Sesame Street wants all children to know the realities of the opioid crisis in the U.S.
Sesame Workshop, a non-profit branch behind the show, recently introduced the backstory of a bright green muppet named Karli. Karli, who is a long-time friend of Elmo, has a mother battling addiction.
The new segment is available on the show’s Communities resources online, a portal that covers a range of topics including grief, family divorce and traumatic experiences.
Creators added addiction to the list because research shows 5.7 million children under the age of 11 in the U.S. live with a parent with a substance use disorder.
“There’s nothing else out there that addresses substance abuse for young, young kids from their perspective,” said Kama Einhorn, a senior content manager with Sesame Workshop to the Associated Press.
“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.”
During a set visit, AP noted muppet Karli was filmed interacting with a 10-year-old girl named Salina Woodbury from Irvine, Calif. The show previously noted Karli had two foster parents.
“Hi, it’s me, Karli. I’m here with my friend Salia. Both of our parents have had the same problem — addiction,” the muppet said to the camera. “My mom and dad told me that addiction is a sickness,” Woodbury replied.
“Yeah, 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,” Karli explained.
During the shoot, both Woodbury and Karli held pictures of flowers that represented feelings like anger, sadness and happiness. The segment also offers tip on how to cope when a parent has an addiction, including breathing exercises or art.
Child therapist Jerry Moe, the national director of the Hazelden Betty Ford Children’s Program, told AP he helped craft the segments and resources. Moe said he was grateful to help out with this topic.
“These boys and girls are the first to get hurt and, unfortunately, the last to get help,” he told the site.
“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.”
Premiering in 1969, Sesame Street has covered an array of topical and sometimes controversial issues with a focus on children. These topics range from HIV to having parents in jail to even young girls singing about loving their own hair.
— with files from Associated Press