Monday, October 10, 2011

Socially Conscious Preschoolers

As usual...I am  conflicted.  

I was reading a really interesting article over at injaynesworld called Call a Spade a Damn Spade.  She was talking about the introduction of the newest muppet character, Lily. Lily was created to launch a  PBS special concerning childhood hunger.  In the program, hunger is referred to as "food insecurity", hence, Jayne's title.  I totally agree with her. If they are going to do a program to teach our little one's about people going hungry, why can't they use the word HUNGRY?  I guess that referring to people going hungry is now politically incorrect.

Lily is a bright pink muppet whose family struggles to put food on the table.  Seems her muppet daddy got laid off from his job and now the family is struggling to put muppet food on the table.

Lily's friends include Elmo and Rosita, another young Muppet who was recently featured, along with her disabled father, in a separate Sesame Street special aimed at the families of war veterans.
 After reading a number of articles this morning on the topic, I find that the majority of parents feel that this new character is a welcome addition to the other social issues that Sesame Street has introduced to their youngest TV viewers.  In the past they have done programs about divorce, death, disabilities,  and  diversity just to name a few.

 I think Sesame Street is a great program. Since it's premiere on November 10, 1969 it has aired nearly 4300 episodes to teach the preschool set any number of things including reading, writing and behavior.  Kudos, to them!!!

So why am I conflicted?   All the articles were effusive in their praise for children being exposed to social issues and several parents pointed out the fact they like that a program was introducing a "serious" subject in a fun and innovative way.  (I can see where the subject of children going hungry can be made more entertaining...really doesn't it just lend itself to fun?)

OK...see where my road is diverging in the woods here?   Do we need a puppet...sorry...muppet to teach our kids things that we are not prepared to teach them ourselves? Do we need to introduce new phrases such as "food insecurity" into our children's vocabulary? I am not entirely convinced that a three and four year old should be taught social consciousness from a puppet about the possibility of going hungry...oh I mean food insecure.   Can't our little preschoolers be kept a little clueless to the harsh realities of this economy at least until they have their molars in?

Or maybe I have lost touch with what little four year olds need to know... I was reading a Newsweek poll this morning that showed the number of those polled that thought this was a great addition to Sesame Street far out weighed the "no's" and the "not sure's".

What are your thoughts????

You can read the entire article and see a video clip at:

Note to my regular readers:  Due to some other obligations that are taking up my time, I may be posting a little less often in the future (at least for a time).   I hope you all check back from time to time to say hi and leave a comment.  I hope to write more on The Art of Being Conflicted, Facebook page. 

Here is a funny video that deals with another politically incorrect subject.

Maybe we should have a Muppet with a smoking habit talk to our preschoolers?


meleahrebeccah said...

" Do we need a muppet to teach our kids things that we are not prepared to teach them ourselves? Do we need to introduce new phrases such as "food insecurity" into our children's vocabulary?"

Hm…. Now I am conflicted. I don't think we need to use the term "food insecurity" for the word hunger. That's a little nuts. And I am not sure I'd want my small child to be aware of such big issues at such a young age.

When my son was born, I was a single mother. And putting food on the table was a major struggle, but, I made sure my son had NO IDEA how difficult that was.

Nicky said...

I commented on Jayne's post how I thought it was a sad time we were living in when Sesame Street had to cover the subject of hunger. Or food insecurity. Whatever. It isn't the new "spun" name that gets me. It's the fact that there are so many hungry families out there.

I understand why Sesame Street is dealing with the subject matter. Yes, in part, to have kids be socially conscious. But I think the real truth, the one they won't admit to, is that with the growing number of families struggling to make ends meet, being forced to choose between necessities like food or heat or clothing mortgage/rent or car payment, kids know when they are have-nots. They know when Mommy and Daddy are stressed. They see their parents' reactions to the mail with big words stamped in red on the envelope. They overhear the discussions with creditors who call. They may never say a word about it, but they know. And being kids, they internalize. They need to feel like they are not alone, and that they don't need to be ashamed. The real message isn't for the kids who have, it's for the ones who don't.

Should we be teaching little ones about it? In an ideal world, we wouldn't have to teach 4-year olds about hunger. In the real world, there are thousands and thousands of 4-olds (and 3 and 2 and 1...) who are living with hunger every day.

Bodaciousboomer said...

Food insecurity=hunger/
Slow intestinal transit=constipation. Thanks for the clarification Activa.

I'm with Jayne. Speak plain.

Cheryl P. said...

I am with you on I want my really young one (3 or 4) to be aware of such a big issue. I definitely don't like changing up the name of it but even with that said, I think parents need to make kids feel secure. Three and four year olds should have a little more time to not worry about social issues.

meleahrebeccah said...


Cheryl P. said...

I think you make great points and that is truly why I am conflicted on this.

As with all things our children are exposed to, it may be helpful to some but introduce subject matter beyond their capability of understanding in others.

