‘13 Reasons’ Sparks Discussion about Exposing Young Adults to Teen Suicide

by Emma Shuster ‘18

The hit Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” about teen rape, assault, bullying, and suicide has prompted many schools, including Sherwood, to issue warnings to parents.

On March 31, Netflix released “13 Reasons Why,” based on an original story by Jay Asher. The series centers around the suicide of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) and focuses on Clay Jensen’s (Dylan Minnette) experience with the tapes Hannah left explaining why she ended her life. Shortly after its release on Netflix, the show became a sensational hit, earning a high level of popularity amongst teens.

MCPS has communicated its concerns about the series. “We want to be proactive with our community and let parents know that students are hearing about this show and watching this show,” MCPS spokesperson Derek Turner said. “It does have some very adult themes that discuss suicide and romanticizes it.”

Sherwood’s letter, sent home May 2 by Principal Bill Gregory, advises parents to monitor changes in their child’s behavior and steer them away from the series. Letters about “13 Reasons Why” were initially sent to parents at North Bethesda Middle School, Julius West Middle School, Herbert Hoover Middle School, and Pyle Middle School, but by May 4, many other high schools sent out letters as well.

The Sherwood letter states “mental health professionals are concerned that adolescents who watch the series without an adult available to process the themes and their feelings may be more likely to imitate these at-risk behaviors. The National Association of School Psychologists (2017) states, “While many youth are resilient and capable of differentiating between a TV drama and real life, engaging in thoughtful conversations with them about the show is vital. Doing so presents an opportunity to help them process the issues addressed, consider
the consequences of certain choices, and reinforce the message that suicide is not a solution to the problems and that help is available.”

Despite its mature content and messages, the show has gained in popularity and has been renewed for a second season. According to  journalist Corey Chichizola, “in response to criticism, Netflix and the folks behind ‘13 Reasons  Why’ are including additional content warnings to the series. While two of the show’s more graphic episodes already had these types of warnings, now a lengthy one regarding the series as a whole will be streamed before the first episode. Additionally, according to Deadline, the language and verbiage of existing warnings will be strengthened, as will the message to seek help and resources over at 13ReasonsWhy. info.”

School staff continue to fear that depressed students will keep their problems to themselves rather than seeking help from parents and school officials. Counselors are urging parents to be aware of the mature content their children may be watching and assure them that they are there to listen.

“I personally wish the show never came out. I think for those students who are emotionally fragile and see it without any kind of parental support, it could not be positive. Now that it is out there, I recommend that a student do watch it with their parents,” said counselor Elizabeth Al-Atrash.

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