Don’t assume kids haven’t heard adult news from ‘Sesame Street’

    Update 11/20/2012

    Puppeteer Kevin Clash has resigned from Sesame Street. The official statement from Sesame Street workshop cites personal reasons. 

    “Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding Kevin’s personal life has become a distraction that none of us want, and he has concluded that he can no longer be effective in his job and has resigned from Sesame Street. This is a sad day for Sesame Street.”

    A second accuser is now claiming that Clash had sex with him when he was still underage.

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    Original story follows:

    The man who accused “Sesame Street” puppeteer Kevin Clash of statutory rape has recanted his story, which should put an end to news stories mentioning Elmo and underage sex in the same sentence.

     But what have kids heard about this story? And how should parents address it?

    Kids are surrounded by adult news — on the radio, TV, online.

    Media literacy expert Renee Hobbs says even when they don’t seem to be listening, they really tune in when they know a concept or thing that’s being talked about.

    “When most 2½-year-olds hear the word ‘Elmo,’ they will be able to visualize the big, red furry adorable character, so it’s likely that children will pay attention to this news story,” Hobbs said.

    Hobbs, who directs the Harrington School of Communication and Media at the University of Rhode Island, says parents should not assume that their kids have not heard about this story. Many kids spend a lot of time online and could have seen it there, she said.

    She suggests parents should ask their kids if they have heard anything about Elmo lately.

    “If the child says no, then it’s easy to say, ‘Oh, great. I bet your cousin wants one for Christmas’ or something,” said Hobbs. “It’s easy to get off that topic. If the child responds and shares some information, then it is appropriate to talk about ‘what’s a puppeteer.'”

    Hobbs says many kids could have seen this news story online while using YouTube or Webkinz, which are popular with the 8 and under set.

    She adds that those younger than 6 won’t be able to distinguish between the puppeteer behind Elmo and Elmo the character, so this could be really confusing for them.

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