‘Sesame’ Videos Sparking Debate

By Linda Jacobson — April 04, 2006 1 min read
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America’s youngest children don’t need to count or know their ABCs to enjoy watching Elmo, Big Bird, or other residents of “Sesame Street.”

The popular Muppet characters are now featured—in baby versions— in a new DVD series aimed at infants and toddlers. “Sesame Beginnings” was due to be released in stores this week by Sesame Workshop, the 38-year-old children’s-programming organization that created “Sesame Street.” The DVDs offer songs, activities, and games for children and their parents or caregivers.

But the new products have ignited a debate between some child-development experts and others who monitor children’s exposure to television and other electronic media.

Last month, leaders of the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood sent a letter to the nonprofit organization Zero to Three that admonished it for teaming up with Sesame Workshop to develop the new programs.

“We frequently promote your organization as a wonderful resource for parents and caregivers,” the March 17 letter said. “We believe however, that your partnership in the creation of Sesame Beginnings DVDs is exploitive of both babies and parents and severely damages your credibility as an advocate for the health and well-being of young children.”

The campaign’s objection is also in keeping with a long-standing recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which says that children under age 2 should not watch any television.

The DVDs are on a growing list of educational offerings for an audience still in diapers.

In a statement on the “Sesame Beginnings” project, Zero to Three, a Washington-based group focusing on infants and toddlers, said that more research is needed on the impact of media on young children.

“As we await such research, it simply cannot be ignored that millions of parents are allowing their babies and toddlers to watch TV for as long as two hours a day,” the statement said. It added that the group felt a “responsibility to work with Sesame Workshop to help provide those parents who choose to expose their very young children to electronic media with a quality, developmentally appropriate alternative to enjoy with their children.”

A version of this article appeared in the April 05, 2006 edition of Education Week


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