Sunday Mornings with Rania: 13 Reasons Why

In today’s world, it’s a rare thing to see parents and their children coming together to watch or talk about a TV or Netflix series. But parents, as early as the moment you finish reading this, I would ask your children (especially any teenaged children) if they are streaming Netflix’s controversial series 13 Reasons Why. People all over the globe are talking about this extreme series with opinions ranging widely.

Parents, what do you need to know about 13 Reasons Why?

Well, for starters, psychologists are calling the 13-episode series “high-risk television”. According to Netflix, the original series depicts a fictional (and attractive, I might add) high-school student who leaves behind a trail of tapes revealing 13 reasons why she is going to commit suicide. The reasons range from bullying, underage drinking to sexual assault and more.

Before you close this cautionary blog post thinking Well, my teen is not dealing with any of those issues, this has nothing to do with them or us – I urge you to stop and keep reading.

Why it’s dangerous for teens - including yours.

It is a scientific and psychological fact that all teens, because on where they are developmentally, are particularly vulnerable and emotionally immature. This means that regardless of what their actual problems are, they have a tendency to exaggerate both their problems and their subsequent meaning in the grand scheme of life. Additionally, in their quest for independence, most teens (not all, but most) will turn to other teens for guidance. In the end, you have one or more young minds dealing with issues that are well beyond their emotional intelligence. We have seen the results: kids urged to run away, take their problems to the web for guidance from strangers, commit suicide or join suicide pacts. It’s more common than you think.

Additionally, teens in particular are inspired by what they see on TV. Thirty years ago, a study was conducted which monitored teens two weeks prior to the release of four TV network programs which depicted teen suicides. Two weeks after the shows’ completion, researchers found a “definite increase in both attempts and actual completions.” 

Do we really need to add a show depicting suicide?

Add to that the current numbers. It’s important to note that the overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent, reaching its highest level in 30 years. Most alarming was the increase among girls 10 to 14, whose suicide rate tripled. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death amongst 15-24 year olds.

According to Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, president of the Child Mind Institute, “Teenage suicide is contagious. We know for over three decades that when kids watch television where they depict a suicide, they’re more likely to attempt and they’re more likely to actually {kill themselves}.” 

So, do you or do you not allow your teens to watch a series that shows suicide as an answer to teen problems?

Many will say that even though this series is hard to swallow, the issues of underage drinking, bullying, cyberbullying and even sexual assault are prevalent and must be addressed. I agree. That said, when it comes to the discussion of each of these topics, a trusted adult must be present to guide the conversations to their proper conclusion. Again, to a teen, running away or suicide may be the only solution; to an adult, who loves this teen, running away or suicide are never the answers.

When it comes to 13 Reasons Why, psychologist after psychologist agree, if you are allowing your child to watch it, please watch it with them – and then TALK. Does your child understand the ramifications of suicide? Does your family have religious beliefs surrounding suicide? Does your child think s/he can come to you with a problem? If not you, who is the trusted adult in their life? Do they understand the power of their emotions and brains to trick them into a corner that they alone cannot get out of?

If anything, 13 Reasons Why should force parents to have these uncomfortable conversations with their children because I am certain your child has heard of this series and more likely than not is currently watching it. Through it all, even your independent, strong-willed teen needs you more than ever. Be there for them and be there aggressively. The teenaged years go by quickly but they are awfully turbulent. Help them stay level-headed and safe. Every conversation is worth it.

Parents Should Also Be Aware:

A new game called the Blue Whale is sweeping the globe. Children from Latin America to Russia are taking their lives as a result of playing this game. Some reports say as many as 100 teens have already taken their lives. 

 

Resources:

The “Speak Up For Kids” campaign features celebrities like Emma Stone and others talking about personal mental health issues and challenges. It’s a great reference point for teens and parents. 

About the author

Executive Director of Crime Stoppers of Houston