‘A’ Is for Addiction: Bert and Ernie Learn about Substance Abuse

2 min read · 3 sections

Learning the ABC’s is taking on new meaning on the famous TV boulevard called “Sesame Street.” That change came about with the arrival of a new pigtailed Muppet, Karli, in May 2019. Sweet as can be, all bright green and furry with a purple tinged nose and eyes, she is staying with her foster family. That’s because she is not with her biological mother, who is in rehab.sesame street substance abuse therapy

Over time, as Karli interacts with her new friends, she tells bits and pieces of her backstory. For instance, she shares with Elmo and others: “My mommy explained that she needed grown-up help. She told me it wasn’t my fault and I’m proud of her and she’s proud of me and I’m so happy she’s back and she’s taking good care of herself.” The series go on to delve into the topic in a manner appropriate for young children from an unusual perspective – their own.

‘A’ is for Addiction    

In its 50-year history, this franchise has been a source of joy and learning too. As part of its charter, it has taken on difficult issues and geared them to its preschool and young audience. Those include autism, death, and homelessness. Now it’s acquainting viewers with one that’s firmly rooted in our society – the opioid crisis. Sesame Workshop, its nonprofit arm, previewed the issue through a selection of videos; these presented Karli’s story along with supporting materials. It’s all part of the Sesame Street in Communities initiative, which aims to provide caregivers with resources to help explain life’s challenges to children.

As challenges go, addiction is a big one. The president of social impact and philanthropy at Sesame Workshop knows that well. “Having a parent battling addiction can be one of the most isolating and stressful situations young children and their families face,” she said. As always, the Sesame Street brand seeks to be a source of comfort during rough times. Through this effort, the group hopes to help erase the stigma associated with addiction and offer hope.

Something for Count von Count

Cute Karli the Muppet, who’s six and a half years old, has a lot of company on the series and in real life. According to an article in The Washington Post, one in eight children under the age of 11 years resides with a parent who is struggling with substance abuse. HuffPost.com estimates the actual number, which it puts at 5.7 million children. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offered data on a wider scale in a 2017 report. It cited that about 8.7 million children under 17 years of age live with a parent in the throes of addiction. These statistics undercount the true picture. That’s because they leave out a potentially large group. That is, they fail take into account children who don’t live with an addicted parent through divorce, separation or, as in Karli’s case, foster care.

Mixing fiction and fact, Karli gets a visit from a human friend, Salia. The parents of this 10-year old are both in recovery. In this video, Salia explains two techniques she used to help her cope with the situation – meditation and journaling. Salia tells Karli: “For any sickness, people need treatment to feel better.” She added: “My mom and dad got treatment, and that makes me feel happier for them. I remember the hard times, but I write down things that I feel inside.”child witnessing unconscious parent sesame street substance abuse

Learning about Addiction the Sesame Street Way

Karli will melt your heart. She will teach you and your children about how to contend with parental addiction. The Washington Post’s headline for the story about Karli was: “A ‘Sesame Street’ character’s mom has an addiction. Experts say that’s a valuable lesson.” On that note, we heartily agree.

Interested in exploring this topic further? Please see these two videos in this Sesame Street series: “Lending a Hand” and “It’s Not Your Fault.”


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