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How Sesame Street Helps Families Deal with Tough Life Issues

Photograph by Sesame Workshop

We all know that "Sesame Street" can teach our children about numbers and letters and spelling. And as part of its mandate to make the world a better place and children into better people, the show even teaches children about manners and morality and common decency.

But what you might not know is that "Sesame Street" has videos and other tools to help families and children deal with some of life's biggest and most painful issues. Issues like death, divorce and incarceration. With that in mind, here are some enormously useful videos that might be able to help you explain some of life's toughest experiences to your children.

1. Divorce


In 2012, "Sesame Street" made headlines by announcing that they would be producing a video dealing with the divorce of Abby Cadabby's parents. It's an absolutely heartbreaking and deeply moving program that teaches children dealing with the trauma and uncertainty of divorce that they're not responsible for their parent's breaking up, and that the dissolution of a parent's marriage is in no way a reflection on their parent's love for them.

For some reason, seeing fictional, fantastical characters deal with some of the most painful aspects of life just makes everything even more haunting and tear-jerking. This lovely video offers a child's eye view on divorce, complete with animation that poignantly emulates the crude drawing of the kind of children whose lives would be upturned by the revelation that their parents aren't going to live together anymore. The dissolution of a family is invariably painful, but thankfully "Sesame Street" is around to make it at least a little bit less traumatic.

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2. Incarceration

The United States has one of the highest rates of incarceration among Western countries, which also ensures that plenty of kids will have parents in prison. To help kids deal with the pain and confusion and embarrassment that comes with having a parent in jail, "Sesame Street" created a storyline where Alex's father is in prison, and the Sesame Street gang helps him better understand and cope with an unfortunately common problem for children today: parents in jail. In true "Sesame Street" tradition, the show uses song to help express tough emotions, but it's pretty heartbreaking all the same.

3. Death

"Sesame Street" teamed up with Katie Couric for a special designed to help children cope with the death of a loved one. The special found Elmo and Elmo's father Louis helping Louis' niece and Elmo's cousin deal with the death of her father, Jack. As with other "Sesame Street" explorations of life's most difficult issues, this doesn't sugar coat the intense pain and sadness that comes with losing a relative, but it does deal with the matter with sensitivity and tact. It treats death as an unfortunate but unavoidable aspect of life, and one that's easier to cope with with the help of friends, whether they're of the human or Muppet variety .

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4. Cell Phone Addiction

You could argue that when it comes to major, important life issues, overusing your cell phone and texting compulsively isn't that big of an issue. I disagree, because my wife has let me know, both explicitly and implicitly, that unless I stop looking at my phone constantly, she is going to murder me. Then my son would have to learn about death, divorce and imprisonment in short order, and he won't even have the many "Sesame Street" apps on my cell phone to help him get through life without his father.

In this episode, the irritated denizens of Sesame Street are so frustrated by Leelah being so obsessed with her cell phone instead of interacting with them, that they turn the phone into a chicken. So I'm going to make like a young person and learn from my pals over at "Sesame Street" to curb my bad habits before my violent murder causes all manner of problems for my family.

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