‘Sesame Street’ Tackling Addiction Stigma Before it Starts
Authored by Audra Franchini
Elmo: Why doesn’t she just stop?
A seemingly easy answer to a difficult question: When someone is struggling with addiction, why can’t they just stop?
“It’s not something you can just stop doing, not without help from the right grownups,” says Elmo’s dad Louie.
Beloved children’s show Sesame Street has created a series of videos that feature 6-year-old Karli whose mom is struggling with addiction. Karli came to live with a foster family in May because her mother was having a “hard time.”
In the latest videos, Karli told Elmo that her mom attends meetings every day to help her stay healthy. It also introduces Karli to Salia, a 10-year-old girl who bravely shares what it’s been like for her and her younger sisters as both of their parents dealt with their addictions.
Sesame Workshop says it wants children to know they aren’t alone and give them the tools to help cope with the difficult feelings they’re having if their parents are suffering from addiction.
Children have moldable, easily impressionable minds. And Sesame Street is the teacher. But this time, instead of teaching ABCs or 123s, they’re teaching children to view addiction as a disease.
In other words, Sesame Street is stopping the stigma in young minds before it even begins.
“I applaud Sesame Street’s writers and producers for bringing this topic to the forefront,” says RCA’s Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Deni Carise. “The stigma of addiction keeps many people from getting treatment. The more we seek positive examples of people addressing their illness, working to get well, and not having to hide behind shame, the fewer people will die from this disease. People think kids don’t know, but they do. This shows you can talk to kids about exactly what’s happening, and it takes away the fear and anxiety.”
When there’s substance abuse in families, children can feel alone or take the blame. But to hear a Sesame Street character say, “If you’re going through a tough time it’s OK to be sad or mad because, when you love someone so much, and when they’re going through a tough time, sometimes it makes you feel sad and scared, but that’s OK. It’s OK to talk about those things. It feels good to talk about those things” can bring back hope and help them cope with the situation.
Recovery Centers of America knows the words we use are important, and we tip our hats to Sesame Street for reducing substance abuse stigma by normalizing the conversation.