New ‘Sesame Street’ character has a parent struggling with addiction

“Sesame Street” is an iconic children’s show that has always been a trailblazer when it comes to tackling serious issues in age-appropriate ways. Over the years, the show introduced Julia, a Muppet who has autism, and even talked about death when the beloved character Mr. Hooper died back in 1982. The “Sesame Street” community continues to rise to the challenge by not hiding from tough conversations.

As part of the Sesame Street in Communities initiative, producers of the popular TV show share free online videos dealing with sensitive topics facing children in the areas of health, school readiness and emotional well-being. The latest videos tackle a serious issue affecting millions of kids: parental addiction.

Most recently, the initiative introduced Karli, a Muppet who is a foster child. In one video of the Sesame Street in Communities series, Elmo and his dad talks about why Karli is staying with her foster family: because her mom has been “away” for a while getting healthier.

“What Karli does is she helps bring to life an issue that a lot of people think of as a grown-up issue, and don’t understand the impact on young children,” Sherrie Westin, president of social impact and philanthropy of the Sesame Workshop, told TODAY.

In one video, Elmo’s dad explains to his son about addiction in a way that is simple, not scary, for little kids to understand.

Sesame Street in Communities explained to parents and caretakers why it’s important for children’s mental health to address this complicated issue head-on.

“When a family member struggles with addiction, the whole family struggles,” according to the Sesame Street In Communities website. “Children often think it’s their fault; they feel shame, embarrassment, guilt, and loneliness; they may feel invisible. It takes special effort to start important conversations and answer children’s questions. But parents, teachers, caregivers, and other caring adults can comfort children and guide them through difficult moments. With love and support, the family can cope with the challenges of addiction together.”

Another video brings Karli and Elmo together to talk about how both she and her mom attend special meetings to help them through her mom’s recovery. Karli shares that she feels better when she talks with other kids in her special meeting whose parents are trying to get healthy, too.

Karli will not appear on “Sesame Street” just yet. Adults or kids who want to watch her story will have to watch her online for now.

The Sesame Street in Communities initiative also focuses on other important issues, including parenting after a serious injury and homelessness. To learn more about these programs, visit the official Sesame Street in Communities webpage for videos, resources and games for children in both English and Spanish.

You can learn more about resources for addiction, including for families, from the Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) or Al-Anon Family Groups.