I am torn on this particular show and it's targeted age group. The polls show that most people are in favor of programming that introduces social issues to the younger preschoolers. I guess I will talk to my daughter and son-in-law and see what they think about our little G-boys being introduced to "weightier" subjects. Our eldest grandson just turned 4 and we are still playing make believe.

Cheryl P. said...

I do agree with that Michele.. I dont think we need to introduce new PC phrases for hunger. I am still on the fence if we need widespread programming to introduce "hunger" to the general population of 3 and 4 year olds. Helpful to some maybe but harmful to others, perhaps.

Bob S said...

As you noted, the target audience for Sesame Street is very young kids. There is absolutely no reason they need to be introduced to adult issues at that age. It has been my experience that kids do just fine at being kids if the parents give them time to get to know one another. It is usually the parents that create all the problems. There is plenty of time to introduce youngsters to real issues of life as they reach the appropriate age. Elementary school (and before) is just not the time.

It has been many, many years since I watched Sesame Street (as our youngest is now 36). But, the early version was just wonderful at focusing on getting children's attention and delivering an interesting education program as well. It was also a real plus having Jim Henson and Frank Oz working together on the show. They included a lot of adult humor that kept it interesting for the parents as well. (I understand most of that is gone today.)

I'm not conflicted on this one. Lily is just wrong for the show. Hopefully wise parents will decide that there are other venues for their children's education and select one of those.

Cheryl P. said...

Hi Bob S, I am envious that you see this from a clear perspective. I see all the polls showing a particular "for it" stance and I start thinking I have lost touch with the masses. My youngest is also 36 and I watch Sesame Street once in a while with my grandson who is 4. I used to love the show when my kids were little and still find it pretty fun with with my G-boy. It has changed though.
Now there is definitely an incorporation of adult topics.

My initial reaction to Lily is "why do we have to introduce any adult type of issues at all to a 3 or 4 year old. Why can't it just stay about the ABCs and 123s, fun and songs type of programming at least until they are a bit older.

Kimberly Wyatt said...

I am not against teaching my kids about real, prevalent social problems at a young age. But I don't think I will go out of my way to do so before they are in kindergarten. If they ask, I will answer honestly. And I will not cross the street or avoid going downtown to shelter them from the multitudes of homeless, impoverished, and addicted. Still, four seems young to be pushing these situations on kids. That being said, I understand why you're conflicted. Nicky brings up some equally valid points. If the show is being targeted at the children who are dealing with these problems firsthand, then it definitely has merit.

We had some new neighbors move in several months ago. Three little kids (ages 7, 4, and 1). The seven y.o. is actually a cousin/niece, but her parents are in prison. The four y.o. came over today, sat down next to me on our porch, and announced matter-of-factly, "My daddy cheated on my mama with another girl. Mommy threw his stuff out and called the cops when he came over." Two minutes later, she asked Trinity if she wanted to play hide and seek, and she couldn't even count to THREE (which says something about the environment in which she's being raised). It's a sad truth that kids aren't all given the chance to be kids, but I think that the ones who are privileged to have the opportunity to be sheltered for a bit longer will benefit from receiving the traditional Sesame Street lessons of ABCs, counting, and sharing.

Cheryl P. said...

See this is why I think you are a GREAT mom. It's all about common sense. I totally conflicts with any of what you said. If my grandchild was exposed to a situation (whatever that situation is) I will tackle trying to explain it at their level. I woudn't go out of my way to introduce subjects that 3 and 4 year olds shouldn't have to worry about. That is a lot of baggage for even a 7 year old to carry around. Sometimes I know we can't shelter our little ones but I sure am up for trying to keep them sheltered as far into the preschool years at least.

Jayne G said...

I'm torn to Cheryl. I think whatever goodness a kid can get before they enter school-- where their parade will inevitably be rained on--is a good thing. We don't have to throw the entire horrors of the world at them before they're really emotionally ready to absorb and understand such horrors.

I'm kinda disappointed by the fact that Sesame Street has introduced a serious matter by veiling it in "insecurity." Seems the production has some insecurities itself. It your gonna talk hunger, then let's talk hunger dammit.

Cheryl P. said...

I am so relieved to see that I am not the only one that doesn't see this as black and white but a little grayish. I think there is a fine line between raising awareness in our little ones without raising their level of fear and "insecurities". I do question the introduction of a new catch phrase for hunger though. You are so hunger, hunger.

Jayne said...

You really articulated your points well, Nicky.

Jayne said...

First of all, thanks for the shout-out, Cheryl. And second, that's the funniest cat video I've ever seen.

You presented this issue well. I was a little more (okay, a lot more) cynical, but I can't help believing that "Lily" will be in stores in time for Christmas.

Cheryl P. said...

I appreciate you cynism, Jayne. I always struggle with these types of issues because I tend to go right over to the "dark" side. (that is trying to figure out what is the real motive behind social consciousness?) I guess there are parents that feel the need for an early introduction of serious subjects such as hunger but I tend to think that 3 and 4 year olds are a bit young to take on the troubles of the world. As far as Lily the muppet goes, I am sure you are right. She will be making SS some Xmas money for sure.