The Corner

Film & TV

Should Sesame Street Be Scaring Kids?

Sesame Street muppets Ernie and Bert at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

Sesame Street is rightly beloved, but I’m not sure moving into the area of opioid addiction is a good idea. A new green Muppet, Karli, is a foster child whose mother is an opioid addict. A real girl named Salia, who is ten, walks us through a similar real-life story. She was separated from her family for 60 days “but it felt like 60 years,” she says on the show, according to a Karol Markowicz column in the New York Post.

This kind of thing sounds like an error. Sesame Street should be all about overcoming things — fears, hurdles to learning. But the thing about small children is that they are very easily scared, and if you introduce fears in the course of teaching a lesson they may well miss the lesson entirely and simply absorb the fears. The fear of losing one’s parent due to opioid abuse, or of being shunted off to foster care, is one that the average viewer of the show perhaps would not even have considered. Sesame Street has a long, proud history of nurturing tolerance and understanding, but if this storyline is making kids more anxious it’s counterproductive. As Karol points out, one survey shows a 20 percent rise in children’s anxiety over the last 15 years. We don’t want to bubble-wrap kids, but we also don’t want to introduce new fears into their psyches.

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