‘Ottawa’ How to Talk to Your Kids About the Death of Chloe Kotval and the Risk of Drugs
Like parents across the city, I was shaken by the photograph of Chloe Kotval, her long straight hair and big, hopeful eyes so like those of my own daughter, attached to a story about death. Gone at 14, apparently of a drug overdose.
That evening I sat down with my 12-year-old. “A very sad thing has happened to a teenager in Kanata,” I began.
“Oh, you mean Chloe?” she said. “I know all about it. It’s all over Instagram.”
She’d already seen the #greenforchloe flood of balloons and hearts, the photo of Chloe’s school locker plastered with paper flowers, and the emotional tributes (”My heart aches for this girl, heaven gained a gorgeous angel and she will be in our hearts forever”) unleashed as Ottawa youngsters joined a wave of social media mourning.
Green was Chloe’s favourite colour. And pink.
The social media grief will help youngsters mourn. But will it also act as a deterrent against the allure of a friend offering them a little green pill? Will it help subvert the combination of the urge to experiment and sense of invulnerability that is part of the teenage psyche?
And how do you talk to your child about Chloe’s death, and drugs?
First, smother the urge to scream, “Don’t you dare do drugs or you could die!” Scare tactics — the “just say no” approach — aren’t helpful, said Andrew Mendes, director of operations at Rideauwood Addictions and Family Services treatment centre.
However, providing factual information about drug use is, he says. That includes the social media flurry around Chloe’s death, which “gives truth to events that are happening. It informs users of the risk they are taking in regard to opioid use that may be laced with fentanyl.”
It’s also important to remember that all drugs are unique, with different effects on the body and risk of dependency, said Mendes. So blanket statements about “illegal drugs” aren’t helpful, either.
“We can’t just talk about fentanyl, or opioids, or cocaine, or cannabis, all as the same drug.”
Other experts agree it’s key to talk openly with your child about drug use. Aim for many small conversations, perhaps naturally woven into chatter about news stories or events at school, rather than one long drug lecture, says a Health Canada tip sheet, “How to Talk With Your Teen About Drugs.”
Listen respectfully and without judgement. Consider their point of view. And embrace argument. It’s a sign of healthy, independent thinking, and part of your teen building a stronger relationship with you.
Focus on facts, not emotion. Explaining how drug use may affect health, performance in sports and appearance can be effective, because some teens care about those things.
Experts also say families must consider the wider picture. Teens who have strong family attachments and community ties, who connect at school, have strong, positive friendships, social skills and religious or spiritual beliefs may be less likely to experiment with drugs, says Health Canada.