Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Remembering the world neighbor on his 75th birthday

The sound of welcome. It is a sound reconstructed time and time again as the world continues its search for an answer to reoccurring issues of inequality and the loss of hope. For years music and poetry have been utilized as mediums for such curiosity. But for many the sound of welcome was found in the voice of Mister Rogers.

Fred Rogers, a Pittsburgh native, built his neighborhood on the grounds of attentive child interaction using the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) as his medium.

Each week Rogers would request incoming audiences to be his neighbor and embark upon the wonders of life.Tackling issues such as divorce, mental health, racism, and war with great understanding and care for his audience, he demonstrated the role of a trustworthy adult.

Sophomore viewer Leila Bockenstedt said she remembers watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood when she was five. She explained, “I mainly watched it with my brother.” Bockenstedt’s brother has autism and has watched Mister Rogers’ for much of his life. She acknowledged, “ I guess I just watched it with him while he was in the hospital.”

Bockenstedt recalled an episode where Rogers’ talked about a train at night to some friends. She recollected, “He was making friends with people who didn’t normally have friends,” Bockenstedt continued, “I guess it made me happy.” According to the US News, 43% of Americans feel they lack companionship and 46% report feeling lonely. Sangeeta Sanjay, a writer for Study Village, says that out of 10 children 4-5 are lonely.

Bockenstedt admitted that growing up she didn’t have many friends and that’s why this episode was so significant to her. Bockenstedt expressed, “He actually talked about friendship, what it means to be there for someone.” Bockenstedt believes that if Rogers’ was alive today he would probably cover things like traveling and possibly issues like racism.

Another impacted audience member Aijrianna “A.J.” Bean has been a part of Rogers’ Neighborhood since she was seven or 8 years old. Bean admitted, “It [Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood] taught me like how to be a person I guess.” In a study documented by Wayne H. Holtzman, an American psychologist, children who watched Mister Rogers’ greatly increased in their giving of positive reinforcement following their exposure to the program. This was opposed to the children who watched Sesame Street, as another part of this study, which had “no measurable effect” on their behavior.

Bean claimed that Roger’s was “real” with his audience. She went on to say, “I feel like shows now don’t really teach you things like that.”

Bean suggested that people with depression or those who have trichotillomania watch Mister Rogers’. Bean has trichotillomania, a disorder where sufferers pick their own hair out as a result of stress and anxiety. She said, “I feel like with depression it could put you in a better mood,” she continued, “it could just calm you down.” Bean admitted that watching a show could help these feelings.The depression epidemic is on high rise as brought to the attention by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, as many as one in 33 children have clinical depression.

While a multitude of factors contribute to depression of different age groups young children can grow to appreciate the humanity throughout the world and in themselves. Despite the loss of Mister Rogers’ in the world we can still take what we learned in the Neighborhood with us wherever we go.