How can parents comfort their teens after the Eaton Centre shooting? - The Globe and Mail
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How can parents comfort their teens after the Eaton Centre shooting?

Talk to teen psychotherapist Natalie Sharma about how to reassure and protect your teen

  • In the wake of the Saturday shooting at Eaton Centre, some teens have shocked and saddened, saying they feel a loss of security due to the violence.

    The mall, a Toronto landmark and the largest shopping centre in the city’s downtown core, is, after all, a regular hangout for many teens.

    So what can parents do to reassure and protect children who are rattled by the incident?

    Joining us live now to take your question is Natasha Sharma, a Toronto-area psychotherapist and associate psychologist. She specializes in treating teens who have witnessed or been involved in traumatic events.

  • This event seems to have shaken me way more than it has my son (18 y/o boy who hangs out in food courts allll the time)
    Can parents do anything? I feel like prohibiting my kid from hanging out in food courts, but understand logically that's not realistic
  • Hi Sandra, thanks for your question. It's natural to feel shaken by this, especially as a parent. I encourage you to share your feeling with your family, but as you said prohibiting him from food courts is not rational. Try to remind yourself of the actual likelihood of this taking place at any given time.
  • my daughter lives in toronto and frequents the eaton centre almost daily. we are from a small town - there has never been a teen shooting here - and now she wants to move home. she was there - on the third floor - when the shooting happened and she hasn't slept since. what do i do?
  • Hi everyone! Excited to be here and answer your questions and concerns around the Eaton Centre Shooting, and what parents can do to support their children.
    by Natasha Sharma edited by Amberly McAteer 6/7/2012 3:09:43 PM
  • when things like this happen, do you predict fewer teens hanging out in malls? OR will there be a surge - kids protecting their turf?
  • Hi Wayne52, thanks for this question. Being present at or near the scene of this incident would certainly be overwhelming for almost anyone. It sounds like she is experiencing anxiety as a result of being directly exposed to this traumatic event, which is understandable.

    I would encourage her to engage in and learn some techniques for relaxation - particularly relaxing her thoughts/mind before bedtime. In addition, depending on the extent of her feelings and how long they last, she may wish to talk to a professional about how she is coping with what she went through being there that day.
    by Natasha Sharma edited by Amberly McAteer 6/7/2012 3:15:35 PM
  • Hello my daughter aged 15 was in the food court at the time of the shooting.

    Is there anything I should be watching out for for signs of a delayed reaction?

    Is it better to talk about the event with her? Or should I wait for her to talk about it?
  • Hi justcurious, I think when something like this happens, there will be a bit of both.

    Depending on individual coping skills and resilience, some may choose to avoid shopping malls, others may choose to be there more purposefully.

    Ultimately though, the likelihood of something like this happening on a regular basis in malls is pretty rare at the moment, and I think most teens - now or eventually - realize that.
    by Natasha Sharma edited by Amberly McAteer 6/7/2012 3:20:12 PM
  • Is it scarier because the kids see all these videos of the shooting recorded on iPhones? It's like they could have been there, and I'm sure they're sharing the videos with their friends.
  • Hi Amanda, thanks for your question. Your daughter was certainly directly exposed to what could be a fairly traumatic event for her.

    Being there in person at the scene would be overwhelming to most people. If she hasn't yet discussed it with you, as you are feeling concerned, I would gently bring up the topic with her at a relaxed time of the day, and encourage an open dialogue about it between the 2 of you, or within the family.

    As for signs of anxiety from being there, do be on the lookout for things such as increased irritability, avoidance of shopping malls, strong avoidance of talking about the event/being there, sleep disturbances/nightmares/trouble falling asleep, or increased 'jitters' i.e. feeling jumpy.

    Do not hesitate to seek some help from a professional together if these start to present themselves in her.
    by Natasha Sharma edited by Amberly McAteer 6/7/2012 3:24:39 PM
  • Hi Michael, the answer is potentially yes. Repeated exposure to the event through iphones and such, although not live, poses the risk of what's called 'secondary or vicarious trauma.' Simply watching the event unfold again and again can result in heightened anxieties - sometimes without being fully aware of it. I would certainly recommend people limit the number of times they watch it to a minimum.
  • Dr. Sharma: Don't you think we should be encouraging our children to avoid the Eaton Centre anyway.

    We should use this experience as a positive impact to encourage children to go to parks and playgrounds to get exercise. Not to eat junk food, loiter, spend money unnecessarily and generally get in my way downtown.

    What do you think?

    (Btw - Thanks for having this conversation, TGAM.)
    by Negative Nancy edited by Amberly McAteer 6/7/2012 3:31:59 PM
  • My teen boy - 17 in the GTA - had quite a shocking reaction: he wasn't shocked at all. In fact, he seemed to be quite numb to it all.

    He says shootings happen all the time, and if you're in the wrong place, wrong time - you're out of luck. I don't want him to be scared, but how can I make him a little more cautious? Shouldn't he be a little shaken by this?
  • Hi Negative Nancy, while I agree with your premise of encouraging youth to spend more time outside and increase physical activities, I don't think connecting the 2 events and using the Eaton Centre shooting as a means to achieve that is a good idea.

    Telling them to avoid the Eaton Centre sends an unhelpful message: i.e. Downtown/E.Centre is an unsafe place, and should be avoided. This is not rationally true, and will tend to reinforce personal anxiety.

    Best to separate your campaign for the outdoors from this, and encourage it on it's own merits!
    by Natasha Sharma edited by Amberly McAteer 6/7/2012 3:36:11 PM
  • Hi Tuesday29, the fact that he's having a lighter reaction is less concerning to me than the statement "shootings happen all the time."

    I'd want to explore where this belief came from for him. If he has lived most of his life in the Toronto area, we can safely conclude that the statement is not true.

    If he does believe this, it may be contributing to a different emotional response, but also potentially unhealthy. I would open up a dialogue with him to explore his belief on that, and where it came from.
    by Natasha Sharma edited by Amberly McAteer 6/7/2012 3:40:10 PM
  • That's all the time we have for our discussion today. Thank you to everyone who participated, and a special thanks to Natasha Sharma for joining us.
  • Hi everyone, looks like we'll be wrapping up. I want to thank you for all of your excellent questions and concerns with respect to this event, its impact around the city, and we can do to support ourselves and those we care about!

    Thank you Amberly for inviting me to participate! Stay relaxed everyone, and be mindful of the very low probability of this type of thing happening on a regular basis in Toronto.
    by Natasha Sharma edited by Amberly McAteer 6/7/2012 3:51:48 PM
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