13 Reasons Why: What Parents Need to Know About This Netflix Series

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May 23, 2018

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Table of Contents

13 Reasons Why is a Netflix show based on a 2007 novel by the same name that depicts suicide in a graphic manner and is incredibly popular with teens. Many educators and psychologists have raised concerns that the show may serve as a trigger for self-injury among vulnerable students.

SEASON 1 Parent Guide to 13 Reasons Why

SEASON 2 Parent Guide to 13 Reasons Why

With so many resources available and so many people wanting to help, suicide can be prevented. Check on your friends and family members often and let them know you’re there for them. Let’s work towards getting rid of the stigma of talking about mental health. 

If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or call 911 immediately. If you’re uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can also text HOME to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.

Season 1 Parent Synopsis for 13 Reasons Why

  • 13 Reasons Why is a Netflix series that depicts suicide in a graphic manner and is incredibly popular with teens. Currently, the show has 2 seasons available to watch on Netflix
  • In season 1, the show focuses on a high school student named Clay and his friend Hannah
  • Hannah takes her own life and leaves behind a set of cassette tapes that describe the 13 reasons why she ended her life
  • Hannah dedicates each one of the 13 tapes to a different classmate who has hurt her in some way
  • Difficult subject matter is a common focus on the show like bullying, drunk driving, rape, self-harm, and suicide
  • The show can be very graphic. There are several episodes in season 1 that showcase difficult subject matter in great detail
  • For season 1, Netflix released a 30 minute special called “Beyond the Reasons,” that has mental health professionals, cast members, writers, and producers discussing the difficult themes presented in the show

Season 2 Parent Synopsis for 13 Reasons Why

  • Season 2 focuses on how Hannah’s classmates are coping with her suicide (which was graphically depicted in season 1)
  • Similar to the tapes in season 1, polaroids are discovered which reveal more information about the suicide
  • Experts have pointed out that each character in the series is defined almost exclusively by their trauma
  • Parents and mental health experts are raising serious concerns over the depiction of male rape and a thwarted school shooting in season 2
  • Instead of alerting the police of a school shooter, the main character confronts the shooter on his own. This scene particularly has raised major concerns from the mental health community because it sends the wrong message to students
  • In season 2 Netflix added video messages before every episode with the cast warning viewers that the show "may not be right" for them if they struggle with any of the issues the series is about. They also urge viewers to watch the series with a trusted adult and to reach out to someone if they are in crisis
  • Difficult subject matter is a common focus on the show such as bullying, drunk driving, rape, self-harm, assault, substance abuse, gun violence, extramarital affairs, consent, and suicide
  • There are several episodes that showcase these difficult topics in a graphic manner

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What do parents need to know about season 1?

  • 13 Reasons Why is incredibly popular with teens. According to a marketing analytics firm, the first season of the show was the second-most viewed Netflix season in the first 30 days after it premiered
  • Parents will see an uptick in popularity since season 2 of the show was released on May 18, 2018
  • Many educators and psychologists have raised concerns that the show may serve as a trigger for self-injury among vulnerable students
  • In New Zealand, students under the age of 18 are strongly discouraged from watching the series without a parent or guardian present
  • Netflix added strong advisory warnings before episodes 1, 12, and 13 of the first season due to the portrayal of suicide and self-harm
  • After every episode there are mental health resources and a message that depression and suicide can be effectively treated by a qualified mental health professional
  • Episode 13 of season 1 is very graphic and shows Hannah’s suicide in great detail
  • A recent study found that the release of 13 Reasons Why corresponded with between 900,000 - 1,500,000 more suicide related internet searches in the U.S., including a 26% increase in searches for "how to commit suicide"
  • Some mental health professionals criticize the show for showcasing misleading information which could deter vulnerable students from seeking help. For example, Hannah’s counselor says they can’t report her sexual assault to the police without her identifying the assailant
  • Over the course of the first season, the following difficult topics are presented: bullying, drunk driving, rape, self-harm and suicide
  • Some say the show sends a dangerous message that suicide can be used to “get back” at others
  • Some of the mental health organizations and educators who have released statements regarding the risks the show poses are: the National Association of School Psychologists, the Superintendent of Palm Beach County, Florida schools, the U.S. Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, and the Canadian Mental Health Association

What do parents need to know about season 2?

