Bravo to “Sesame Street” for Reaching Out to Kids With Parents in Jail
As a kid growing up in New York, I always felt that watching “Sesame Street” was like stepping into a kinder, more accepting world. It seemed similar to my Sunset Park, Brooklyn, neighborhood – but with cleaner streets.
Something about the corner store…and the conversations on the stoop…the neighbor leaning out the building window, checking out the action on the street. The diversity of its cast spoke to me and made me feel welcomed as a viewer, and I’m sure I learned something…a lot of something, even, but I didn’t realize it at the time.
“Sesame Street” has always been inclusive this way – always embracing the diversity of our communities in a way that doesn’t exploit or embarrass, but rather encourage thought and conversation. It has always had this way of introducing new characters and situations in a way that children could accept and process.
So when I heard about them introducing a new character named Alex, who has a father in jail, I thought of how, yet again, "Sesame Street” was continuing on the path of what it does best – educating, including and embracing.
The “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration” initiative is a Sesame Workshop online tool kit and program aimed at giving support to children with incarcerated parents and to their caregivers. It gives families the tools needed to help their children cope with their emotions.
There are more kids out there with an incarcerated parent than many of us realize. According to recent statistics published by the Pew Charitable Trust, “54 percent of inmates are parents with minor children, including more than 120,000 mothers and 1.1 million fathers.” That’s “2.7 million children with a parent behind bars.” So it’s not so much about there not being a lot of children in this situation, but about it being a stigma that children and their families have had to potentially hide and never talk about.
Or course, there are critics out there of the program. Mike Riggs, a blogger with Reason Magazine, wrote, “Congratulations, America, on making it almost normal to have a parent in prison or jail.” Some people just don’t know a good thing when they see it.
The iconic show has taken on some pretty big issues during its years on television – from divorce to suicide and poverty – and now it's tackling parents in jail. I am grateful for “Sesame Street’s” continued efforts to try to make our children more kind, caring people, and for providing us adults teaching moments – within ourselves as well – to help them in that process.