High School Stabbing – Talking About Tragedy

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Yesterday there was a horrible tragedy in Abbotsford, BC as two high school students were stabbed at random by a 21-year-old male.  One of the victims has now died in hospital.  We now have authorities scrambling for details and two families in crisis as they try to make sense of something that they could have never prepared themselves for and that simply should not happen.  Social media is in frenzy about this and many perspectives are being floated and offered.
One of the many negative consequences now being felt as a result of this horrendous tragedy is that young people across Greater Vancouver and the Fraser Valley area are now struggling to know what to tell themselves about this.  They have questions in their minds such as, “Why does this happen? ... Am I safe at school or at risk?”
The truth is that most parents won’t know what to say or how to talk to their young people about this.  Some parents will express their own anger and frustration, likely triggered by their own fears about the possibility that their own children may not always be safe.  Beyond that, the majority of parents won’t say much and won’t likely take the time to sit down and discuss this event with their young person.  In most cases the reason for this is because parents are not sure how to talk about it and so the easiest thing to do is nothing.
We encourage parents and other guardians to take the time and space to discuss this tragedy with young people in their care.  Here are some important ideas to consider when speaking to young people about this.
  1. The most important factors are creating the space and emotional presence. Don’t worry about getting it perfect – just be present and create the space for the conversation.  Be fully emotionally present.
  2. Listen non-judgmentally to your young person. There is no right or wrong.  Just hear and validate any feelings they may have about this, from anger to fear to sorrow and grief.
  3. Provide reassurance. Fortunately these kinds of incidents are very rare and this horrible event does not suggest any evidence that your young person is at greater risk of being a victim of a violent crime.
  4. Follow up with your young person over the next several days. If you notice any significant changes in behavior, attitude, performance, emotion or physical appearance, clearly notice it with them and become curious.
  5. If your young person is experiencing a high level of anxiety or a fear response as a result, contact a mental health professional for the young person to speak to.
Parenting is tough at the best of times, and parenting through times of loss and crisis is even tougher.
The team at the Burnaby Counselling Group acknowledges the loss of life and we offer our condolences to the victims, the families and all of those who have been directly and indirectly affected by this act of violence and loss of life.
Cameron Keller, Executive Director, Burnaby Counselling Group