  • Many mental health experts fear that the series could prompt suicidal thoughts in vulnerable students and encourage students to handle difficult matters on their own, like the characters do on the show
  • The character who committed suicide in season 1 has a major role in season 2
  • This seems to tell students that if they end their life they can still influence and/or interact and watch their friends and family
  • After receiving criticism for being too graphic during season 1, Netflix added additional video warnings before each episode
  • Viewers have taken to social media to say that they didn’t feel the video warnings before each episode were adequate
  • A very graphic scene in the season 2 finale is concerning. Despite trying to use techniques to de-escalate bullying (that he learned in treatment), a student is raped as if nothing he learned in treatment could have helped him avoid the incident. This incident is what leads him to attempt a school shooting
  • This plot line can be a very dangerous message for vulnerable students to receive because it showcases that techniques learned in treatment do not work and the only solution is to be violent
  • There have been reports of copycat suicides happening after the release of the first season; where the deceased left tapes behind explaining their reasoning

13 Reasons Why Season 1 in the News:

A Florida school superintendent told parents in a letter that his district has seen a rapid rise in at-risk behavior at elementary and middle schools — including self-harming and suicide threats — in the wake of a graphic Netflix series about a 17-year-old girl’s suicide called ‘13 Reasons Why.’ –Washington Post
[13 Reasons Why] was not written and produced in a way that truly provided information about suicide prevention, mental illness, and substance usage that most often contribute to suicide. –Psychology Today
Some mental health experts fear the show could glorify teen suicide for those on the edge. –NBC

13 Reasons Why Season 2 in the News:

The final episode of the season highlights how these sudden and shocking tone shifts are intended to provoke controversy, more so than conversation, and also highlight how the introductory PSAs are little more than a Band-Aid solution for a series that is more interested in getting a third season rather than actually helping young people. –The Guardian
[The] clinical director of the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, who has watched both seasons, said she found the show so disturbing that at times — particularly a scene in the new season in which a male student is raped in a bathroom — she had to look away. –NBC
[A scene in season 2] has reignited controversy over the show, with some viewers saying they were ‘disgusted’ by the scene and calling for the show to be canceled. –Vulture
Many mental-health advocates argued that such meticulous depictions can actually inspire copycats, regardless of the scene’s intended effect. –Vanity Fair

What Parents Say About 13 Reasons Why:

I feel as if the show gives only one alternative for cyberbullying and other teenage issues.
Parents would have to know about what this show has in terms of content in order to think about putting restrictions on it.

Source: ABC News

What can parents do?

  • We recommend that students younger than 18 years old do not watch this series
  • Be aware of the show, it’s graphic nature, and the topics portrayed
  • Ensure that your children know that the show is not reality and can romanticize self-harm
  • Parents can create a PIN which allows them to view the Netflix series before giving their students access to it
  • Parents can watch the show to better understand the perspective of a vulnerable student
  • Teach your children that they can always come to you or a trusted adult if they have an incident, want to talk, or have questions
  • If you decide that your teen is ready to watch 13 Reasons Why, watch it with them and use it as an opportunity to start an open dialog about the sensitive topics presented in the show
  • Teach your student to never confront someone in a dangerous situation -- especially if they have a weapon. Instead they should alert authorities, teachers, parents, or trusted adults right away
  • Tell your students to follow their gut, if something doesn’t feel right they need to seek help from an adult

National Association of School Psychologists Tips for Parents

  • Parents, ask your child if they have heard or seen the series 13 Reasons Why. While we don’t recommend that they be encouraged to view the series, do tell them you want to watch it, with them or to catch up, and discuss their thoughts
  • If they exhibit any of the warning signs, don’t be afraid to ask if they have thought about suicide or if someone is hurting them. Raising the issue of suicide does not increase the risk or plant the idea. On the contrary, it creates the opportunity to offer help
  • Ask your child if they think any of their friends or classmates exhibit warning signs. Talk with them about how to seek help for their friend or classmate. Guide them on how to respond when they see or hear any of the warning signs
  • Listen to your children’s comments without judgment. Doing so requires that you fully concentrate, understand, respond, and then remember what is being said. Put your own agenda aside
  • Get help from a school-employed or community-based mental health professional if you are concerned for your child’s safety or the safety of one of their peers

