Since Sesame Street debuted more than five decades ago, in 1969, the show and the nonprofit’s related programming have dealt with tough topics in an age-appropriate way, according to a recent article in TIME.
When actor Will Lee, who played Mr. Hooper, died in 1982, producers decided not to simply tell viewers he had gone away—instead they built an episode around death and grief, the article continues. “We were advised to take the direct approach,” Valeria Lovelace, the show’s former director of research, told the Associated Press at the time. “Children don’t understand words like passing away.” In 2002, Takalani Sesame, the South African version of Sesame Street, introduced Kami, a 5-year-old HIV-positive Muppet, who was an orphan. More recently, the organization has created Muppets who can help broach other difficult subjects through its Sesame Street in Communities initiative, which provides materials and media for kids in a wide range of situations. Lily, who made her debut in 2011, struggled with food and housing insecurity. Karli, who was introduced in 2019, was in foster care and had a mother who struggled with addiction. Julia, a Muppet with autism, first appeared in a digital storybook in 2015 before becoming a regular on the show in 2017.