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Statement on "13 Reasons Why" Netflix Series

Dear Geneva 304 Families,

We want to make you aware of a relatively new Netflix series, “13 Reasons Why,” based upon Jay Asher’s 2007 young adult novel.  The series centers on an adolescent girl’s suicide and the thirteen cassette tapes she leaves behind detailing the reasons why she took her life.  While the show is opening up awareness and conversation about issues that are typically hard to talk about, especially between adults and teens, there are some blatant shortcomings in its execution.  The show and the book deal with mature themes, including sexual assault and suicide that are vividly portrayed in the TV version.  As a result, the show is not appropriate for some viewers, particularly young teens and/or those whom have struggled with mental illness, self-injury or thoughts of suicide, and minimally should not be watched without accompanying dialogue and/or intervention from trusted adults.

Some specific flaws with the show, noted by suicide prevention experts, are as follows:

 

  • The show simplifies suicide and perpetuates the idea that suicide has someone to blame.  It further links suicide to specific causes such as bullying, when suicide is most commonly the result of underlying mental illness, particularly depression 
  • It misses a crucial opportunity to provide education around mental illness which affects one in five adolescents
  • Sexual assault is depicted twice, and there is no education devoted to the emotional and legal implications of sexual harassment or assault and how to seek support
  • There are no examples affirming successful help-seeking, and there is an unfortunate scene in which the main character reaches out to a school counselor who does not offer hope, compassion or resources
  •  There are no scenes that highlight any of the characters reaching out to talk with their parents or counselors, despite having a difficult time coping with a peer’s suicide

 

It is important that young people have an outlet for talking about the difficult themes portrayed in this series.  We will make efforts to address student concerns here at school, but we further encourage you as parents to engage your child in discussion around these topics.  A few general tips for fostering meaningful conversations with your student include: 

  •          Whenever possible, let your child begin the conversation
  •          If you need to prompt the conversation, try asking a simple but specific question (instead of something broad like “How was your day”)
  •          When they do start talking, LET THEM TALK—Don’t interrupt, criticize or lecture
  •          Give your full attention
  •          If your child brings up a problem, resist the urge to dictate a solution.  Instead, listen and then ask how you can help

For specific “talking points” about the series, consult the following resources: Tips for Watching New Netflix Series 13 Reasons Why and Parents: Read This Before Talking to Your Kids About “13 Reasons Why”.

Please also remind your child about the resources offered at school.  In keeping with our ongoing commitment to adolescent social and emotional wellness, we utilize an evidence-based suicide prevention program, SOS Signs of Suicide® Prevention Program, with our high school students.  The program is brought to us by a local organization, Elyssa’s Mission that specializes in suicide prevention.  Through the program, students are taught to ACT if observing signs of depression or suicide in themselves or a friend: Acknowledge the signs, Care about their friend and Tell a trusted adult.  Encourage your child to speak to a trusted adult at school if they have any concerns, whether about the Netflix series or anything going on in their life.  We are here to help.

Please further feel free to reach out to the Student Services team at your child/s school with any questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

Geneva High School Social Workers

 

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