Sesame Street teaches children — and adults — how to handle hardship

Liz Whitmer, Contributing Writer

Sesame Street has been teaching children not only about colors and numbers for decades, but also how to process emotional traumas at a young age. This aspect of the show has come increasingly into public view in recent years, especially since a new character whose mother suffers from opioid addiction was recently introduced to the cast.

As addiction continues to rise, Sesame Street’s new character gives the show’s viewers – some of whom may be affected by this increase – the representation and emotional outlet they desperately need. The show has featured several other emotional issues that would be difficult for young children to process on their own, and this is no different.

Children whose parents suffer from addiction, a vicious disease that affects families throughout the country, deserve to know they are not alone when they feel like no one understands their struggle. The stigma behind addiction that dissuades people from talking about it can cause children to become incapable of working through the difficulty and thus lead to them internalizing the hardships they and their parents face daily.

This addition to the show not only helps break the silence about the horrors of addiction, but it also helps children to navigate the issue from a young age, thus making them less likely to become addicts themselves later in life. Nothing about this epidemic can change without a public discussion, and Sesame Street is working hands-on to break the cycle to which at-risk children often fall victim.

Children are not the only ones who may benefit from this addition to the show — their parents may as well. By describing addiction as a sickness, the adults watching with their children at home may feel more comfortable having an open dialogue with their family and explain to the children about their condition. Adult characters in the show are also shown going to therapy sessions, and those struggling with addiction who have not received the proper help may feel more inclined to do so after seeing the positive effects it has on Sesame Street.

Topics like this are typically deemed too sensitive and dark to talk about with children, but if they are simply never discussed at all, they will never learn to navigate these topics in a healthy, open way. Hiding things from children when they can intuit that something is wrong in the world around them only serves to isolate them and perpetuate a stigma that addiction is something shameful and embarrassing, rather than what it really is: a sickness, and one that is treatable when proper help is provided.

Even if a child watching has and will never experience addiction within their own families, watching characters undergo it and hearing an open discourse about the issue will allow those children to be an ally to those they meet who are struggling later in life.

Representation matters across the board and excluding families that are undergoing struggles of all kinds only shows children a very narrow representation of the world. Knowing that one is not alone — whether that seclusion is due to race, mental illness or addiction — can be an empowering factor that allows someone to get help and completely change the course of their life.

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