It’s a new series on Netflix that’s causing a lot of controversy – and if you have a teen in your life, you need to know why so many mental health professionals are concerned.
The series is called “13 Reasons Why,” and it tells the story of a 17-year-old girl, Hannah Baker, who commits suicide – and who blames others for what happened. The story unfolds through the cassette tapes Hannah posthumously leaves for the 13 people she blames for her decision to end her life.
Experts are concerned that the show glamorizes suicide and might encourage suicide-susceptible teens to copycat Hannah’s behavior.
There is good reason for concern: Suicide is the third leading cause of death among Americans between 10 and 24 according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Also, there is evidence that suicide is contagious, especially among teens and young adults.
Here’s what you need to know about “13 Reasons Why.”
- Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” is based on the New York Times bestselling book by the same name. It deviates in some ways from the book – most notably in how Hannah’s death is depicted. In the book, she kills herself by taking pills, a fact that is mentioned in passing. In the series, however, Hannah slices her wrists with a razor blade in a graphic and unflinching scene.
- If reaction on social media is a gauge of popularity, then “13 Reasons Why” is a hit among teens. There are more than 11 million tweets about the show, making it Netflix’s most tweeted about program this year.
- While it’s aimed at teens, “13 Reasons Why” is not appropriate for teens. Widespread concern from mental health experts has pushed Netflix to give it a TV-MA rating and add “additional advisories” and warnings. Along with the graphic portrayal of Hannah’s suicide, the series also explicitly depicts two separate instances of rape, and it glamorizes teen drinking, drug use, and sexual activities.
- The National Association of School Psychologists has issued a statement addressing its concerns about “13 Reasons Why,” pointing out that young people might “romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies.”
- “13 Reasons Why” violates almost all of the media guidelines from various prominent expert organizations about how to deal with the topic of suicide in a responsible, non-triggering way.
- Some schools in Canada have even banned conversation about the show. It’s disturbing that officials at one elementary school felt it necessary to ask parents to tell their kids to not talk about the program at school.
- Netflix has already signed on for a second season of the show, so the controversy won’t be going away any time soon.
Of course, the decision whether or not to allow your teen to watch this program is up to you as parents, but our recommendation would be to have your child forego watching this series.
But please don’t think that if your teen doesn’t watch the series, you don’t have to talk to them about it. Chances are, your child will still know about its themes and troubling content from conversations they’re having at school and with friends.
For that reason, I hope you’ll read “13 Reasons Why Not,” by Danny Huerta, who serves as Focus’ vice president of parenting and youth. Danny is a licensed clinical social worker and family counselor who has worked with many children and teens in his private practice. He gives us 13 messages every young adult needs to hear in his must-read article that will help parents talk with their kids about the flawed premise of the show.
Finally, a few weeks ago I shared advice from our counselors on teen suicide clusters that included five things parents can do to help protect their children from suicide.
As always, I want you to know that Focus on the Family exists to offer you biblically based help and support. If you want to talk with one of our licensed counselors at no cost, please call 1-855-771-HELP (4357) weekdays between 6:00 A.M. and 8:00 P.M. (MT). One of our staff members will take your contact information, and a counselor will call you back just as soon as possible. (If you or someone you know is actively suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.)
I’m interested in hearing from you: What do you think about “13 Reasons Why”? Will you watch this series or let your child watch it? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments section, below.
Update: We have a new resource to add to what’s listed above. Download our free “Parent’s Guide to 13 Reasons Why” today! It provides information and tips to help parents talk with their teens about bullying, self-injury, sexting, rape and suicide.