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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

"Sesame Street" Tackles Addiction

Since 1969, the beloved television show Sesame Street has helped young people understand and discuss challenging situations. The PBS favorite is now airing on the premium channel HBO. The move to premium television allows the show's creators to explore even more sensitive topics than ever before, such as addiction.

"Sesame Street was built around a single, breakthrough insight: that if you can hold the attention of children, you can educate them," said author Malcolm Gladwell. Given that millions of adults are currently in the throes of addiction, it's prudent to help kids process the problems that their parents face.

Alcohol and substance use disorders affect the entire family; no member is immune to the fallout of addiction. The American addiction epidemic – notably involving opioids – has had a profound impact on our society. High overdose death rates, babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, and as many as six million Americans living with an opioid use disorder is cause for national discourse.

The Sesame Workshop, the organization that produces the show, felt it had to act when it learned that 5.7 million children under age 11 live with a parent with substance use disorder, USA Today reports. The show created a backstory for a character named Karli that involves her mother's battles with addiction; Karli is one of Elmo's friends.

Tackling Addiction on Sesame Street

The new initiative involving parental substance use has two purposes. Firstly, it helps kids who have been impacted by addiction make better sense of what is happening. Secondly, the segments can help parents learn how to talk to their children about this sensitive subject matter.

"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. Einhorn adds that "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."

Earlier this year, Karli was introduced to viewers as being a puppet in foster care, according to the article. Now, the addition of her mother's backstory will explain to children why foster care was necessary in the first place. The opioid epidemic has led to a staggering rise in children being placed into foster care or having to go live with a relative.

Over the summer, the Associated Press was granted the opportunity to get a glimpse of the upcoming segments on addiction. In one of the segments, Karli was joined by 10-year-old Salia Woodbury, whose parents are in recovery. You can read an excerpt below:  

"Hi, it's me, Karli. I'm here with my friend Salia. Both of our parents have had the same problem — addiction," Karli told the camera. 

"My mom and dad told me that addiction is a sickness," Salia said. 

"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," the puppet continued. 

"Right, we're not alone," Salia responded. "And it's OK to open up to people about our feelings."  

Sam and Jaana Woodbury, of Orange County, California, are Salia's parents, and they have been in recovery for about eight years, the article reports. They are pleased that the show is focusing on opioid and alcohol addiction.

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