Sesame Street has always been on the progressive side of matters that are important to children. The program has never shied away from such topics as the non-traditional family nor the effects of addiction on children within a family that has a parent who has substance abuse disorder.
During this Pride Month, Sesame Street introduced a same-sex couple, two gay Dads, Dave and Frank and their daughter Mia. This family was incorporated into Sesame’s “Family Day,” so kids will see that all families do not always have a female Mother and male Father. Not only does the example educate the preschoolers watching the popular show, but the kids who have same-sex parents will not feel so isolated or different from other families, and they will get the message that all families are built on love.
Four Years ago, Sesame Street Had a Similar Message
On Father’s Day, June 2017, Elmo acknowledged that kids can have step-dads in a blended family or even two Dads. Two years prior, Bert and Ernie, who were roommates, perhaps secretly gay, were shown embracing each other on a New Yorker cover as they watched on television the Supreme Court decision that same-sex marriage was the law of the land.
Some viewers thought Bert and Ernie should not have been used on the cover as they are puppets, and not real people. However, Bert and Ernie were introduced to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves.
Those critics thought the lesbian couple who led the victorious fight against DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), Edith Windsor and Thea Speyer, should have been recognized, but The New Yorker doesn’t use celebrities on its covers. However, the artist Jack Hunter, pointed out that he was drawing his life as a gay artist.
In 2019, Another Controversial Issue is Tackled
In 2017, National Statistics reported that 10.5% of children lived in households with at least one parent who had an alcohol use disorder. Nearly 3% of children lived in a household with at least one parent who had a past year of illicit drug use disorder. I’m sure the Statistics would be higher today and would not reflect the number of children who are removed from their homes and live in foster care, shelters or with relatives.
At that time, Dr. Jerry Moe, National Director of Hazelden’s Betty Ford’s Children’s therapist Program was consulted to help create a new character, a green muppet named Karli who is six years old. Karli, in foster care, talks to her friends about her mom’s struggle with drug addiction and why her Mother is away for awhile.
The bright puppet is used to impress the message to young children that addiction is a sickness and as with any sickness, people, including parents, need help to get well. And like divorce, children must know that addiction is not their fault and therefore, they cannot be blamed.
Sesame Street educates even further with an online program that underscores Karli’s videos: “Sesame St. in Communities’ Project offers supplemental online content that is free to parents, providers and caregivers and provides information about the stigma of addiction.
By creating Karli, the opioid crisis and rampant drug crisis is explained to children in simple terms and takes away the stigma as well as the judgment by others of a disease that some opponents regard as a moral choice. Sesame Street children will not feel so alone, isolated, and see on the television that other kids, like them, have stressful situations in their family.
Sesame Street goes where others fear to tread. For “little people,” and their caregivers, the program enlightens the issues of the day that loom large for society and have children internalizing them.
Image credit Jack Hunter, via The New Yorker. July 2013
When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need To Know
For more detailed advice, see book, co-authored with a mother of a gay son and a psychiatrist, Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D.