'Stressed Out!' Shows How Kids Cope With Recession

Nickelodeon may not be best known for its news programming. But somewhere between its lineup of hit shows "SpongeBob SquarePants" and "Dora the Explorer," is a television special called "Stressed Out! The Economic Crisis and You." Journalist Linda Ellerbee of Nick News interviewed 12- to 14-year-olds about the weight of the recession on their lives. Ellerbee explains how some children are feeling the ripples of wounded economy.

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: I'm Jennifer Ludden and this TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. Just ahead, a sneak peak at the fall television season. But first, everyone knows the kids cable TV network Nickelodeon as the home of "Dora," "Diego," and "SpongeBob." But it's also home to a series of smart news specials hosted by former NBC and ABC correspondent Linda Ellerbee. Her latest is called "Stressed Out! The Economic Crisis and You." We're joined by Linda Ellerbee from Sheffield, Massachusetts. Welcome.

LINDA ELLERBEE: Hi there.

: At the beginning of this program you tell the children that you're having a conversation with, you tell them what's happened is not your fault. What do you mean?

ELLERBEE: Well, I think that's very important when you're talking about the economy with kids. I mean we had kids saying well, I'm to blame because mom spent all her gas money driving me, you know, to the movies or this or that. Or, I'm to blame because my parents fought over money because I needed clothes and things - oh, breaks your heart. You're not to blame. This is not your fault if you're a kid.

: But that is a common reaction that they have?

ELLERBEE: Yes it is. It's not uncommon at all. I think we've been able to sort of dismiss how kids are dealing with it because it's not entirely right in our face. In other words, some kids are just losing, okay you can't, maybe you can't buy a CD this week or this new game, you can't buy this new video game. Other kids have seen their entire lives just upended.

: Well, some of these children tell you in quite poignant detail some of the hard times that they are facing. Let's hear from a couple of them. We'll hear first from David(ph) and then Leah(ph).

DAVID: We're going into foreclosure. We're going to lose our home because it's going to be a auction and so were going to lose it and we don't know where we're going to go.

LEAH: In the beginning when both my parents lost their jobs, my grandparents came over to my house and they brought groceries to us. So it really touched my dad because he's like our father and he's the only man in the house, and he, I see that he feels that he can't provide for us.

: You know Linda, watching the conversation, I mean there are no tears but a lot of those kids look like they were having a hard time holding them back.

ELLERBEE: Yes. I felt the same way. You know, you just heard from David. You know Ranishia's(ph) dad worked at Chrysler and he lost his job. Josie's(ph) dad lost his job and Josie's mother is struggling with cancer. There's no insurance so she's not going in for her treatments. So I think it's important to say that to any of the kids when you're talking about this, you're not alone. Other kids are going through this too, and I don't know whether it's just, you know, something small like your spending habits have changed, you're not getting name brand clothes this year, your getting normal clothes.

: No flat screen. No computer in your room.

ELLERBEE: You got it. You got it. And we've talked to other kids that are actually lying about it. Lying about it, taking the attitude of it's nobody's business, you know, that my dad has lost his job. Or I'm lying about our circumstances at home because I know my parents couldn't afford for me to do this extracurricular activity this year,

: But they don't want their friends to know?

ELLERBEE: They don't want other people to know.

: Well, how did you draw these stories out? Was it difficult?

ELLERBEE: Well, you know we've been listening to kids on "Nick News" for 19 years now and there's no real secret to it. We've just discovered that if you treat them with a great deal of respect and you tell them that by telling their own stories they're helping other kids, that they will respond to you with a great deal of honesty.

: You tried to end the conversation on a hopeful note.

ELLERBEE: Well actually, there was a little girl, Leah again, who I think ended it. Leah said, you know well, I don't think there's much we can do now, you know, but we can carry this on into our generation and you know, we will learn from this and hopefully we'll take what we've learned from growing up in this time and we'll learn to spend better and maybe there'll be less careless spending and you know, maybe one day the economy will be better.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: Great plan. She was really full of big ideas.

ELLERBEE: Oh yeah.

: Do you see the recession as something of an opportunity perhaps for this young generation?

ELLERBEE: Well, you know, it is. It is. It's almost - all of those kids talked about when I asked them had any good come out of it, you know, one of them, David, said no. That's the little boy that we heard a few moments ago. He said no. Nothing good had come out. He couldn't think of a single thing and he couldn't find a single reason to be hopeful. But other kids said things that they're spending more time with their families. That's a good thing. One kid, Darius(ph), I believe his name was...

: Very sad look on his face.

ELLERBEE: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. He said all this time I've spent in my house I got to realize who I really am. And I thought well if you can realize that at age, you know, 13, you are half way there.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: Linda Ellerbee, host of "Nick News" with Linda Ellerbee. She joined us from a studio in Sheffield, Massachusetts. Thank you so much.

ELLERBEE: You are very welcome.

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