If you have a teenager, it is likely that they are watching the new Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” one of the most streamed TV shows in America right now. The controversial show features a 17-year-old girl who commits suicide; the episodes depict the events which the main character blames for her suicide. The show is very controversial in that it contains both positive and concerning elements.
On the positive side, the show addresses challenges that exist in the adolescent world today. The series allows teenagers to see that they are not the only ones feeling and experiencing difficulties during their adolescence. For parents, it is a window into what most teenagers are exposed to, if not experiencing. Many of the parents in the show are portrayed as loving and well-meaning, but they are at times oblivious to and unaware of how to effectively talk to their teens. We know that one of the best supports parents can offer their children is to have open lines of communication. The show provides parents an opportunity to start conversations about difficult and important issues like social media, bullying, drinking, depression, rape, as well as the general experience of being a teenager. Also, on the positive side, the show tries to send the ultimate message that we need to be more mindful of how we treat each other, be more kind, and offer support to others.
With these strengths, the show has some areas of concern. The show features a graphic portrayal of suicide which experts do not recommend adolescents watch given the possibility of “copycat” behavior. The show’s main character also casts blame on others for her suicide and highlights “revenge” motivations for suicide. It is important to communicate to your teen that suicide is never a way to deal with their problems, to hurt those who have hurt them, or to get attention. Suicide is also not someone else’s fault, but rather often a result of severe mental illness or an extreme stressor. Furthermore, the show demonstrates a school counselor grossly mishandling an interaction with the main character and may give the impression that adults can’t help. It is important to talk to your teen about how you and other adults are there for them and can help them if they are in pain, and can also help them find effective resources.
Whether you like the show or not, your child is most likely watching it, or already has, and therefore you should too. Use the show as an opportunity to start conversations with your teen that you might not have otherwise had. If you think your teen is in trouble, get help.
Below is a link to several talking points and resources that can help you facilitate the conversation:
“13 Reasons Why” Tallking Points
Suidice and Depression Links
NIMH Teen Depression: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/teen-depression/index.shtml
APA Teen Suicide: http://www.apa.org/research/action/suicide.aspx
Suicide Prevention Life Line: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/# - 1-800-273-8255
Trevor Noah Project: http://www.thetrevorproject.org/pages/get-help-now - 1-866-488-7386
Parents Teen Suicide: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/suicide.html
Depression For Parents: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/understanding-depression.html
Mayo Clinic Teen Depression: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/teen-depression/home/ovc-20164553
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry:https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/Facts_for_families_Pages/Teen_Suicide_10.aspx