In the age of social media and widespread reporting on high-profile tragic events such as the Connecticut school shooting or suicide of Port Coquitlam teen Amanda Todd, youth are at risk like never before, says a crisis response expert speaking in Abbotsford tonight.
Cheri Lovre, director of the Crisis Management Institute, said social media has an overwhelming influence in children's lives, and parents find it increasingly difficult to find opportunities to engage in sensitive but necessary conversations with their kids.
"Parents often struggle about whether to bring some things up because they're worried they'll make things worse," said Lovre.
They stumble with the idea of broaching topics such as stress, suicide, tragedy and grief, or whether their children are doing something dangerous online, she said.
To provide parents with resources, the Abbotsford School District, Abbotsford Police Department and Abbotsford Community Services have brought Lovre to present at a forum Thursday at 7 p.m. at Matsqui Centennial Auditorium.
The crisis response expert will speak on the stressors for both youth and parents, talking to children about suicide, helping children with grieving and stress management.
Parents often have no idea about the scope of their children's activities online or how much of themselves they've invested in their virtual world, said Lovre.
"There is this entirely invisible life children have [online] that's outside our view," she said.
What's more, much interaction over the Internet is anonymous leading people, even adults, to send bullying messages they normally wouldn't without the fear of being identified.
"Before online life, kids that didn't like you had say it to your face," said Lovre.
"And if that happened in school hallways, students could talk to a teacher or counsellor about it."
Kids are also succumbing to the danger of "virtual identification", where youth invest too much stock in what's said about them or how they are perceived online, rather than basing their self worth in their concrete behaviour or relationships.
Amanda Todd's suicide involved a number of factors, but negativity in her virtual world contributed to her misery, said Lovre.
"One aspect is she lost control over that part of her life . . . that part posted online."
Not only do parents need to broach difficult topics with their kids, they also need to monitor children's online lives, stressed Lovre, even if that means checking Facebook accounts, cell phone texts and using specialized software that alerts parents if dangerous or sexually explicit words are used.
"The greatest mistake we make is thinking we are invading our child's privacy if we insist on knowing what their life is like online," she said. "But we absolutely should . . . if not, we're allowing strangers to raise our children and give them an identify and shape how they feel about themselves."
- The parents' forum, titled Mental Health, Stress Management, Grief and Loss, for youth and parents, takes place Thursday, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. at Matsqui Centennial Auditorium, 32315 South Fraser Way, Abbotsford.