To Think About … 13 Reasons Why is Coming Back. How Can We Prepare Better …

13 Reasons Why Is Back. What Now?

By now you’ve probably heard that 13 Reasons Why is back for a second season in 2018, and whether you’re in love with that idea or not (and I honestly have mixed emotions), it’s happening because it’s just so ridiculously popular. The troubling Netflix series has been incredibly successful with young audiences, inspiring a frenzy of social media, memes, and renewed excitement over cassette tape players. More importantly though, the show is also getting people and school administrations to have conversations about tough issues, which is what the producers (like Selena Gomez) claim is the actual goal behind it.

One of the most upsetting things for me about the series was that the first season was thrust into popular culture without much “viewer beware” warning. Leaving many school administrators and parents playing catch up and unable to address in a timely manner many of the weighty issues the series covered. I love when popular culture delivers us a platform (in this case the graphic Netflix series) to use to speak with our children about hard to understand and approach issues, but a little heads up (and less graphic visuals) would have been helpful. Perhaps they felt they needed a “sneak attack” approach In order to hook the tweens and teens. For a little while, the show and all it’s graphic details was their “secret” until we older folks took notice. One thing that holds true in this country is that popularity reigns supreme. Because of the show’s crazy success, 13 Reasons Why has gotten the go-ahead for another season. The fans are getting what they want, and as parents we should all prepare for it. At least time we have more of a warning and can get engaged.

I can’t deny that 13 Reasons Why definitely tackles some controversial, stigmatized topics that tend to get ignored otherwise. And since we can’t possibly stop our kids from watching the most popular TV series in recent history, we should take advantage of the opportunity to talk to them about these issues. These days, with our 24/7 connectedness our kids are going to be exposed to things – harsh things – that we’d prefer to shield them from or at least talk about with them ourselves. And this show is no different.

13RW will be back on Netflix soon enough, so here’s some background information and ways to have these important conversations with your kids. (Note: spoilers ahead!)

The Bad Stuff About the Show and The Psychology Behind it

First off, you should be aware that 13 Reasons Why is catching some major heat over its portrayal of suicide and the story surrounding it. The show is basically doing all the things that mental health professionals say the media shouldn’t do – from glamorizing and romanticizing suicide (after killing herself, Hannah Baker finally has everyone caring about her), to leaking the contents of the suicide note (all those 13 tapes of explanation), and relaying the method in which the victim died (there’s a really graphic scene in the show).

Scientific studies show that all of these things tend to increase rates of suicide – it’s called “suicide contagion” and copycats are a real thing. Suicide is currently the third-leading cause of death for teens in the U.S. so there’s a lot of worry that 13 Reasons Why could reinforce unhealthy ideas in the minds of already-at-risk young audiences.

Where else did the show go wrong? Well, mental illness is actually involved in up to 90% of suicides, but 13RW doesn’t mention that. Instead it blames Hannah’s suicide on her actions and the actions of her fellow high schoolers, when it’s usually not that simple at all in the real world. While love and kindness are always important, there’s usually a deeper side to suicide.

Even more worrisome, Hannah uses suicide is a coping mechanism and an act of revenge, and the fact is she does appear to get revenge as the story progresses. The show effectively keeps her “alive” through the tapes, and Hannah seems to get the last word by dying, making her actions seem almost fair or justified, when suicide is actually a very final, irrational solution.

The Good Stuff

Even though they haven’t gotten everything right, the makes of the show no doubt explore some tough issues that teenagers like Hannah Baker might really deal with on a daily basis. Though it’s absolutely terrible stuff – we’re talking bullying, loss of friendships, and even rape – it helps us understand how the things she’s dealing with could easily escalate, pile up, and eventually seem insurmountable. Especially in the mind of an adolescent.

The show also helps us see how and understand how seemingly small things can impact young people’s self-esteem just as much as the big, important stuff. Hannah seems to place just as much emphasis and hurt on the online bullying she experiences as she does on the sexual assault. That’s one of the things the show has been praised for doing well.

Some claim that 13RW could also help us identify warning signs in people who are struggling, and it may lead to someone out there to receive the help they need. It also encourages empathy and kindness toward others, especially when you don’t know what someone else is going through. We learn that taking time to listen could potentially make a huge difference.

And finally, 13 Reasons Why is getting us to discuss suicide and other uncomfortable topics like sexual assault and bullying with our teenagers. Which is great, because according to Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, “There’s been research that shows clearly that suicide risk goes down in youth when there is a strong belief that there are adults in their community who are supportive and trustworthy.”

So that means we should never be afraid to have these conversations with our Kids!

What We Do Now…

If your kids have already watched the first season and if  YOU haven’t, think about catching up and then talk about it with your kids! If they are planning on watching Season 2, maybe you can plan on watching it all together!

The show actually had several mental health experts consulting on set. One of them, a clinical psychologist, Helen Hsu said that ideally, young people will only watch the series with a parent or caregiver. She also believes the show, especially the tougher scenes, could be dangerous for people who are already vulnerable or having thoughts about suicide. The National Association of School Psychologists says that at-risk people shouldn’t watch the show at all because it might discourage them from seeking help. (Netflix has recently added trigger warnings ahead of some episodes.)

13 Reasons Why has already covered all the material from the book it was based on, so what’s likely to come up in Season 2? Well, we’ve got parents struggling with their daughter’s suicide, potential court cases and justice for rape victims, and what looks like a school shooting in the making. So things aren’t getting any lighter. Watcher beware!

It’s heavy, so binge-watching is discouraged. It’s a lot to process.

Having a conversation about it is the most important thing. Be open to your children’s opinions about the show, don’t judge, and listen. See what she took away from it and what lessons she thinks the show conveys. Need some ideas? I’m here to help…

Spark the Conversation:
Ask your kids why they like the show. What do they think it does well? What’s relatable, what’s realistic, and what’s true to life for high schoolers and teenagers?

Do your kids ever witness bullying or see people in her own school being treated badly like Hannah? Is it ever to this extent? Talk about the ways she could help. If she was worried about someone, who would she talk to? Do your kids know the routes to finding professional help at their school?

Do your kids think the show glamorizes suicide or, like the show’s producers, do they think it provides an opportunity for discussion about important issues? Do your kids understand how the show could influence those who are already vulnerable or thinking about suicide? Show them the science behind it! Talk to them about the studies centered around the media’s portrayal of suicide. Sure 13 Reasons Why is trendy and popular, but it involves delicate subjects and it could have a real life impact on the people who watch it.

What do your kids think of Hannah’s course of action? Was it right to “blame” everything on other people? When could she have sought help? How did things get so out of control, and what were her other options?

And remember, you don’t have to have answers. You just need to have the discussions!


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