Rehab, Foster Care, and A Fuzzy Green Monster Named Karli: How Sesame Street is Tackling the Subject of Addiction

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The beloved children’s public television show Sesame Street is known to tackle tough, contemporary topics like bullying, racism, divorce, and incarceration. As generations pass, new issues arise, and this past decade the subject of drug addiction has left an indelible mark, so much so that a new character named “Karli” was added to Sesame Street’s cast of puppets. Karli’s story unfolds through the online version of Sesame Street, not on the TV program seen in millions of homes – but this could change.

Introducing “Karli”

The backstory of the fuzzy green monster, age 6½, is that she’s “in foster care as her mother works toward recovery. While her mother is in rehab, Karli wrestles with her own powerful feelings of isolation, fear, shame, and guilt (The Orange County Register, 2019).” In addition to Karli’s story, the online portal offers educational content, including:

  • How parents can start rebuilding trust
  • How professionals can help children dealing with parental addiction
  • Interactive storybooks and coloring games. 

A recent National Public Radio show detailed how the new character’s story was initially introduced. The following is a compelling soundbite of the episode where the famous puppet “Elmo” and his father “Louie” discuss addiction and why Karli’s mother had to leave for rehab:

Louie to Elmo: “Addiction makes people feel like they need a grown-up drink called alcohol or another kind of drug to feel OK. That can make a person act strange, in ways they can’t control.”

Elmo: “Will Karli’s mommy get better?”

Louie: “Well, she’s working hard on it. She’s taking good care of her body and mind so she can stay healthy and make good choices.”

Elmo: “Oh, good. Elmo’s really happy for her.”

Louie: “Oh, me, too, son.”

Shocking Statistics

The story of Karli and her mom will be ongoing and will keep developing, and this is crucial as according to a press statement released by Sesame Street Workshop, “In the U.S., there are 5.7 million children under age 11, or one in eight children, living in households with a parent who has a substance abuse disorder – a number that doesn’t include the countless children not living with a parent due to separation or divorce, incarceration, or death as a result of their addiction. One in three of these children will enter foster care due to parental addiction, a number that has grown by more than 50% in the past decade.”

Showing a puppet, such as Karli, wrestling with intense feelings of isolation, fear, and guilt while her mother is in treatment, is vital as children facing these challenges often demonstrate similar emotions and beliefs. According to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health, children of parents living with an alcohol use disorder are at a higher risk for: 

  • Depression and anxiety disorders 
  • Parental abuse or neglect
  • Issues with cognitive and verbal skills
  • Social and behavioral issues

The study also found that children of parents who have an illicit drug use disorder are at higher risk for mental and behavioral disorders and functional impairments than children of parents with alcohol use disorder.

A Powerful Message

While it’s true that the trauma of parental addiction can have lasting impacts on a child’s wellbeing, children have the power of resilience, and Sesame Street’s character Karli demonstrates this point beautifully. Created in consultation with experts early childhood development and addiction, this educational content is designed to help children overcome the trauma surrounding parental addiction while providing age-appropriate resources, messages, and tools for those caring adults to help children cope. The press release also adds, “The effects of traumatic experiences can be mitigated with the right support from adults like the parents, caregivers, and providers this initiative targets (Sesame Street).” 

Resources and Hope

For now, you and your child can follow Karli and her mom’s story if you go to the Sesame Street website. And remember, there are many resources parents can turn to in order to help both their addiction as well as how to discuss substance use disorders with their child. Talking with your pediatrician is a great way to begin your journey towards sobriety. He or she can not treat your addiction; however, they can partner with other healthcare and counseling professionals to provide families access to resources. Moreover, by having your pediatrician become familiar with your situation, he or she can objectively monitor your child’s behavior and treat any physical, mental, or emotional issues that may arise during this process. 

In terms of addiction treatment, Silver Lining Recovery is available to professionally treat substance use disorders, addiction, or co-occurring disorders. We are here to help you get the necessary outpatient services, counseling, family services, and any additional treatment you may need to begin your new life in sobriety. Call Silver Lining Recovery today at (866) 448-4563 to learn more about our services. We are ready to walk this journey with you.