Gun violence might feel like a new epidemic, but it’s sobering consequences and fear-inducing tendencies are something parents have long had to cope with.
Fred Rogers, host of the iconic Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, spearheaded conversations on talking to kids about gun violence after only a few months on the air, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Rogers’ show was only four months old when Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, but he knew it was something children might have trouble processing.
Working through the night of June 6, Rogers prepared and taped a special episode for parents set to air the day before Kennedy’s funeral. The episode featured hand puppet Daniel the Tiger fretting over the meaning of the word assassination and Lady Aberlin inquiring, “Have you heard that word a lot today?” and then explaining, “Well,” she says, “it means somebody getting killed in a… a sort of surprise way.”
The segment ends by cutting back to Mister Rogers as he makes a plea to parents, saying, “I plead for your protection and support of your young children. There is just so much that a very young child can take.”
In the Smithsonian interview, Maxwell King, author of the upcoming Rogers biography The Good Neighbor and former executive director of the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media noted, “Rogers wasn’t just a soft-spoken newbie giving puppet shows for kids. He was a very serious thinker about the impact of media on children.”
With gun violence increasingly affecting children and schools, parents may be looking for a helping hand in explaining this sensitive, potentially traumatic topic to their children. Rogers, who held graduate degrees in theology and child development, offered advice several decades earlier that could still be valuable to parents today.
Though he’s been gone since 2003, Rogers is still a common face in the wake of national tragedy, with memes and video clips circulating with his timeless message to “Look for the helpers.”
Read the full Mister Rogers story here.