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Sherrie Rollins Westin Headshot

B Is for 'Before' (Bossy)

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What if we didn't need to ban "bossy" because the word never entered a child's vocabulary in the first place? What if we could teach our children mutual respect and understanding, that girls can lead and that opportunity should be open to all, when they are as young as two or three?

At Sesame Street, we reach children early -- before biases take root. We teach them not only their letters and numbers, but also the social and emotional skills to grow up smarter, stronger and kinder. Our mission is to help all children reach their highest potential -- boys and girls.

From the beginning, Sesame Street has shown girls as strong and accomplished -- right alongside boys -- and that no one should ever notice the difference.

And it's not just in the U.S. that we model girls' achievement. In places like Afghanistan, Egypt, India and beyond, we're reaching young girls, who have little access to pre-school education, through our local productions of Sesame Street. For example, in Egypt our Sesame Street production, Alam Simsim, focuses on girls' education, and our lead Muppet is a young girl character named Khokha who aspires to be a lawyer, an engineer and a doctor -- all at the same time!

According to a 2013 study in the Journal of Health Communication, both boys and girls who watched Alam Simsim were more likely to demonstrate gender equitable attitudes... indicating that girls, as well as boys, could have various roles, responsibilities and careers. Showing that Khokha can aspire to be a lawyer not only empowered the girls watching the show, but helped boys accept that girls can have dreams as big as their own.

Many of the young children watching Sesame Street have never been called "bossy." They have never called anyone else "bossy." It wouldn't even occur to them that girls can't do everything that boys can do and vice-versa. We can wait and take extraordinary steps to correct attitudes and behaviors later in life. Or, we can teach our children the right way from the beginning. And every bit of the research, as well as our own common sense, tells us that getting it right the first time is so much easier and more effective.

The best way to influence attitudes and behavior is by reaching children early -- before "bossy" is even a concept.

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