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Talking to Children About Addiction: Sesame Street Introduces New Character that Addresses Drug Crisis

Cue up the Sesame Street theme song and most of us are transported back to a time when we spent afternoons counting with the Count, and naming words that started with the Letter of the Day.

The loveable Muppets of Sesame Street have provided laughter and learnings to children across the globe since the show’s debut in 1969. The educational program, which runs on PBS, appeals to children with bright colors, music, and memorable characters like Oscar the Grouch and Cookie Monster.

Everyone can find a bit of themselves in a Sesame Street character’s story—whether you are goofy like Elmo, a worrier like Bert, or a people-pleaser like Big Bird. Each of the characters created by Jim Henson represent different personalities and offer different lessons for school-age children to learn.

Now in its 50thseason, Sesame Street has introduced a new character, Karli, who has her own story to tell.

Over the years, Sesame Street has dealt with serious topics directly, yet appropriately, for young viewers. From death, to war, to illness, to divorce, the program has found unique ways to sensitively and accurately explain “grown-up” issues to children in a way they can understand.

New character Karli will help to explain an issue that is facing thousands of children in the United States right now: the crisis of addiction, and how it impacts families and their children.

A bright green, pigtailed Muppet, Karli appears in the Sesame Street in Communities project, which provides free resources that help parents and educators teach children about difficult subjects like addiction. Karli was first introduced in a series about foster care, where she revealed that she had to live with a foster family while her mom sought help.

In a new video featuring Karli, she introduces what addiction means to her, and how it has affected her mother. Karli is also featured in videos with a young girl named Salia, whose parents are both in recovery from addiction.

In a tweet from Sesame Street’s account, it is stated that 5.7 million children under the age of 11 live in a household with a parent struggling with addiction. Even more children have uncles, aunts, grandparents, family friends, or other extended family members who are struggling with the disease.

The Effects of Addiction on Children

The new resources from Sesame Workshop could not have come at a better time. Although children across America are struggling with similar issues, the disease of addiction is largely still hidden behind stigma and shame—particularly for young children who do not understand what may be happening to their parent.

By opening the conversation to include children directly, parents, counselors, and educators give children the opportunity to share their feelings, and most importantly, to know that they are not alone.

“Having a parent battling addiction can be one of the most isolating and stressful situations young children and their families face,” said Sherrie Westin, president of social impact and philanthropy at Sesame Workshop. “‘Sesame Street’ has always been a source of comfort to children during the toughest of times, and our new resources are designed to break down the stigma of parental addiction and help families build hope for the future.”

While Karli will not be a featured character on the Sesame Street TV show, it is important to note that the Sesame Workshop resources are available free of charge to those who are in need. For any child whose parent is in rehab, or navigating the early stages of recovery, the resources are a wonderful comfort that provide age-appropriate education and a place to recognize that all emotions and feelings regarding a parent’s absence are valid.

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