Talking with your children about 13 Reasons Why

Posted by Dr. Mark Holodick on 5/1/2017

A new Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, has become a hot topic among teens and tweens throughout the country.  The show is based on a novel in which a teenager commits suicide and leaves behind 13 audio tapes for people in her life that she says played a part in her decision to end her life.  With so many young people watching and talking about the show, or at the very least hearing about it from peers, it’s important that families are equipped with information and resources so that adults can talk to children about the series and the very serious topics presented in it.  As experts in child development and partners in your child’s well-being, we want to help.  Our fulltime staff includes school nurses, health teachers, counselors, psychologists, and social workers who undergo regular professional development and training to help them better identify and support students and families during challenging times.  Sadly, the school counselor in the program is not portrayed as supportive of the main character, and his response to her is woefully inadequate. 

Let me be perfectly clear.  We have no reason to believe that our District or schools are at an increased risk of suicides because of this program.  Rather, we want to present information to families so that they can have productive, meaningful conversations with their children about the show and the warning signs, risk factors, and consequences of suicide.  Here are some things to consider when watching or talking about 13 Reasons Why, along with links to more detailed articles and information.

1. Ask your child if they have seen or heard of the series. If they intend to watch it, tell them you want to watch it with them so that you can discuss their thoughts about it.  Engaging in thoughtful conversations about the show gives you an opportunity to help them process what they are seeing and hearing and, more importantly, to reinforce that suicide is not a solution to problems and help is available.

2. Be aware of these warning signs for suicide, and take them seriously.

  • Suicide threats. These can be direct (I am going to kill myself) or indirect (I wish I could fall asleep and never wake up), and can be either verbal or written, including online.
  • Preoccupation with death in conversation, writing, drawing, or online.
  • Giving away prized possessions.
  • Changes in behavior, appearance, hygiene, thoughts, mood, sleeping patterns, and eating habits.
  • Emotional distress, loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities, and withdrawal.
  • Substance use or abuse.

3. Ask your child if they think any of their friends exhibit the warning signs above, and talk to them about seeking help for that person and not keeping the information secret – even if their friend asked them to.

4. Be knowledgeable about these myths and facts on this important topic.

  • MYTH: Talking about suicide will make someone choose death by suicide.
  • FACT: There is no evidence to suggest that talking about suicide plants the idea.
  • MYTH: People who struggle with depression and mental illness are just weak.
  • FACT: Depression and mental illness are serious health conditions and are treatable.
  • MYTH: People who talk about suicide won’t really do it.
  • FACT: People who are thinking about suicide, particularly young people, typically show warning signs as listed above. Always take a threat seriously.

5. If you are concerned about your child or one of their peers, seek help from a mental health professional, either within the school or in the community.

6. If a student or adult is struggling with thoughts of suicide, text START to 741741 or call 800-273-TALK or 911.

Most importantly, keep the lines of communication with your child open and contact us any time if you need support or assistance.  Below are links to more detailed information from the National Association of School Psychologists, SAVE, and Nemours.