The Netflix original series 13 Reasons Why has caused much controversy since its release. The show centers on a high schooler, Hannah, who commits suicide and leaves behind 13 cassette tapes for 13 people who contributed to her death. The tapes cycle through a lying boy who starts a rumor about Hannah, a backstabbing best friend, a rapist, and an unhelpful school counselor, to name a few. One by one, they have to listen to the reason they contributed to Hannah’s death and then pass it on to the next person on Hannah’s list.
Many people, including suicide prevention groups and survivors, have spoken out against the show. They say it romanticizes suicide and can be a trigger for someone who is going through a similar time in their life. However, the writers and directors of 13 Reasons Why speak out on its behalf to support their decision on how and why the show was created as it was. They say it needed to be shown in a way that is true to the experience that people have with suicide and was meant to get a conversation going about bullying, depression, sexual assault, and suicide. So should teens and young adults be watching this series? As a parent, you need to be aware of both sides of the argument to make the decision on whether you will let your son or daughter watch the show.
Reasons Why It Should Be Watched:
It shows how actions and words can significantly affect a person’s life. Bullying is a real problem in schools today, and this series brings to light the affects that bullying can have on teenagers. If you take anything away from this series it will be that kindness can save a life.
It portrays the pressures that young people experience at school’s that parents and adults often minimize or deny. The series brought to light the issues that teenagers go through in high school and may give parents the opportunity to start a conversation with their children about what is going on in their lives and what they are feeling.
It shows how much suicide can affect the family as a whole. When a person decides to commit suicide they often do it as a way to escape from the pain they are dealing with in their life. What they do not realize is that the pain does not go away after they are gone, but transfers over to the remaining family left without them there.
It offers hope to young people watching the show that they are not alone in their feelings. It shows that they are not the only one dealing with issues of depression or suicidal ideations. It is more common than they might believe and they should not feel ashamed for speaking up to someone about what they are going through.
Reasons Why It Should Not Be Watched:
The show portrays power being gained after suicide. Hannah did not feel as though she had control of what she was going through until after the tapes were sent to each person, forcing them to finally listen to her and do as she wished. This sends the wrong message to young adults that the only way to gain power in their situation is to commit the act.
It blames others for why she committed suicide. Many times the family and friends of someone who commits suicide has survivor’s guilt and blames themselves for the suicide whether they had reasons to or not. While some of those individuals in “13 Reasons Why” should be held responsible for their actions, it misleads people who are watching the show into believing that there is someone to blame for a suicide.
It showed a lack of options and alternatives to suicide. The show put a lot of weight on kindness being able to “fix” someone when in reality that person may need help from a professional in order to combat what they are going through. In the very last episode Hannah reaches out to a school counselor as a last ditch effort for help, but the counselor ended up not being able to help Hannah at all. This can send a message to young people in a similar situation that it is not worth it to reach out to an adult or professional in a time of need.
Experts believe that the show can lead to a contagion effect. Suicide prevention groups advise against showing specifics on how to commit suicide. When this is portrayed in the media, it can encourage copycat behavior. The final episode of “13 Reasons Why” is a graphic portrayal of Hannah’s death that shows specifics on how she committed the act. Many advised against putting this in the series, but the makers decided to keep it in the show to be real and raw.
“13 Reasons Why” is rated TV-MA which is intended for mature audiences only and has a “viewer discretion is advised” message before multiple episodes with more graphic scenes (the episodes that portrayed sexual assault and Hannah’s death). It is important for you, as a parent, to use your discretion on whether you think your child will be able to handle the serious issues presented in this series. If you choose not to allow your child to watch the show, Netflix does have the option for parental controls so that you can restrict a user from accessing this series. If you do let your child watch the series I think it is very important to also have them watch the 30 minute after show that follows the series. During this segment the cast and creators speak more about mental illness and suicide-prevention information and hotlines.
Although “13 Reasons Why” does portray very serious issues in a raw matter, the subjects are very real and the show can be used as a way to start a conversation with your children. Open communication about suicide and depression is vital. Getting your child to talk about the reasons they are struggling in their life at the moment is not where the discussion should end though. There also needs to be talk about the reasons they should live, and the future they can look forward to.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide or needs emotional support, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273 TALK (8255), or you can visit their website suicidepreventionlifeline.org.