ʻSesame Streetʼ advocates for Americaʼs children

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, October 11th, 2017 at 1:05 PM

“Sesame Street” has been a staple for children since its first broadcast on Nov. 10, 1969. From its origin, the program sought to educate children on basic academic skills, such as counting and color recognition. Over the years, “Sesame Street” has tackled various societal issues as well, such as divorce, disability and even death.

Currently, 48 years later, “Sesame Street” has continued to adapt to our culture’s social climate and focuses in on the needs of our youth, not just academically, but emotionally. In addition, the show has added a new character, Julia, who has autism, which highlights how not all people learn, feel, communicate or show affection in the same manner. “Sesame Street” provides viewers with characters who are mentally, physically and emotionally different, thus attempting to reflect the diversity in our country.

Moreover, new episodes are emerging that teach children how to cope with trauma effectively. One episode displays Big Bear having “big feelings,” such as anger, confusion and even anxiety. His friend Alan reassures him that it’s okay to have these feelings and talks him through creating his own safe place in his head, which helps him calm down.

The relevance and importance of this episode is based on data that states: “One in five children in the United States has experienced at least two types of adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse and neglect, witnessing domestic violence, or living with an adult who has a mental illness or a substance abuse problem. The rates are higher for teenagers.”

Researchers say they believe the responses, which are “reported by children’s parents, [and] are likely undercounts.”

Scientists have established experiences that induce chronic stress and hormonal imbalances can have lasting implications for health, and emotional and learning development. Therefore, “Sesame Street” is not “creating snowflakes,” as some critiques have suggested, they are providing the 20 percent of children in America who are suffering with immense trauma with vital mental health techniques, with skills for improving their quality of life today, and giving skills that can be utilized throughout their life.

Martha Davis, senior program officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which provided “Sesame Street” materials about trauma, stated: “We know that traumatic experiences can be life-changing. We also know that kids can be remarkably resilient.”

The programming is a remarkable stepping stone into addressing tough topics for children, but more importantly in letting children know that the issues they are facing are normal, and they are not alone in how they feel.

Some of the coping skills “Sesame Street” teaches includes The Count showing how counting helps him calm down when he is mad. Another episode displays Rosita, who learns to punch a pillow or roar like a dinosaur when she is angry or frustrated. Elmo talks about giving himself a hug or building a fort out of blankets so he can feel safe when he’s scared. Any of these tools sound familiar? That’s because these coping mechanisms are not just for kids; adults do and should use these skills daily to work out our own “big feelings.”

JoAllie Paluchak can be reached at voices.spectator@gmail.com. 

Tags: voices, opinion

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