ABOVE: Cory Monteith tribute episode of “Glee” set to air Thursday night
TORONTO – From the looks of it, there are some tears, open grieving and a memorial on Thursday night’s episode of Glee. The cast of the popular show will pay tribute to Canadian actor Cory Monteith in a heartfelt episode experts say parents need to tune into.
Series creator Ryan Murphy told reporters this week that the episode was “incredibly difficult to work on” and shoot. Because it’s unclear how the show will portray a character’s death and the repercussions, Canadian parenting experts say that if kids will be watching the show, their parents should be by their side.
“It can be emotionally overwhelming, so parents need to keep that in mind. Warn their kids, let them know it’s going to be very sad, it’s not going to be a typical episode,” Dr. Oren Amitay said.
“The whole episode could open a whole can of worms they may not be prepared to deal with.” Amitay is a Toronto-based registered psychologist and Ryerson University professor.
The episode is called The Quarterback based on Monteith’s character Finn Hudson. Murphy already promised that Hudson won’t die of an accidental drug overdose on the show.
“That was something we had considered. But we have decided that we’re not going to have him pass from that,” Murphy told Deadline.
He said that the episode might not even tell viewers how the character dies. Read the episode’s synopsis here.
Monteith was found dead on July 13 in Vancouver’s Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel. He was 31 years old and grappled with substance abuse in the past and admitted to going to rehabilitation twice.
Reassurance and honesty
The most important part is making sure you reassure your kids that they’re safe, Amitay said. Remind young children that they’re safe and so are their parents and siblings.
Depending on the age and maturity of your child, it’s hard to predict how he or she will internalize what has happened.
“Parents should never lie to their kids about things but they need to filter it out and explain it in a way that the children can handle it,” Amitay said.
Kang offers this example: “He had a serious illness, and he died because he took things that his body couldn’t handle but it’s really rare and it doesn’t happen if you don’t do those things,” Kang said. Let your kids know that death, in most cases, comes at the end of life.
“Not providing an explanation can actually increase anxiety,” she said.
Kang said some kids could get teary-eyed or cry, and that’s okay, too.
Give your child control to decide what’s best for them
Both experts said that it’s not up to parents to decide if their kids are prepared to watch the show or if it’s time to change the channel. This is where conversation and asking questions is important.
During commercial breaks, ask your child how they’re doing, if they want to keep watching or if they have any questions.
“Put it in the child’s hands, give them the control and then the child can make the decision,” Amitay said.
Grieving in reality and on television
For older kids, such as tweens and teenagers, the teaching moment isn’t as much an introduction to death and grieving but an opportunity for parents to let their kids know that they’re there for them.
There’s a disparity between Finn Hudson on television and Cory Monteith in real life — for young kids, it’s understanding that the character is being mourned on a show, and in real life his family and loved ones miss him, too.
For teens, it’s acknowledging that if they need help, they can turn to their parents, teachers or other support networks. What they see in celebrity may be distorted, it helps young adults see that there is no such thing as invincibility, the experts say.
“It’s an important distinction to make because young individuals can blur reality with media,” Kang said.
“Having parents talk about drugs and alcohol and substances and what can happen is important. It’s part of the culture we live in now,” Kang said.
As a final note, Amitay said he wants to remind parents not to offer a “black and white” explanation about Monteith’s death.
Drugs are a contentious issue — don’t tell your kids that because Monteith used drugs he was weak, or a bad person. The conversation needs balance, Amitay said.
“Parents should be ready for anything because you don’t know how it’ll be portrayed and you don’t know how your child will react,” he said.
– With files from John R. Kennedy