“Sesame Street,” one of the longest-running children’s television shows in the United States, has introduced a new character that has a mother who is addicted to opiates. The new character is a bright green muppet with yellow hair who is friends with Elmo. Karli will reportedly talk about how addiction has affected her and her family in new editions of the show’s online community resource initiatives.
The show’s creators say that they wanted to cover this topic on the show because there are millions of children who are currently facing this reality, and there are no resources out there for these kids.
In an interview with Stat News, Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, senior vice president for U.S. social impact at Sesame Workshop, estimated that there were 5.7 million children under the age of 11 who live in a house with a parent who struggles with addiction.
Betancourt said the shows featuring Karli approach the issue of addiction with compassion, from a perspective that young people can understand. The episodes illustrate that addiction is an “adult illness,” and emphasizes that children are not in any way responsible for their parent’s actions.
Kama Einhorn, a senior content manager with Sesame Workshop, said that these shows can just as beneficial for parents as they are for children.
“There’s nothing else out there that addresses substance abuse for young, young kids from their perspective. It’s also a chance to model to adults a way to explain what they’re going through to kids and to offer simple strategies to cope. Even a parent at their most vulnerable — at the worst of their struggle — can take one thing away when they watch it with their kids, then that serves the purpose,” Einhorn told the Guardian.
In one of the scenes, the Muppet tells her friend that addiction is “A sickness that makes people feel like they have to take drugs or drink alcohol to feel OK. My mom was having a hard time with addiction and I felt like my family was the only one going through it. But now I’ve met so many other kids like us. It makes me feel like we’re not alone.”
The creation of the scenes and dialogue was assisted by Jerry Moe, the national director of the Hazelden Betty Ford Children’s Program. Moe said that children often don’t receive the emotional help and support that they need when a family member is dealing with addiction.
“These boys and girls are the first to get hurt and, unfortunately, the last to get help. For them to see Karli and learn that it’s not their fault and this stuff is hard to talk about and it’s OK to have these feelings, that’s important. And that there’s hope,” Moe said.
Children live in the same world and the same homes that the rest of us do, and they are smart enough to know what is happening right in front of them. Some people think that these types of issues should be swept under the rug and hidden from children, but for the millions of children who are facing these problems in their families, ignoring it isn’t an option.
“Sesame Street,” is known for covering sensitive topics that children are often sheltered from, and in the past, the show has tackled issues like HIV, homelessness, or having parents in jail.