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Talking to Your Child about "13 Reasons Why"

Beth Hess - Friday, May 19, 2017
The Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, is raising concerns among educators, behavioral health providers, parents/caregivers and others. 13 Reasons Why is a Netflix TV series about a fictional 17-year old named Hannah Baker, a troubled and bullied high school student, who takes her own life. Throughout the show, there are a series of audiotapes that describe the 13 reasons why Hannah took her own life. Each show is graphic, with scenes of sexual assault, underage drinking, bullying and suicide.

The show is raising concerns for many reasons.  It portrays suicide as a reasonable option, and seems to blame others for her suicide.  It does nothing to emphasize that there are many positive options for support and treatment for her.  Also, there are no positive relationships between youth and adults in the show; the 13th reason why Hannah kills herself is because the guidance counselor is not helpful. Another concern is the graphic depiction of Hannah’s death.  Finally, this show is easily accessible, and youth are binge-watching the series in a matter of days – without debriefing with an adult.

Guidance for Parents and Caregivers (Adapted from the National Association of School Psychologists)
  • Talk to your child about whether they have seen 13 Reasons Why.
  • If they insist on watching the show, view it with them.
  • Have conversations with your children about their thoughts and comments, and listen without judgement and remain calm.
  • If you are concerned that your child is contemplating suicide, ask your child if they have thought about suicide.  Talking about suicide with your child does not increase their risk. If you are concerned about your child’s health or safety, talk to community or school mental health professionals. (Adapted from a publication of MD-SPIN in conjunction with the Center for School Mental Health)
Resources for Seeking Help
There are a number of resources available with information about suicide and suicide prevention.  See this Fact Sheet on youth suicide created by the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.  Also, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Grassroots Crisis Intervention have created a smart phone app for Maryland residents, “There is Hope.”

The “There is Hope” app provides help to someone at risk of taking their life, or for those concerned about family members or friends who are having suicidal thoughts. You’ll find valuable information including:
  • Safety planning
  • Warning signs
  • Risk factors
  • Tips on how to talk to someone 
  • Information about trainings to increase suicidal prevention skills

The app also includes an immediate connection to crisis counselors who will deliver help and hope for preventing suicide. Download the app from the Apple App Store and Android Google Play Store.

Tragically, the teen suicide rate is especially high among the LGBT population.  The Trevor Project specifically targets LGBT youth for suicide prevention. See www.thetrevorproject.org.

Some youth may be more comfortable texting rather than calling a hotline.  There is a 24/7 national suicide texting line:  text “START” to 741741.


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