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How Sesame Street Is Handling the Pandemic []


By Kate Cray, Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images, The Atlantic, January 25, 2022

When the CDC recommended COVID-19 vaccines for 5-to-11-year-olds in early November, adult publications rushed to explain what the move meant for families, schools, and the pandemic at large. While most of the media competed for grown-up attention, a different network of sources targeted the group most affected by the news—but first, it had to explain what a vaccine is.

The children’s-news landscape is a strange one, melding education and entertainment to explain complex, adult topics to developing minds with short attention spans. Many outlets are connected with adult publications, such as The New York Times and Time, but certain children’s shows, such as Sesame Street, have also forayed into the news business. And while some have been around for years, others, including NBC’s Nightly News: Kids Edition and a rebooted Nick News, have popped up more recently, aiming to help young ones navigate this particularly stressful news moment.

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a more difficult time to explain the news to kids. Communicating about the pandemic with adults is challenging enough—many sources face (often reasonable) criticism for offering confusing guidance, instilling fear, and deepening a partisan divide. Those targeting kids must avoid all of those traps while also catering to the ways young brains process information. For one, we gain the ability to think abstractly as we age; in our childhood, we need concrete explanations, Abigail Gewirtz, a psychology professor at Arizona State University, told me. Children may get scared more easily, so kids’ news outlets tend to try not to induce too much fear, Gewirtz said. Editors also need to consider kids’ reading level (if they can read at all) and the depth of their knowledge of a topic (likely, not much). On top of all this, producers still must grab their audience’s attention, just like they would an adult’s, by keeping coverage focused on what children are actually interested in and being careful to not alienate them by talking down.

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