National Association of School Psychologists Tips for Educators

  • While we do not recommend that all students view this series, it can be appreciated as an opportunity to better understand young people’s experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Children and youth who view this series will need supportive adults to process it. Take this opportunity to both prevent the risk of harm and identify ongoing social and behavior problems in the school community that may need to be addressed
  • Help students articulate their perceptions when viewing controversial content, such as 13 Reasons Why. The difficult issues portrayed do occur in schools and communities, and it is important for adults to listen, take adolescents’ concerns seriously, and be willing to offer to help
  • Reinforce that school-employed mental health professionals are available to help. Emphasize that the behavior of the second counselor in the series is understood by virtually all school-employed mental health professionals as inappropriate. It is important that all school-employed mental health professionals receive training in suicide risk assessment
  • Make sure parents, teachers, and students are aware of suicide risk warning signs. Always take warning signs seriously, and never promise to keep them secret. Establish a confidential reporting mechanism for students
  • Common signs include:
  • ~~Suicide threats, both direct (“I am going to kill myself.” “I need life to stop.”) and indirect (“I need it to stop.” “I wish I could fall asleep and never wake up.”). Threats can be verbal or written, and they are often found in online postings
  • ~~Giving away prized possessions
  • ~~Preoccupation with death in conversation, writing, drawing, and social media
  • ~~Changes in behavior, appearance/hygiene, thoughts, and/or feelings. This can include someone who is typically sad who suddenly becomes extremely happy
  • ~~Emotional distress
  • Students who feel suicidal are not likely to seek help directly; however, parents, school personnel, and peers can recognize the warning signs and take immediate action to keep the youth safe

When a student gives signs that they may be considering suicide, take the following actions:

  • Remain calm, be nonjudgmental, and listen. Strive to understand the intolerable emotional pain that has resulted in suicidal thoughts
  • Avoid statements that might be perceived as minimizing the student’s emotional pain (e.g., “You need to move on." or "You should get over it.”)
  • Ask the student directly if they are thinking about suicide (i.e., "Are you thinking of suicide?")
  • Focus on your concern for their well-being and avoid being accusatory
  • Reassure the student that there is help and they will not feel like this forever
  • Provide constant supervision. Do not leave the student alone
  • Without putting yourself in danger, remove means for self-harm, including any weapons the person might find
  • Get help. Never agree to keep a student's suicidal thoughts a secret. Instead, school staff should take the student to a school-employed mental health professional
  • Parents should seek help from school or community mental health resources. Students should tell an appropriate caregiving adult, such as a school psychologist, administrator, parent, or teacher
  • School or district officials should determine how to handle memorials after a student has died. Promote memorials that benefit others (e.g., donations for a suicide prevention program) and activities that foster a sense of hope and encourage positive action. The memorial should not glorify, highlight, or accentuate the individual’s death. It may lead to imitative behaviors or a suicide contagion
  • Reinforcing resiliency factors can lessen the potential of risk factors that lead to suicidal ideation and behaviors. Once a child or adolescent is considered at risk, schools, families, and friends should work to build these factors in and around the youth
  • Family support and cohesion, including good communication
  • Peer support and close social networks
  • School and community connectedness
  • Cultural or religious beliefs that discourage suicide and promote healthy living
  • Adaptive coping and problem-solving skills, including conflict resolution
  • General life satisfaction, good self-esteem, and a sense of purpose
  • Easy access to effective medical and mental health resources
  • Strive to ensure that all student spaces on campus are monitored and that the school environment is truly safe, supportive, and free of bullying
  • If additional guidance is needed, ask for support from your building- or district-level crisis team. The team may be able to assist with addressing unique situations affecting your building

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