Sesame Street Addresses Addicted Parents and Harmful Effects of Drugs

Sesame Street Sign
(Photo by Julie Blattberg/

We all want to find the best ways to teach our kids what they need to know about difficult subjects. We are always looking for new ways to do this because, frankly, some conversations are just plain difficult to have with youngsters. We often forget that, while being a kid is undoubtedly a learning experience, being a parent is also a learning experience!

On the subject of drugs, many parents often don’t know even how to begin broaching this subject. That is particularly true if parents have had little to no experience with drugs in their own lives. But parents see the news reports, and they hear the warnings. Drug use is becoming more common, more dangerous, and more deadly.

What’s being done to educate our youth about drugs? Where can parents turn for help?

One TV Show Is Talking about Drugs

Sesame Street, a children's show that’s been around since I myself was a kid, was the last show I would have expected to raise awareness of the harms of drug use. But sure enough, this show is now looking for ways to gently inform kids on the evils of substance abuse.

In recent Sesame Street episodes, a Muppet character named Karli talked to Elmo and other Muppet friends about her mom. Karli explained how her mom had a problem and was in recovery from that problem. Karli went on to talk about how she had to go into foster care because of her mom’s problem.

This is the first time Sesame Street broached the topic of addiction on its show. In fact, it is one of the first major children’s TV programs ever to do so.

Sherrie Westin, the president of social impact and philanthropy for Sesame Workshop, said that the videos were a part of Sesame Street’s efforts to inform kids about drugs. She said, “So often, it’s only an adult issue, and grown-ups are being treated. Given that we know how much this impacts a young child, in terms of their own development and the trauma that can literally inhibit a healthy development, more and more I think this allows us to raise awareness to the importance of addressing the impact on a child and not just the adult, who is struggling with addiction.”

Sesame Street is accomplishing two, valuable objectives. It’s teaching kids about drugs and their harm, which will help kids think twice when they are exposed to opportunities to use drugs later on in life. Furthermore, the video segments are assisting kids in understanding the difficulty of having an addicted parent. The videos seek to engender understanding and to show kids that they have options and resources for coping with such struggles.

Drug Use on the Rise—Why Parents Must Talk to Their Kids about Drugs

The drug scene is expanding. And young people are increasingly targeted. Marijuana use is becoming more common, acceptable, even legal. Prescription drugs, addictive and dangerous, do not look (to young people) as harmful as a heroin syringe. Youngsters are starting to experiment with deadly, dangerous drugs, often without even knowing just how hazardous these substances are.

“Young adults (age 18 to 25) are the biggest abusers of prescription (Rx) opioid pain relievers, ADHD stimulants, and anti-anxiety drugs.”

Prescription drug use is becoming a real problem among youth. Quoting the National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Young adults (age 18 to 25) are the biggest abusers of prescription (Rx) opioid pain relievers, ADHD stimulants, and anti-anxiety drugs. In 2014, more than 1,700 young adults died from prescription drug (mainly opioid) overdoses—more than died from overdoses of any other drug, including heroin and cocaine combined—and many more needed emergency treatment.”

A big part of ensuring that our kids do not grow up to be a statistic like the ones mentioned above means communicating with our kids. It’s on us as parents to have conversations with our kids, throughout their upbringing, on the subject of drugs.

What Sesame Street is doing is undoubtedly laudable. It’s finding a unique, pleasant, and subtle (but not too subtle) method of educating kids about drugs.

But not all kids watch Sesame Street, and it's the parents’ job to teach kids about potential harms and dangers that their kids might come across.

Having the Conversation

Mother is talking to her son about drugs.

Parents should remember that they are their kids’ number one opinion leader and mentor. When growing up, kids will automatically look to their parents first and foremost as the judges of right and wrong on any given subject. That’s why it is so crucial for parents to set the record straight on drugs quite early on.

Here are a few quick ideas and tips for talking to kids about drugs:

  • Parents should look for “teachable moments,” i.e., moments in day-to-day life where they can easily work a discussion about drugs or alcohol into the conversation.
  • Parents should also use real-life examples of drug use or heavy drinking to show the harm in such habits. An example would be talking about a distant relative who has a substance abuse problem and discussing the kind of damage it causes that relative.
  • Another tool is to simply educate youngsters about drugs. It’s not a bad idea to define the terms of different types of drugs and to explain to kids, in detail, the harmful side effects and addictive nature of such substances.
  • Parents should take care to teach their kids how to avoid peer pressure, from showing their kids how to get out of difficult social situations to teaching them how to pick good-natured friends in the first place.
  • Most importantly, parents should never stop educating their kids. A talk about drugs is not a one-and-done event. Parents need to continue having this discussion, several times per year, with their kids as their children grow up. The form and style of the conversation will change, but the message will remain the same.

Parents have their work cut out for them. It’s not always an easy or safe world to raise kids in. But there are countless groups, families, churches, schools, and communities working hard to raise kids the right way. And that’s something to be thankful for.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli ICAADC, CCS, RAS, LADC, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.