The murder of 12-year-old Autumn Pasquale has saddened and shocked her small community of Clayton, New Jersey and has put families around the region on edge.
A steady news feed of details about the girl’s murder, forwarded, shared and amplified via social media has created an almost audible buzz of anxiety among parents and their children.
“Our sense of safety that we had before suddenly is challenged or shattered,” saidtherapist Tamar Chansky, adding that the best thing parents can do – even if they are feeling an urge to keep their kids under constant surveillance right now – is to be reassuring.
“Tell them most people are good, this is not something that happens all the time, it is something that is very rare, and as hard as that is, it is true, it is important to put that into perspective,” said Chansky.
Chansky encourages families to practice safety rules repeatedly, and to role play different scenarios.
Kids are trying to make sense of what happened in their own ways – on facebook pages, Twitter, and YouTube, where many musical tributes have been posted, and teenagers discuss the murder and its implications in long video monologues.
Chansky says parents should ask their children about their emotions regarding the murder, and find out what they are hearing from their friends online.
The fact that Autumn Pasquale reportedly was in touch with her alleged murderers via facebook in the days before her disappearance adds yet another layer to parental anxiety. David Cooper Moore heads the Center for Media and Information Literacy at Temple, he says parents should stop distinguishing between their kids’ online and “in person” social lives. “Parents need to start thinking about approaching online relationships in the same way that they would approach any relationship in their life.”
Cooper Moore adds that just because we consider kids to be digital natives, does not mean they understand the implications of their actions online – and they need adults to pay attention.