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Posted at 10:29 PM ET, 11/ 6/2009

Sesame Street is turning 40--and still NOT for the very young

By Valerie Strauss

“Mommy, who is that talking to Elmo?”

“That’s Sarah Jessica Parker, honey, you know, from Sex and the... Oh, right. You are 3. You don’t care who she is.”

That’s what I thought when I read that “Sesame Street” is celebrating its 40th--yes, 40th--anniversary Tuesday.

The show first aired Nov. 10, 1969, on public television with an episode about Big Bird’s decision to move away from Sesame Street, and was in many ways revolutionary for television, presenting a racially mixed harmonious neighborhood and designed to help underprivileged kids with basic literacy.

It evolved over the years and began showcasing famous guest stars, some of whom are returning for this celebratory season, Parker included.

I’m guessing most kids won’t have any idea who she is--unless that is, they remember enjoying her guest appearance on the DVD “Sesame Beginnings-Moving Together,” one in a series of videos for babies and toddlers. (“Laugh along with Baby Big Bird when he falls over his big feet as he learns to take ‘baby steps.’ Run around like you have ants in your pants just like Baby Cookie Monster!” says the description of the product on Amazon.com.)

My real problem isn’t Sarah Jessica Parker. It’s the audience, or rather, the youngest of the audience, the kids who are 2 and younger, who are put in front of a television screen by parents who somehow think they are giving their kids a good educational experience by watching the much honored Sesame Street.

The issue here is not whether the fast pace of Sesame Street contributes to a lack of focus in young kids, an inability to stick with a narrative longer than about seven seconds, a need for instant gratification. (I have suspicions but don’t know.)

It is more basic: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids younger than two should not watch television. Period. Not even super adorable Elmo (to whose charms I am not immune; I love it when he tap dances.)

Here’s the academy’s official recommendation:

“Discourage television viewing for children younger than 2 years, and encourage more interactive activities that will promote proper brain development, such as talking, playing, singing, and reading together. “

When the “Sesame Beginnings” series was released, targeting babies and toddlers, in 2006, some of the best known pediatricians in the country blasted the enterprise, a Post story reported. They included the famous T. Berry Brazelton, who said then that “I absolutely support” the academy’s recommendation, adding that allowing youngsters near a media screen was “too expensive for them physically as well as psychologically."

But parents had been putting kids younger than 2 in front of the TV set to watch Sesame Street for years already.

As the award-winning show enters its fifth decade, let’s remember who it is for and who it is not for.

By Valerie Strauss  | November 6, 2009; 10:29 PM ET
Categories:  Early Childhood  | Tags:  Sesame Street, early childhood development  
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Comments

my daughter is 19 months old and she watches Sesame Street at most 2 mornings a week for less than a half hour. And, yes, we also do plenty of "talking, playing, singing, and reading together" for the other 12+ hours she is awake. Just another way to make parents feel like they are not doing enough or are somehow harming their child by not living up to unrealistic standards.

Posted by: chiquita2 | November 6, 2009 11:33 AM | Report abuse

I don't understand your distaste with the celebrity appearances. Some of them are a little bizarre or stilted, perhaps. But for every odd one, you have a Jack Black defining octagons like he was born to be on Sesame Street. (8 stunning angles!)

Celebrity appearances on Sesame Street are hardly new - they've pretty much been going on since the earliest days. Because the show always had a nod to adults to encourage *joint* viewing of parents and kids so the parents could use it as both an educational and entertainment experience.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | November 6, 2009 11:20 PM | Report abuse

I know who Yitzchak Pearlman is and was exposed to his classical violin playing because of his appearances on Sesame Street - over 25 years ago! Maybe I spelled his name wrong - sorry for that.

But, to your point, parents shouldn't be parking their kids in front of Sesame Street and should be engaging with their kids with what they watch - at any age. So why not throw in a few celebs interacting with Muppets if it keeps the parents interested?

Posted by: GALOSTinDC | November 9, 2009 1:08 PM | Report abuse

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