As parents of a toddler, my husband and I are careful with what we let our daughter watch on television. Like many small children, she loves Sesame Street and watches it regularly. Having grown up as Sesame Street kids ourselves, we are both familiar with and confident in their programming.
I personally appreciate their efforts to educate children and families beyond things like numbers, colors, and reading. Over the years, they have also sought to address emotional issues children encounter and how to deal with them. Their newest character, Alex, represents a prime example of that effort.
Alex, a seemingly shy young boy with a red-orange face and blue hair, shares in an episode with his friends that his father is in jail. A discussion ensues that allows him to express his feelings (like shame and confusion) about his dad being incarcerated. While not a traditional representation of a family on child-friendly television, it most certainly is not an unusual scenario. A story about this new character on Today.com show cited a Pew Charitable Trusts report, stating that one in 28 children in the United States has a parent in jail.
Opening a dialogue about how incarceration affects children is very important – for both adults and kids. It shows parents how to talk to their children (if the other parent is in jail) and helps children to understand that it’s okay to express their feelings about it. In a format like this, I believe it can also help to increase awareness and sensitivity among other children who do not have an incarcerated parent.
The episode is part of an online toolkit entitled, “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration,” which includes free resources like activities and workbooks to assist parents and caregivers with handling this kind of situation.
Similarly to the recent Cheerios commercial that featured an interracial family (and caused quite a stir online), I applaud Sesame Street for choosing to represent the myriad family dynamics that make up American society.
BMWK family, should Sesame Street have this character?