‘Sesame Street’ introduces first-ever muppet with a parent in prison
The long-running children’s show is introducing the storyline in an online kit being made available to prisons and advocacy groups. The Sesame Workshop hasn’t shied away from other thorny topics.
By Erik Ortiz / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
“Sesame Street” is teaching kids about bedtime, bath time and jail time.
The popular children’s television series hasn’t shied away from tough topics in the past, and has introduced a new muppet named Alex as a way to talk about the stigma of having a parent in jail.
“I just miss him so much,” the fuzzy blue-haired muppet says of his locked-up dad, adding, “Sometimes I just feel like I want to pound on a pillow and scream as loud as I can.”
The sensitive subject is being featured in an online teaching kit called, “Little Children, Big Challenges.”
The clips featuring Alex aren’t actually being aired on television, and he isn’t being introduced as a regular character on the show.
Still, “Sesame Street” execs say his story can be a useful tool for kids, specifically those ages 3 to 8. The show has broached other tricky lessons relating to divorce, hunger and military deployment.
“Coming from a muppet, it’s almost another child telling their story to the children,” Jeanette Betancourt, vice president of outreach and educational practices at the Sesame Workshop, told the “Today” show.
The videos show Alex telling his friends that his dad won’t be able to help him build a toy car. When they ask him why his father is not around, he says he doesn’t want to talk about it.
Later, his friends ask him what’s wrong.
“My dad’s in jail,” he says haltingly, adding, “I don’t like to talk about it. Most people don’t understand.”
A human friend says that her father was once incarcerated, which happens when “someone breaks the law — a grown-up rule — and then they have to go to jail or prison.”
A Pew Charitable Trusts report found that 1 in every 28 children has a parent behind bars.
In New York state, an estimated 105,000 kids have an incarcerated parent, although that’s a low-ball figure, said Tanya Krupat, program director of the Osborne Association’s New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents.
Krupat said the group is excited about the “Sesame Street” kit, which is in the process of being shipped to prisons in 10 states, including New York.
“We’re grateful to them for taking this on,” Krupat told the Daily News.
While she thinks America may not be ready for a character such as Alex to be a regular on a kids’ show, she hopes the attention brought by “Sesame Street” will spotlight the issue of over-incarceration.
“The goal of these materials is not to normalize parental incarceration because there’s nothing normal about it,” Krupat said. “It’s great to focus on those children immediately impacted … but I want to see these materials affect policy.”