By now, if you live or work with young people, you’ve probably heard about “13 Reasons Why,” Netflix’s dramatic series about a teenager’s suicide. Based on a Young Adult book of the same title, the series – now a hot topic at schools in the U.S. and other countries – needs discussing.
On one hand, it exposes issues today’s high school students often face (among them, depression, bullying, sexual assault and suicide); on the other – if viewed uncritically – it could expose vulnerable young people to way too much. It’s about what happens after a suicide and – as Headspace, Australia’s mental healthcare hotline, pointed out – it irresponsibly suggests that suicide can somehow right wrongs or cause resolution for the person who has died, and younger or more impressionable people may not fully comprehend the finality of death. However, some young people have said the story gives them a better understanding of how much suffering suicide can create for friends and relatives – something they hadn’t thought about.
Fortunately, suicide prevention experts have weighed into the discussion and are offering advice and talking points. Here are advice for young viewers and parents and talking points for educators and clinicians developed by the New York-based Jed Foundation and Suicide Awareness Voices of America (SAVE). As for Netflix, Jed – which is very critical of the series – reports that the entertainment company “was supportive of the distribution of the Talking Points and posted them along with crisis services and a link to additional information about young adult mental health on the official 13RY resource website. Netflix also filmed ‘Beyond the Reasons‘ as a tool to help parents and teens frame the conversation and encourage them to speak up and seek help. The show is rated TV MA and there are trigger warning cards prior to three of the episodes.”
It’s my hope that parents and caregivers will ask their kids if they’re watching the series and, if they are, they’re watching it with friends and, ideally, an adult – not alone. Then talk about an episode while it’s fresh in their minds. Perspective is good.
- In her well-reported commentary in Britain’s The Guardian, columnist Zoe Williams does not hold back: “It’s a revenge fantasy, so it portrays suicide as an act that will achieve something…. It normalises and legitimises the act.”
- “’13 Reasons Why’ poses risks to Oregon youth,” a thoughtful commentary by a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry in Oregon
- The news coverage has been extensive. Here’s CNN’s “Why teen mental health experts are focused on ’13 Reasons Why’“
- If “13 Reasons Why” is popular with your kids or students, you could turn the news coverage in these links into a media literacy lesson as well as discussion on the series itself. There are guidelines for responsible reporting on the subject from suicide prevention experts in many countries. Here‘s an example in the U.S. You and your kids could analyze various news stories to see if they follow the guidelines – a great way to elicit people’s thoughts on the series itself. This is how media literacy is protective.
- “New Zealand Teens Now Need Adult Supervision To Watch ‘13 Reasons Why’“
- “Does 13 Reasons Why’ Glamorize Teen Suicide?” in Rolling Stone
- “Schools warn parents about ’13 Reasons Why’” at ABC News
- “Netflix is close to renewing ’13 Reasons Why’ – But Should It?” in TV Guide’s blog
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