Is “13 Reasons Why” a hot topic at your school? Educators we’ve talked with have certainly at least overheard students talking about the series on Netflix. Based on a Young Adult book of the same title, the series has kicked up controversy in the U.S. and other countries and, for a number of reasons, shouldn’t be left just to kids and the news media to discuss.
The series has its proponents as well as critics. On one hand, it exposes issues today’s high school students often face (among them, depression, bullying, sexual assault and suicide); on the other – if viewed uncritically – it could expose vulnerable young people to way too much. It’s about what happens after a suicide and – as Headspace, Australia’s mental healthcare hotline for schools, told a reporter – it irresponsibly suggests that suicide can somehow right wrongs or cause resolution for the person who has died; and younger or more impressionable people may not yet fully comprehend the finality of death. However, some young people have said the story gives them a better understanding of how much suffering suicide can create for friends and relatives – something they hadn’t thought about.
Fortunately, suicide prevention experts have weighed into the discussion and are offering advice and talking points. Here are advice for young viewers and parents and talking points for educators and clinicians developed by the New York-based Jed Foundation and Suicide Awareness Voices of America (SAVE). As for Netflix, Jed – which is very critical of the series – reports that the entertainment company “was supportive of the distribution of the Talking Points and posted them along with crisis services and a link to additional information about young adult mental health on the official 13RY resource website. Netflix also filmed ‘Beyond the Reasons‘ as a tool to help parents and teens frame the conversation and encourage them to speak up and seek help. The show is rated TV MA and there are trigger warning cards prior to three of the episodes.”
It’s our hope that parents and educators will ask their kids if they’re watching the series and, if they are, whether they’re watching it with friends and, ideally, an adult – not alone. Then don’t hesitate to talk about an episode while it’s fresh in everybody’s minds. Perspective can really help.
- In her well-reported commentary in Britain’s The Guardian, columnist Zoe Williams does not hold back: “It’s a revenge fantasy, so it portrays suicide as an act that will achieve something…. It normalises and legitimises the act.”
- The news coverage has been extensive. Here’s CNN’s “Why teen mental health experts are focused on ’13 Reasons Why’“
- If “13 Reasons Why” is popular among your students, you could turn the news coverage in these links into a media literacy lesson as well as discussion on the series itself. Here are guidelines for responsible reporting (provided by the suicide prevention community to protect the public). You and your students could analyze various news stories to see if they follow the guidelines – even together write letters to the editor if they don’t. This demonstrates that media literacy is protective of people as well as civic engagement.
- “New Zealand Teens Now Need Adult Supervision To Watch ‘13 Reasons Why’“
- “Does 13 Reasons Why’ Glamorize Teen Suicide?” in Rolling Stone
- “Schools warn parents about ’13 Reasons Why’” at ABC News
- “Netflix is close to renewing ’13 Reasons Why’ – But Should It?” in TV Guide’s blog
For suicide prevention resources specifically for schools, scroll down to “Bullying and suicide” on this page in our Resources section.