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5 ‘Sesame Street’ Lessons We Need Again As Adults

Valuable lessons a few muppets can teach us later in life


November 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the first episode of Sesame Street to air on PBS. The beloved children’s show paved the way for many programs to teach children numbers, letters, and colors — yet no other program has held the same place in our hearts. Why does Sesame Street continue to resonate with so many viewers and generations of Americans after a half a century?

City street signs of W 63rd Street and Sesame StreetCredit: Richard Eisenberg
Earlier this year, New York City permanently renamed the intersection of West 63rd Street and Broadway to honor the 50th season of Sesame Street

To us, the reason is simple. Sesame Street is not just a program for teaching preschool-level skills to young viewers. It is a show that taught us how to feel, see, and understand the big, overwhelming, unpredictable world around us. Life has never been uncomplicated, but Sesame Street was the first program to recognize these complexities with lessons and experiences that remain resonant, even decades later.

Sesame Street taught us how to give voice to our emotions, understand them, and grow to understand the emotions in others. It created a world where friends and neighbors can provide as much support as families, a world where our differences are not divisive but worthy of celebration and understanding.

It is in the spirit of Sesame Street that Next Avenue was named. If Sesame Street is where the youngest among us thrive, perhaps Next Avenue could be the place for adults who’ve been around the block once or twice, but are still eager to grow, learn and connect around shared human experiences.

That isn’t to say Sesame Street’s lessons are only applicable to the young. To honor the show’s milestone season, we offer up these five lessons that are valuable at any age.

(Stream the Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary Celebration on PBS here.)

1. Put Down the Ducky if You Want to Play the Saxophone


On Sesame Street, when muppet Ernie wants to play the saxophone, he learns he has to put his rubber ducky down before he can pick up the sax. It’s a lesson most adults could benefit from: If you want to try something new and exciting, you might need to set down something that’s holding you back. Want to write that book, or start that new business venture? First, let go of fears that you can’t do it. It’s a lesson that applies to relationships, too. Want to reconnect with an old friend or an estranged child? Maybe it’s time let go of old feelings or disagreements in order to pick up the relationship again.

2. A Sense of Adventure Never Gets Old

 

Little kids are always looking for adventure — exploring a new corner of the backyard, seeking out a new friend at the park or just playing a game improvised on the spot. A study in Scientific American reports that, as an adult, a sense of adventure may also be key to things like a successful marriage, whether cooking a new meal as a duo, learning to ski together or taking a trip for two to a new destination. Shared experiences allow for a sense of “self-expansion” explains a similar study featured in The New York Times. The more self-expansion experienced from and with a partner, the study suggests, the more satisfied individuals are with their relationships. You’re not only having fun; you’re also strengthening your marriage for the years to come.

3. Friends Matter

 

The late actor James Gandolfini is best known for playing tough guy mobster Tony Soprano on HBO. But in this Sesame Street clip, he’s just a guy talking with his friend, Zoe, about how he’s feeling. As an adult, it turns out that friends we can talk to may actually be lifesavers. An Australian study reveals that people with a large network of friends outlived those with the fewest friends by more than 20%. Those friendships encouraged healthier behaviors, warded off depression, boosted self-esteem and provided support when it was most needed, just as Zoe did for James Gandolfini. It’s something kids know for sure: friends make life better.

4. Celebrate Yourself

 

“I wish I had better hair.” (Or, “I wish I had any hair at all!”) “I wish my arms didn’t look like this.” “I wish I was thinner.” It’s easy to be critical of ourselves, sometimes to the point of self-paralysis. Kids are good at celebrating themselves, and it’s something most adults could stand to emulate. Yes, losing weight can improve your health and how you feel about yourself (and losing even a little can make a big difference), but it’s also important to keep perspective. If you’re stuck criticizing your body, for example, it may be helpful to remember all the things your body has let you do: run a race, climb a mountain, take care of a small child, provide for others and hug those that matter to you most. Take a cue from Sesame Street and little ones everywhere: celebrating you is always a win.

5. When All Else Fails, Dance

 

A presentation doesn’t go well. A little “discussion” becomes a full-on battle. An opportunity you’ve been waiting for turns out to be a non-starter. That’s when it’s important to remember another important life lesson, perfectly exemplified by this little girl in a vintage Sesame Street clip (also featuring a playful Paul Simon). In life, on good days and bad, sometimes you’ve just got to dance, dance, dance, alright!

Bryce Kirchoff
By Bryce Kirchoff
Bryce Kirchoff has produced web and social media campaigns for organizations at all levels of the media industry and also has experience launching community engagement initiatives, building websites and crafting social campaigns. He holds a master’s of science degree in New Media Management from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and lives in Los Angeles.@bckirchoff

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