Netflix's rendition of Jay Asher's book "13 Reasons Why" has recently raised concerns related to suicidal thoughts in adolescents. Westbrook Youth and Family Services has provided us with some resources outlined below to help parents better understand this content and help them make decisions on whether the content is appropriate for their own children. We encourage you to reach out to Westbrook Youth and Family Services should you have additional questions.
What is 13 Reasons Why?
It's a 13 episode Netflix series about an adolescent girl, Hannah Baker, who commits suicide. Hannah leaves behind audio cassette tapes that implicate 13 people in her decision to kill herself. Each episode portrays a painful account of how she believes each person contributed to her suicide.
Should Teens Watch This?
A simple question deserves a simple answer...but unfortunately there is none. It's a judgement call and to make that judgement, you need information.
Graphic Content and Images
This series shows two accounts of rape. Two teenage girls, including the main character, are raped and the scenes are explicit. This can be disturbing for all, but especially triggering for teenagers who have experienced sexual assault themselves.
The last episode shows Hannah Baker's suicide by cutting her wrists. This scene is also graphic and an uncomfortably clear demonstration of a successful suicide attempt.
The creator, Brian Yorkey, expressed that he wanted it to be painful and uncomfortable to emphasize how suicide should not be seen as a choice.
These graphic episodes can be very disturbing, especially for teenagers who may be struggling with their own mental health concerns, been victimized themselves, and/or know someone who falls into these categories.
Even though there are warnings about graphic images, the series offers no real-world resources for viewers who have been victims of sexual assault and/or struggling with suicidal thoughts.
However, 13 Reasons does depict relevant issues that effect our youth such as rumors, gossip, social media, reputation, date rape, and substance abuse.
This series has received a lot of attention and many people are binge-watching the show. Singer/actress Selena Gomez is an executive producer of the series and lends her star power to the series. Gossip over cast members getting semicolon tattoos and dating has exploded on Instagram and other social media outlets.
One of the risk factors of Suicide, according to The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, is exposure to graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide.
Hannah Baker leaves tapes and a detailed plan for how these tapes should be passed to each person who has influenced her decision to commit suicide. The viewer is left on the edge of his/her seat wondering who will be next, when will the main male character be on the tape, will the main male character ever finish the tapes, will any of them crack and tell their parents, etc. Viewers experience the main character's perspective and side with Hannah about how she had her revenge but viewers lose sight that it was her choice. The show never describes the infinitely preferable options available to Hannah or others struggling with suicidal thoughts.
Being exposed to sensationalized or graphic accounts of suicide will not lead to a person to decide to take their life. There are many other risk factors including history of mental illness, prolonged stress, substance abuse, access, family history of suicide, and more.
If your teen is struggling with a mental health issue or suicidal idealization, it might be triggering and traumatizing for them to watch the series.
IF You Choose To Let Them Watch...
Watch it with them. This show can be an opportunity for you to discuss relevant issues with your teenagers. Be CURIOUS about THEIR opinions, EXPLORE options that Hannah could have taken, WHO in their lives do they feel they could talk to about any of the problems she experiences, and most importantly don't be afraid to ASK if your teen has ever had thoughts of killing themselves.
Here is a Common Sense Media article that list five conversations to have with your teen about 13 Reasons Why.
You might want to watch it first so you know what you are about to see with your teen. Understand this is a DRAMA series and viewed through a fictional teenager's perspective.
IF You Choose Not To...
If you say no, stay calm and explain your thoughts on the matter. Then LISTEN to your teen's reasons for why they believe they should. You can VALIDATE their feelings while also setting firm BOUNDARIES.
An article by Rachel Sloan describes how triggering this show can be for someone who lives with a mental health disorder.
Westbrook Youth and Family Services: 860-399-9239
Emergency Mobile Psychiatric Services - Dial 211 when a child is at risk of acting dangerously, threatening to hurt himself or others or having a behavioral crisis you cannot handle.
Suicide Prevention - In crisis? Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Or especially for teens or youth: Text 741741 when in crisis. Anytime or anywhere. A live, trained counselor receives the text and will respond promptly. Crisistextline.org is an anonymous service.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention - https://afsp.org/about-suicide/risk-factors-and-warning-signs/