A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal published this article about how today's college students are more narcissistic than ever before in history. The discussion is about why that is and, true to our nature as Americans, they've boiled it all down to a single solitary issue and identified the proverbial magic pill of blame... it's Mr. Rogers' fault.
"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. ... Nice as he was, and as good as his intentions may have been, he did a disservice."

Speaking as someone who pretty much wanted to marry Mr. Rogers when I was younger and openly wept when he died, I take offense at this.

Putting aside the problem of even trying to measure narcissism, is this really what it's all come down to? Are we really blaming a half-hour television show for our failure to teach our children responsibility for their own actions? I'm not saying I disagree that there's a growing sense of entitlement in our culture, or even that it's a problem. But come on, can we really blame children's programming's attempt to build self esteem on this? For that matter, can we really even restrict the problem to young adults?

Perhaps... and I'm just thinking out loud here... it's our society and it's constant message in every facet of our culture and the media in general that no one ever need take responsibility for his or her actions. Instead, the method of resolution for pretty much every problem we encounter is to just blame someone else and use whatever influence we can manage to scrounge up to avoid the natural consequences of our behavior. If all else fails, sue the bastard. That couldn't have anything to do with it, could it?

Get two years' prison time for lying to a grand jury? Never mind. Your friend, the President, will commute your sentence.
Get caught driving drunk and on a suspended license? People will gather in droves and shout "Our princess is free!" when you're released.
Steal an excess of $5000 from a department store? People will print "Free Winona" t-shirts to support you.

Got a bunch of self-important, college kids thinking they're entitled to free money and grades? Blame it on Mr. Rogers.

I remember a few years ago when they were trying to revive Candid Camera, Peter Funt thought he'd play a prank in a hotel that was being used for a television critics' conference. They took the televisions out of hotel rooms and watched people lose their minds when they showed up for this conference and found that the tool of their chosen trade, expected equipment in every hotel, was not available to them. In some odd twist of fate, one of the people who was registered for the conference happened to be Fred Rogers and they thought they'd get some good footage playing the prank on him and watching him lose his temper on film when he didn't find the one thing he'd expect and probably need for the conference activities.

Peter Funt: *disguised as bellhop* "Here's your room key, but I have some bad news to tell you. There's no TV in this room and all the other rooms in the hotel are full, so we probably won't be able to get one."

Mr. Rogers: *smiling* "That's okay." *tries to take key and enter room*

PF: "Well... um... wait. Maybe you didn't understand me. There's no TV. And we're not going to be able to get one either."

MR: *still smiling* "Don't worry about it. It's not a big deal."

PF: *flustered* "But... um... er... don't you think you need one for a television critics' conference?"

MR: "No, I'll be okay. I don't really watch television that much anyway."

This went back and forth for what seemed like forever. He tried every device he knew to make this man get upset and lash out, but the unflappable Mr. Rogers never once became even slightly huffy. Nothing could rile him when it was just not that big a deal in his mind.

That is the example I want my children to grow up with. Admittedly, they probably won't see it much from me, but it's something to aspire to and if Mr. Rogers helps me just a little bit with that and that's all he's ever done, I think it's more than a worthy effort. Plus, he really writes a mean jazz melody.

Of course there's always room for a healthy dose of moderation; I get that. In our house, we make every effort to remind our daughter and help her understand that we all have strengths and weaknesses and each one of us is no better or worse than another, but we are different. We achieve different things because we all have different talents and abilities. To some, things come easy. Some of us have to work harder to achieve those same things, but we all can achieve them in some way. I firmly believe that it doesn't do children any good to constantly be comparing themselves to others. I want my daughter to learn to work hard for what she wants in her life and to understand that there is almost always more we could do, it just depends on how much effort we want to exert. There will always be someone better or smarter and there will always be someone who doesn't achieve in the same way. We have to learn to live with that in life. But constantly comparing and rating ourselves on a scale of "I'm better than Johnny, but worse than Sally" doesn't do anyone any favors - my child, or the children to whom she compares herself. It only teaches us to look for our validation externally.

When The Dormouse achieves something, I praise her. Not because she couldn't have done it any better, but because I am genuinely happy for her. Sure, she could have come up with a more developed story the other day and her artwork isn't going to hang in any showrooms anytime soon, but she worked hard to do that project and I was thrilled. It wasn't some generic "you're great" that some child psychologist tells us parents we need to use as a response. My enthusiasm was unfeigned and authentic.

The rest of the world will tell her soon enough that she doesn't pass muster. I want my home to always be a soft place for her to fall at the end of the day when things don't go her way... and when they do. I want our family to be the one place where she always knows she can come and feel loved. Often, the only place our kids ever get to hear that they're great is from their parents and small opportunities like were readily made available on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. I would rather err on the side of too much self-esteem than too little if an error must be made. The rest of the world will crush her dreams soon enough... but hopefully her parents will be there to help her deal with that when the time comes.

I, for one, am grateful to people like Mr. Rogers for helping me understand that.