You may or may not have heard of the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why. The show depicts many issues that affect teens today, including bullying, sexual assault, and suicide. It can be difficult as a parent to decipher whether or not to even allow kids to watch it, but if you do allow them, how to talk to them about the issues that arise. In her blog post, Kayla Marston, an elementary school couselor talks about the concerns regarding 13 Reasons Why as well as how to address them.
Here are a few of the concerns:
- This show is FICTION, though many people (children and adults alike) are taking the show as the reality for many high school students today.
- The graphic depictions of bullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, and suicide can be very triggering, especially for anyone who is or has struggled with any of these things.
- Young people may over identify with the characters in this show, particularly the main protagonist, Hannah, who dies by suicide.
- The show very much over-simplifies suicide. The majority of people who have suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or die by suicide, have an underlying mental illness that they need professional treatment for. This show does not mention mental illness, or specifically, depression, at all. Not even once.
- The 13 tapes created by Hannah before her death romanticize the ability to speak to people “from the beyond.” This is completely unrealistic. The tapes would have taken a rational mind to create; Hannah was not thinking rationally near the end of her life. In fact, most people who die by suicide end up acting impulsively at the very end. Suicide notes are not common.
- One theme through out the show is the blame and shame placed on Hannah’s classmates (and the School Counselor) for her suicide. At one point, a character in the show says, “We ALL killed Hannah Baker.” Suicide survivors already tend to feel guilt when someone they care about dies by suicide; this is a dangerous and hurtful message to send.
- The other theme through out the show seems to be about how kindness can save lives. Sounds great, right? After all, we want our children to be kind. However, Hannah references in almost all of her tapes that if that person had just done one thing differently, she might not feel as badly as she does. In the last episode, Hannah says, “Some of you cared. None of you cared enough.” Kindness is not enough; suicidal ideation requires PROFESSIONAL help! Again, this is not mentioned AT ALL in this series. Let’s not let the message to our children be that if they had just been more kind to so-and-so, maybe they wouldn’t have killed themselves. Talk about guilt!
- The adults in this series, yikes. None of them appear to know how to help when they see their children/students struggling, or they don’t have the time. This is also a very dangerous message. The School Counselor in the series, Mr. Porter, is cringe-worthy when it comes to his responses to Hannah in the last episode. He is dismissive, distracted, and unhelpful. We need our children to know that there ARE adults who will listen and who know how to help them.
- There are little to no help-seeking behaviors shown in this series. Hannah appears to be helpless and hopeless. The series offers no alternatives to suicide as a means to deal with serious problems. (I have to add that there is a follow up to this series, Beyond the Reasons, showing the producers, cast, and mental health professionals discussing how to get help for these kinds of issues, though there is NOTHING about it in the actual show.)
- Contagion. Experts in this field know that research shows that young people are more likely to attempt or die by suicide themselves after experiencing a suicide death of someone close to them (about 4 to 5 times more likely). You might say, “But this is just a show. They don’t really know Hannah.” And you would be right, except that there has already been an increase in young people who are attempting suicide in the same way depicted in the show. Contagion is real.
- Finally, producers of this show claim to have consulted suicide experts and media portrayal experts. The truth is that they did not consult said experts until after the show was already completed.
Here are a few resources to prepare yourself for potentially hard conversations:
- Check out the hour long webinar facilitated by Dr. Dan Reidenberg, Christy Olson, Pat Breux, and Jennifer Spiegler. It is free and you can access it here: Responding to 13 Reasons Why: An Interactive Discussion.
- Read these talking points put together by the SAVE and JED Foundations: 13 Reasons Why Talking Points.
- Read these considerations for educators created by the National Association of School Psychologists, including cautions about the show, guidance for educators, guidance for families, myths/facts about suicide, and additional resources: 13 Reasons Why Netflix Series: Considerations for Educators.
- Watch this review of the series by Common Sense Media, who have placed a recommendation of 16+ years of age for viewers: 13 Reasons Why Review.
To read her blog in full, follow this link: https://theschoolcounselorkind.wordpress.com/2017/04/21/responding-to-13-reasons-why/.