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We Need to Talk About ‘13 Reasons Why’
Home » Parenting Advice » We Need to Talk About ‘13 Reasons Why’

by Kristen Hallstrom | Manager of Boys Town National Hotline

tags: crisis, Coping Skills for Teens, Digital, Social media, Today's Family

We Need to Talk About ‘13 Reasons Why’

Netflix has added warning cards before three specific episodes of its hugely popular show “13 Reasons Why.” Based on the equally popular 2007 young-adult novel of the same name, the show focuses on the suicide of a teenage girl named Hannah and the cassette tapes she recorded before her death detailing her reasons for taking her life.

The subject of suicide is serious and could stir controversy regardless of how it might be handled. Netflix chose to approach the book’s subject matter in an almost brutally honest and stark manner. The network’s adaptation contains graphic depictions of suicide, rape and other adult situations, which is why it added the warning cards. Parents need to be aware of this before they allow their teens to watch the show.

The show itself is garnering rave reviews — currently sitting at 85 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and scoring 76 points on Metacritic — in large part due to its unflinching look at teen suicide. Because it’s so good, the show is quite popular among teens.

The show does provoke a serious conversation about bullying and suicide. It’s important for teens and parents to understand a few things in relation to these topics and this show:

  • Suicide is never a heroic or romantic act.
  • Suicide is not a common response to adversity. Most people who experience bullying, the death of a friend, or any other adversity described in “13 Reasons Why” do not take their own lives.
  • No one should be blamed when a suicide occurs. Suicide is never the fault of the survivors; it is a choice made by an individual and that individual alone.
  • Most teens who experience suicidal thoughts reach out, talk to others, and seek help or find other productive ways of coping.
  • It is not recommended that vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation, watch this series, as it could lead impressionable viewers to develop revenge fantasies.
  • While the adult characters in the show do not inspire a sense confidence in providing help, kids should not generalize that all adults will respond in this same manner.

Because of the subject matter, the show should not be watched by teens in a vacuum. They need context to understand its tragic story. So, if your teen is watching it or thinking about watching it, offer to watch it with them, and discuss each episode after viewing. At the very least, let them know you are always available to talk if they have questions or concerns, either regarding themselves or their friends at school.

If you suspect that your teen is being bullied and has suicidal thoughts, you can speak to an expert at the Boys Town National Hotline by calling 1-800-448-3000, any time of day or night. Post the number on your fridge, and make sure your teen has it in their phone contacts. Let them know that it’s a free, confidential resource for anyone who needs advice or help with a wide range of crisis issues, such as suicidal thoughts, bullying, and drug and alcohol abuse.

As with a good book, good television programming engenders deep thought and constructive conversation. “13 Reasons Why” is undoubtedly good television. So, if your teen is watching, use it as an opportunity to enrich your relationship with each other so you can be that receptive, nonjudgmental ear they need.