The warning on the DVD box set of the first two seasons of Sesame Street: These early ‘Sesame Street’ episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.
What exactly are the “needs of today’s preschool child”? How are they so horrifyingly different than those of the preschool children we were in the ’70s and early ’80s? I ask myself that a lot, when I wander the city and see so many mothers (okay, more likely nannies) with their precious little snowflakes, their wunderkinds, giving them options and asking them how they “feel” and carting them around in the Hummer equivalent of strollers. (Like you seriously need to cart a ginormous black plastic thing into the grocery store? It’s D’Agostinos, not a war zone!) This generation of children has been growing up in a plastic bubble, with Baby Einstein and LeapFrog telling them how to read and how to think and how to be a go-getter, while their parents give them time outs instead of a slap to the butt. They’re taught political correctness from the safety of their homogenized neighborhood, from behind the rolled up windows of an SUV that never slows down in a “bad” area. They play on the Internet and on a PS2 instead of in a park or the woods. Yeah, okay, maybe old school Sesame Street isn’t the right thing for them.
Old school Sesame Street is for kids who played in the dirt, who drank out of creeks and industrial pipes, didn’t come home until well after dark — and lived to tell about it. For kids who liked it a little bit psychedelic, weren’t scarred for life by invisible wooly mammoths, and didn’t wonder why Bert and Ernie lived together without any parents around until we were a lot older and a lot more cynical.
I have friends who have kids and have all the gadgets and the Stuff. Play dates and nannies and open dialogue. (How do you have rational dialogue with a three year old?) And, whatever. More power to ’em, but I don’t get how sanitized TV, twenty thousand electronic ways to educate your child, and an insular life spent indoors is a better way to make a successful adult. Most of us in my generation didn’t grow up like that and we’re ambitious, creative, and relatively sane. Sesame Street didn’t leave any lasting damage. Oscar the Grouch didn’t make me a rage ball, though he did teach me that it’s okay to not be happy all the time. The Two-Headed Monster taught me words but also taught me that it’s okay to disagree. Cookie Monster certainly didn’t make me a glutton or a diabetic. It was one of the first racially (and puppetally) mixed shows I ever saw. I learned Spanish, I met Maria and Luis and Gordon. I learned a frog could be a newscaster if he wanted to be. I learned it was okay to be outside and to talk to strangers (nowadays they’re ALL child molesters, aren’t they?). And I’m still here. My synapses are all firing. Maybe I have a little ADHD, but I’m certainly not taking pills for it (that’s one of those things a mom or dad would just smack you on the butt for instead). I ran around on the playground, I skinned my knees, I was bullied and tormented and nobody ever said “sorry,” and my parents certainly didn’t sue. And I’m still here.
So, yeah, I don’t get it. Why are kids today so special? So fragile? So in need of protection from something as gasp dastardly as Sesame Street — and from the actual world around them?