July 15, 2013 4:47 pm

Valuable ‘teaching moment’ for parents after death of Cory Monteith, experts say

TORONTO – While celebrities, family members and friends are reeling in the wake of Glee star Cory Monteith’s death, parents of the show’s young fan base need to talk to their kids about what’s happened, Canadian experts say.

Monteith was found dead Saturday afternoon in Vancouver’s Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel. The B.C. Coroners Service says an autopsy may be conducted as early as Monday to determine the cause of death. Still, speculation is already swirling that drug abuse or alcohol may have been at play.

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Monteith was 31 years old and had grappled with substance abuse in the past and admitted to going to rehabilitation twice.

Read more: Cory Monteith’s East Coast family, colleagues mourn actor’s death

Even if drugs didn’t play a role in Monteith’s death, Canadian experts say that parents should help their kids understand what’s happened and offer to answer any questions.

“[Youth] are being bombarded with all this information, this speculation and they’re going to hear gossip. This is the first time ever in any generation we’ve ever had that children are exposed to so much information that they aren’t prepared for,” Dr. Oren Amitay, a clinical psychologist and Ryerson University professor, told Global News.

“Parents have to understand social media doesn’t discriminate by age. A child of any age can get information so parents have to help shape the conversation,” Amitay said.

Dr. Christopher Schneider, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, suggests parents step in to add context to what kids are reading about Monteith’s untimely death.

Every generation has faced the loss of a young celebrity. What’s tricky about the situation is social media – this time, the information that is trickling in is all broadcasted online.

“Death is a weighty issue – it requires thought and reflection and it’s difficult to do that in 140 characters on Twitter,” Schneider said.

Read more: ‘Glee’ star Cory Monteith struggled with addiction before tragic death

Youngsters could be confused. If they hear about Monteith’s history of drug abuse, and know that their parents rely on medication to treat diabetes, for example, it could be misconstrued. Misinformation could also be floating around.

The teaching moments aren’t just relating to drugs, Schneider said. Parents can talk to their kids about media literacy – not everything they read on Twitter or Facebook is the truth, for example – or they can walk their kids through the process of verifying a cause of death and that this process takes time.

“The real teaching moment is to think about things and reflect upon things and that’s difficult to do because that goes against the grain of which young people primarily exist and this is the instantaneous gratification,” he said.

Monteith rose to fame playing Finn Hudson on Glee, a character many young Canadians may have related to or idolized.

Amitay says that because Monteith was a likeable, hardworking actor, who was so open about his troubles with addiction, he could be a good role model to help kids understand the severity of substance abuse.

Monteith was public about battling his demons – in an interview with Parade magazine in 2011, he said he was “lucky to be alive” following some tumultuous teenage years. He was forced into rehab by his family at 19 years old.

Read more: ‘Glee’ star Cory Monteith found dead in Vancouver

He eventually turned his life around and focused on his acting career.

“Even someone who seems like they’re on top of the world can be vulnerable. Try to help kids feel that if they do need help, there is no shame in reaching out,” Amitay said, noting that this is what Monteith did in publicly admitting to going to rehab.

Allison Perrie-Radoslovich, a senior addiction counsellor, agreed.

“I don’t think teenagers are going to go out and use because a star said they struggled with it. They’re going to be more aware that it’s not as glamorous as it looks or sounds. They’re going to know that bad things happen,” she told Global News.

“There’s a feeling of invincibility coming from youth and this type of situation shows them that even people who appear to be very successful can struggle and have dire consequences,” she said.

Perrie-Radoslovich works at the Pinewood Centre of Lakeridge Health, a substance abuse facility that has residential treatment, programs and substance abuse assessments.

Read more: Vancouver theatre program accepting donations in honour of Cory Monteith

Amitay suggests that parents feel out the situation and cater to their kids’ needs depending on their age, maturity level and awareness of the issue.

Some kids between eight and 12 years old may be much more cognizant about what they’re seeing in the news about Monteith. Parents can ask their sons and daughters what they’ve heard about Monteith’s death and what they know about drugs. They can tell their kids that they’re there to answer any questions they may have.

“Let the kids know the lines of communication are always open,” Amitay said.

At any one time, about 10 to 20 per cent of the Canadian population is struggling with substance abuse, Perrie-Radoslovich told Global News.

Relapse is not uncommon. Within the first few months of treatment, relapse can occur. And those who decide to make changes and seek treatment can relapse about five to seven times, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health says.

Treatment could mean rehabilitation as a resident or outpatient, getting medical help or counselling or even joining a 12-step program.

“It’s very difficult. It can be a life-changing experience for people but it can also be a very humbling and emotionally difficult experience,” Perrie-Radoslovich said.

Police said Monteith had been out with friends on Friday night. The hotel’s electronic records show Monteith returned to his room by himself early Saturday morning.

In April, Monteith voluntarily went to a treatment facility for substance addiction and asked for privacy during that time.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

© Shaw Media, 2013

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