Oh Charlie!

Talking to kids about world events? That's peanuts compared to having to explain Charlie Sheen.

There’s a lot that happens in the world that I know will be hard to explain to my kids: the shooting in Arizona or the Recession for example. We expect those kind of uncomfortable, inevitable conversations to come up. Sometimes we can even practice them beforehand.

I never imagined that I’d have to explain the very public meltdown of a sitcom actor, but Charlie Sheen has invaded our lives. He is everywhere. 

“Who’s that?” they say when they see his face all over the TV. “Is he famous?”

I tell them that he is, that he’s on a show and in the movies. I change the channel, or the radio station because he’s all over that too, but sure enough there he is again -- wincing, rambling, chain-smoking and darty-eyed. Like Britney Spears before him, our rubber-necking culture can’t seem to get enough. Within hours of starting a Twitter account, he’d ammassed a million followers. I’m pretty sure most of those millions weren’t logging on for his brilliant comedy or  sage advice. 

“Is that man in trouble?” my kids ask. “Like, is he going to jail or something?”

It’s obvious to even a 9- year- old that something is very, very wrong with this grown-up on the news. But how do I go about explaining Charlie Sheen, or bipolar disorder or cocaine or narcissim or whatever it actually is behind this bizarre showing? And more importantly, why oh why do I even have to?


There’s nothing funny about mental illness, but this circus surrounding Sheen, the one he’s invited in, has become far more entertaining than his sitcom probably was. The entire Middle East is imploding as I type, and yet I’m sure Charlie Sheen is still the biggest “get” for journalists and news producers. He’s not going away any time soon, or at least not until another celebrity does something outragous. 

In the meantime, I tell my kids the only thing I can muster. I tell them that I think he’s sick and that he’s probably a little sad and also angry too. I tell them that it might be better if he just shut his door and took a good long bath or maybe a nap.

 “He needs a time out is what your saying,” says one of my kids.

I couldn’t agree more. Charlie does need a time out. And so do we.

Susan Morley Zender March 05, 2011 at 04:48 PM
Oh my gosh, Darcy! I was just thinking the exact same thing over my morning coffee. I am trying to see it as an opportunity to open a discussion about mental illness, what it is and how it can be treated. As a person/parent who has lived through post-partum depression I've never hidden this concept from my kids. What bothers me about this particular instance with Mr. Sheen is how the media (and the public) is feeding into this. It really rubs me the wrong way. Like you said, *that* is the part that is much more difficult to explain to the kids. Perhaps I should open the dictionary to 'schadenfreude' to start the conversation.....
Darcy Mayers March 06, 2011 at 05:04 AM
I wish you luck with that discussion: damn! I can barely spell the word... My children love their cousins with massive food allergies and autism, but they know these issues as something "you are born with." It's a lot harder to explain the trouble that might come later. Even worse: to explain our culture's obsession with it. As a women who too has wrestled with anxiety and depression issues since a teenager, I so very much appreciate your awesome words, and your truth. Thanks for reading and caring enough to respond.


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