The sudden death of Canadian actor Cory Monteith, star of the popular TV series Glee, raises a sensitive challenge for parents whose kids are fans of the celebrity – how to talk about the difficult topic of death.
The 31-year-old actor’s sudden passing touched off a torrent of grief on social media as young fans turned to Twitter to express their shock, with the hashtag #RipCoryMonteith trending worldwide.
Child psychologist Anthony Wolf says when discussing a sudden death, there are two main things a parent should try to address.
First of all, a parent should raise their concerns by asking open-ended questions. Mr. Wolf says different children will react in different ways, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.
“If it’s something that you do want to talk about, the parent would basically say, ‘You maybe heard the news that [Mr. Monteith] died last night, and that’s a really sad, sad thing to have happen. And then say, ‘What do you think about it?’” said Mr. Wolf, who also writes a parenting advice column in The Globe and Mail.
“You want to have something that ties into the fact that each kid is going to have different reactions to it,” he said, suggesting parents say something like “Maybe it makes you feel sad, maybe it makes you feel a little upset.”
“Some kids will be kind of oblivious to it, not really react to it much,” Mr. Wolf said. “I don’t think there are specific guidelines, other than to bring it up as something they can talk about.”
Parents should also do their best to help their child understand the difference between the actor and the on-screen character he portrayed, high school hearthrob Finn Hudson. That connection is further complicated because Mr. Monteith was dating his on-screen love interest, American actress Lea Michele.
“It’s sad because they liked him on the show . . . but it’s also sad because of his friends and family,” Mr. Wolf said.
Parents should tailor their approach to the age and maturity level of their child, particularly when talking about the circumstances surrounding a sudden death.
“With the little kids, I don’t think you want to go into any description that’s graphic,” Mr. Wolf said.
With teenagers, it may be necessary to acknowledge the questions and speculation about the cause of death. The actor was found dead in a Vancouver hotel room after spending a night out with friends. The BC Coroners Service and Vancouver police are still investigating, and have not found any evidence of foul play.
Mr. Monteith reportedly sought help for a substance addiction earlier this year. In a 2011 interview with Parade, Mr. Monteith said he had a “serious problem” with drugs earlier in his life.
His cause of death has not been determined.
If substance abuse is found to be a factor in the actor’s death, Mr. Wolf said parents can use the opportunity to start a conversation.
“I don’t know that you then get into a whole long preaching thing, but it’s not a bad place to bring it up with the kids,” Mr. Wolf said. “[What] you’re saying to the kids is, ‘It’s one of the things that can happen with drug use and it’s pretty scary.’”
With files from Sunny Dhillon