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Anti-vaccine protests and kids: How messaging can impact child psychology

FILE (CityNews)

Child psychologist says anti-vaccine protesters can cast doubt in the minds of kids who are already stressed

Adults need to be united in messaging that is going to help get kids through pandemic, says expert

Video in Abbotsford from last week showed anti-vaccine protesters talking to kids outside of a secondary school

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Some people may be growing tired of repeated protests sharing anti-vaccine sentiments across Canada, but how exactly does that messaging impact your kids?

Just days after protesters were spotted outside an Abbotsford Secondary School, we’re hearing from a child psychologist who says people have reason to be concerned for their children.

On Thursday, the group of anti-vaccine protesters were reportedly seen speaking directly to students as they were passing by. One mother tells NEWS 1130 the demonstrators were reportedly telling the kids their parents were lying to them and encouraging them not to get vaccinated.

“We know, first of all, this is a time of extraordinary uncertainty for all of us, ongoing. And what kids need at this kind of a time is for their parents and their other grown ups to present a unified front that allows them to feel safe and secure in the decisions that the adults are making,” explained child psychologist Dr. Vanessa Lapointe.

“When we have groups of adults who are really trying to create division and stir kids into questioning whether or not their grown ups actually know what it is that they’re doing, that’s unsettling. What we know for sure from the science of child development is that the anxious brain is not going to be available to learning,” she added, noting it’s already a difficult time for many students, as they struggle through the pandemic.

In B.C., there’s been an ongoing push to get all eligible people 12 years and over vaccinated against COVID-19. With school now back in session, that call has been growing, with concerns over COVID-spread in classes.

Lapointe says protesters are unnecessarily planting doubt in the minds of kids, and creating more stress when anxiety is high.

“That, at the best of times, is really just not an okay thing to be doing, and at the worst of times is actually maltreatment of children,” she told NEWS 1130.

“I think as adults, we really do need to let science lead the way and have calmer minds prevail so that our children can be resting into what it is that is happening around them.”

It’s not just the short-term that people should be concerned with either, she notes. Lapointe says kids and families have been facing “untold stressors” over the course of the past 18 months.

“We will, for years to come, be documenting the long-term impact of all of that. But what we know is that as the pandemic has created these repeated waves of uncertainty … that a lot of children have developed mental health concerns, most notable amongst them depression and anxiety,” she explained.

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“So we really don’t need groups of grown ups crashing in on children’s daily lives and bringing yet another source of angst and uncertainty into a child’s world. It’s uncalled for, it’s unnecessary.”

She says everyone is entitled to their opinion, but stresses people need to find a way to voice those views while not bringing harm to a child.

Protesters near Abbotsford Senior Secondary were filmed set up on either side of the street Thursday, when students were leaving for the day.

Tara Beguin told NEWS 1130 she and her husband were picking their 16-year-old up when they saw the group.

“I think it’s terrible,” she said of protesters choosing a school as their location and of them engaging directly with students. “It’s great that we can protest if we feel like we need to, but it shouldn’t be done in front of the school where our kids are coming out, and they … shouldn’t be talking to our kids.”

-With files from Lisa Steacy