One in 28 American children has a parent in prison. This situation is both common, and extremely difficult to explain to kids. That’s why Sesame Street has taken up the task of explaining parental incarceration through a new Sesame Street member : meet Alex.
Alex’s father is in prison, and he isn’t happy about it.
“I just miss him so much,” Alex tells his new friends. “I usually don’t want people to know about my Dad.”
What makes Alex such a powerful character is that he does not sugar coat his situation. Alex is confused, angry, and sad about his situation. Sesame Street creators intend for Alex to show children with parents in prison that while it’s OK to hurt, that it’s essential they know it isn’t there fault, and that others want to help them.
Alex will only make brief appearances on the program, but will have a much larger presence on the Sesame Street website, which just launched “Little Children, Big Challenged: Incarceration,” an online tool to provide support for kids in the same position as Alex.
This isn’t Sesame Street’s first attempt to bring attention to difficult and even controversial topics. In 2002, an HIV-Positive character named Kami joined the cast of Takalani Street, the South-African version of Sesame Street. In the show’s history, topics involving divorce, hunger, depression, and losing a father to war have all appeared on the children’s show.
If Sesame Street can serve one role through Alex, and other characters with difficult situations, it may be to serve as a bridge between kids and parents. When bad things happen, it can be difficult for either party to broach the subject. With Sesame Sreet bringing the topic up, children may feel it OK to ask their parents about the topic. Then a real discussion can take place.