Should I Let My Teen Watch 13 Reasons Why?
When Netflix released 13 Reasons Why in 2017, the show was met with a slew of controversy. The story takes place in the weeks following the suicide of a high school student named Hannah Baker. The series follows her peers as they unravel her story by listening to 13 tape recordings she left behind. Each tape details how different people in her life contributed to her choice to end her life. Many praised the series for shedding light on serious topics that society critically needs to address. Others felt that it romanticized suicide and would encourage vulnerable viewers toward self-harm.
How do I know if my child can handle it?
While most experts can see both pros and cons to the show, allowing your child to watch it should be a personal decision based on your child’s emotional maturity and mental well-being.
13 Reasons Why is not for everyone, so our specialists have developed these questions to help you decide whether or not to let your child view it:
1. Does my child want to watch it?
If your child hasn’t expressed any interest in viewing 13 Reasons Why, experts don’t believe parents should encourage it. While it’s important to discuss topics such as suicide, mental health, and sexual assault with your child, there are healthier ways to approach these topics than exposing them to the show’s graphic violence. If your child has expressed an interest in viewing the show, ask yourself the following questions before allowing them to do so.
2. Has my child been diagnosed with a mental illness?
If your child has been diagnosed with a mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, depression, or anxiety, it’s best to not allow them to watch 13 Reasons Why. Even if they have received treatment and their symptoms appear to be stabilized, the themes and images presented in the show may trigger previously harmful thoughts and emotions. Another thing to consider is that suicide has a genetic component; if mental illness and suicide run in your family, it may be wise to avoid letting your child watch the show.
3. What’s been going on in my child’s life lately?
Whether or not your child has a mental illness, consider any stressful or traumatic events that your child may have been exposed to in recent months. Did they move or change schools? Have they witnessed any violence? Did a loved one die? The story line in 13 Reasons Why shows Hannah resorting to self-harm after a series of traumatic events. If your child has recently gone through a difficult time, it is probably not a good time for them to view this series.
4. Can I commit to watching it with my child?
The National Association of Suicide Prevention recommends that children watch the show with a trusted adult. This will enable open communication about the series and will also help you control the rate at which your child watches it. If you’ve ever binge-watched a show with British actors, you may have noticed that after 5 or 6 episodes in, your thoughts start taking on a British accent. Even if your child is emotionally healthy, consuming several hours of the show at once can contribute to increased thoughts surrounding death, self-harm, and suicide.
5. What are their “resiliency resources”?
Resiliency refers to a person’s ability to recover from difficulties. While most people experience depression or trauma at some point in life, those who die by suicide tend to have a very low perception of self-resiliency. Before allowing your child to watch the show, consider their attitude and resources surrounding resiliency. Some questions to ask yourself are:
- Does our family openly communicate?
- Does my child have high self-esteem?
- Is my child well connected with peers and school resources?
- What are my child’s religious beliefs about suicide and coping with difficulty?
- Does my child have adaptive coping skills? (Do they tend to “roll with the punches” when times get tough, or do they find it hard to adjust when challenges arise?)
- Does our family have access to mental health and medical resources?
6. Will I investigate the show’s inaccuracies?
Because there are several aspects of the show that may be perceived in inaccurate or harmful ways, parents should discuss those issues to help their children shed light on the truth. For example, the show gives the sense that Hannah is receiving resolution in death through her tapes that detail how the people she left behind did her wrong. The truth is, when a person dies by suicide there is no resolution. There is no revenge. They don’t get to see the reactions of others after they are gone. They don’t feel a sense of justice or peace. For a helpful resource on concerning inaccuracies in the show, check out this letter written by school psychology experts to Netflix and the show’s producers:
7. Am I aware of suicide warning signs?
Before allowing your child to watch 13 Reasons Why, you should familiarize yourself with common red flags of suicide. If your child exhibits any of these symptoms before, during, or after watching the series, you should immediately stop allowing them to view it:
- Giving away prized possessions
- Behavioral changes – I.e. – withdrawal, increased disciplinary incidents at school, etc.
- Changes in their appearance, self-care, or hygiene
- Major mood fluctuations (this could include someone that is usually sad acting extremely happy)
- Changes in grades and school performance
- Preoccupation with death in conversations, social media, drawings, or writings
- Suicidal threats – either direct threats such as, “I want to kill myself,” or indirect threats such as, “I want to fall asleep and never wake up”
8. Do I know how to respond to warning signs?
A major criticism of the show has been its portrayal of adults being untrustworthy and incompetent in supporting their kids. Before allowing your child to watch the show, educate yourself on ways to help children that exhibit possible warning signs. If you have concerns about your child’s mental health, here are a few tips for supporting them:
- Listen while remaining calm and nonjudgmental
- Ask them directly if they’ve considered suicide
- Do not minimize their pain (avoid phrases like, “you need to get over it,” or, “this wouldn’t have happened if you would have listened to me in the first place”)
- Keep your comments focused on their well-being
- Reassure your child that help is available and you are committed to getting them the support they need
- Validate their feelings, but assure them that they will not feel this way forever
- Do not let your child be left unsupervised
- Remove possible tools for self-harm such as firearms, knives, belts, ropes, razor blades, or medications
- Get help immediately – never agree to keep their suicidal thoughts a secret
Variations can help
Dr. Jill S. Kapil, Psy.D., specializes in supporting teens, young adults, and “millennials” through major life transitions including experiences related to high school or college life, depression, bullying, abuse, or relationship problems. Dr. Kapil empowers her patients to overcome anxiety, low self-esteem, and other stressors that impact their emotional well-being.
Dr. Christopher J. Sample, Psy.D. specializes in supporting teen and adult men through life’s transitions. While many guys find it challenging to talk openly about their emotions, Dr. Sample is experienced in helping men cope with issues such as relationship struggles, problems at school or work, addiction, anger, anxiety, depression, and trauma. Dr. Sample provides a comfortable place for men to overcome obstacles and gain the tools for leading successful and fulfilling lives.
Cynthia Johnson, LMFT, is a specialist in Parenting and Child Therapy at Variations Psychology. She has years of experience in supporting families through life’s challenges including depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Cynthia works with each family to help them develop healthy coping skills and strengthen relationships between parents, teens, and children.
Dr. Marta M. Shinn, Ph.D., is an expert in child and educational psychology. In many cases, children struggling with suicidal thoughts exhibit at-risk behaviors at school. Dr. Shinn helps families advocate for their child’s rights and understand effective ways to support their child’s mental health management both at school and at home.
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More about Variations Psychology
Variations Psychology is a group practice composed of specialists in a variety of psychology domains including Clinical Psychology, School and Educational Psychology, Child Development, Psychological Testing, Educational Testing, and Training.
Our specialists provide therapy to children, adolescents, adults, couples and families. We also conduct diagnostic testing of child and adult conditions (e.g. ADHD, Autism, Depression, Anxiety, Learning Disorders).
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