Explaining Sesame Street’s newest Muppet, ‘Karli’

This undated image released by Sesame Workshop shows 10-year-old Salia Woodbury, whose parents are in recovery, with “Sesame Street” character Karli. Sesame Workshop is addressing the issue of addiction. Data shows 5.7 million children under 11 live in households with a parent with substance use disorder. Karli had already been introduced as a puppet in foster care earlier this year but viewers now will understand why her mother had to go away for a while. (Flynn Larsen/Sesame Workshop via AP)

Sesame Street’s newest muppet is drawing lots of attention, and it has nothing to do with helping kids learn about reading, counting, or senses.

Instead, this new muppet, named Karli, is touching on a much more serious topic: Addiction.

“We have 5.7 million children under the age of 11 experiencing a parent who is addicted in their house hold,” said Jeanete Betancourt, a senior Vice President of US Social Impact for Sesame Workshop.

“What we have done is created, through our initiative of Sesame in Communities resources that bring about ways to explain parental addition.

In Karli, Betancourt said children will see things through the eyes of a six-year-old muppet whose mother is battling an unspecified addiction in a more generalized way.

“The way she says it is that it’s a grown up problem — it’s a sickness, and in the sickness it is a grown up who uses alcohol or drugs to continue to make them feel better and can’t stop, and needs grown up help to get better,” said Betancourt.

“Also what she does, and the resources do, is provide information on helping children understand that they’re not alone, that there’s support for them, that it’s also not their fault and more importantly that they can talk about this issue and have someone explain it to them that’s child appropriate.”

You won’t be seeing Karli on television anytime soon, however.

The televised programming is separate from the online site, designed to help kids understand a variety of difficult and even traumatic experiences that adults in their lives might face, such as divorce, homelessness, community violence, and autism, among many other topics.

It’s also a resource that can help a child whose friend has a parent going through some of these difficult circumstances.

“It’s Elmo’s dad, explaining to Elmo about Karli’s mom,” said Betancourt. “It’s such a nice explanation because it’s general, it’s not scary, but it does provide the information that we know children are asking.”

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John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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