who demanded the world be remade in their own image during Vietnam and passed along the trait to those who followed. The difference is, now the demands are on behalf of our children.

    I work closely with the local Research I university College of Ed. The Associate Dean relates stories every week of parents calling to assure their 21-year-old children are “treated fairly.” We’ve tossed adulthood out the window. I wonder if it will ever return.