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New Sesame Street-themed PSA encourages kids to reduce mobile device use

gagdet addiction plagues us all — even Apple CEO Tim Cook. But children with phones and tablets are even more susceptible to the lures of apps and games, which often use psychological tricks to keep users logging in and regularly returning. a brand-new PSA from Sesame Workshop and advocacy organization Common Sense aims to address kids’ unhealthy use of mobile devices by focusing on one particular problem: devices at the dinner table.

This is not the first moment the #DeviceFreeDinner crusade has run — previous years’ spots featured Will Ferrell as a “distracted dad” on his phone at the table, ignoring his family’s conversations.

But this moment around, the organization is teaming up with Sesame Workshop, which is lending its characters to a brand-new PSA. The spot will feature the “Sesame roadway” muppets modeling healthy mobile phone behavior by putting their devices away.

Phones are shut up in drawers, tablets placed on shelves, other devices are put in handbags — and, you know, thrown into garbage cans and stashed in pumpkins, as the case may be.

The muppets then accumulate around a table and happily chatter until they notice Cookie Monster is still on his phone, texting. (Don’t worry, their disapproval sees him eating the gagdet in the end.)

The concept, explains kids advocacy organization Common Sense, is to elevate awareness around media balance and encourage families to make the most of their moment together.

It comes at a moment when now one-third of kids ages 0 to 8 “frequently” use mobile devices, the nonprofit explains. But taking a break from devices is shown to have positive benefits, ranging from acceptable nutrition and focus at home to fewer problems at school, Common Sense says.

Plus, it notes, simply putting the phone down is not enough — it shouldn’t be at the table at all, as research has shown that even the presence of a phone on the table can hurt the grade of conversations.

While Common Sense puts out a lot of material for children and families like this, Sesame Workshop’s involvement on the brand-new PSA is particularly intriguing given the company’s recent connection with Apple.

a brand-new Sesame Workshop-produced show set to breeze on Apple’s soon-to-launch streaming service will teach kids coding basics — an agenda Apple regularly pushes to get its programming language, fast, into the hands of the next aeon of coders. 

In the show, the same “Sesame roadway” characters who today are telling kids to put down their phones will instead tout the joys of coding to the preschool set.

The juxtaposition of a programming-focused Apple kids’ show and the brand-new PSA are an outstanding instance of how complicated the issues around kids on devices have become. On the one hand, parents want to encourage their children to chase STEM subjects — which often requires kids to regularly use computers and other devices to practice brand-new skills, like coding with MIT’s Scratch or construction for Minecraft. But on the other hand, parents see that when kids are given devices, addiction soon follows.

The real ask for parents may be, instead, whether kids should have devices at all — or whether they should take their cues from tech billionaires and Silicon Valley parents who are ripping devices from their own children’s hands like they’re the modern-day equivalent of sugary breakfast cereal.

Perhaps Sesame Workshop should have chosen a side on this issue, rather than teaming with the billion-dollar company that’s now trying to distance itself from fault with regard to the gagdet addiction problem at the same moment it runs PSAs about kids’ gagdet addiction.

Or maybe it’s just as confused at the rest of us are over where to draw the line.

Starting today, the brand-new “Sesame roadway”-themed PSAs will be distributed across networks and platforms, including NBC, Fox, Xfinity, Comcast, Charter, Cox, National Geographic, NCM, PBS, Univision, Telemundo, HITN and Xfinity Latino.

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TechCrunch
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