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A Netflix series has stirred up quite a lot of controversy. You may have heard about “13 Reasons Why.” You or your family may have even watched it.
As the program begins, there’s been the death – by suicide – of a teenage girl, Hannah Baker. What follows is the effect her death has on all those around her.
The question has unfolded for families, school officials, and mental health professionals in Nevada and everywhere: Does “13 Reasons Why” glamorize suicide by making it seem like an attractive option? Or, is the show an argument against suicide?
Time magazine columnist Susanna Schrobsdorff wrote about the program as the mother of a 14-year-old girl.
“My first gut feeling was that if everything that happened to this one girl happened to anybody it would be a huge tragedy,” Schrobsdorff said.
The show is based on a 2007 book by Jay Asher. In the show, Hannah tells her story posthumously and explains to each person in her life the involvement he or she had in her suicide. She is the victim of sexual assault and cyberbullying. The show graphically depicts the assault and the suicide.
Schrobsdorff recommends parents watch the first episode and the last episode before they let their child watch the show.
“Watch those and then you know your kid,” she said, “Absolutely try to watch it with your child because it is something that can provoke discussion either afterward or during it.”
However, kids can access Netflix on just about any device and even without a Netflix account, they can find other sources for the show. It is for that reason that the Clark County School District and the Washoe County School District alerted parents to the existence of the show.
Joe Roberts is the coordinator for the Clark County School District Department of Student Threat and Crisis Response. He said the district wanted to make sure parents knew about the show and that their children were likely watching it.
Roberts said the district also wanted parents to know about the resources and procedures it has in place for students who need help.
“All of our schools… have crisis response teams at the school,” he said, “They’re trained to respond to suicidal ideation… and to keep students safe.”
He said parents should use “13 Reasons Why” to open a dialogue with their kids about the issues addressed in the show, which he believes is the intent. He also thinks those discussions should be very frank.
“Ask your child: ‘Have you watched the show? And are you having suicidal thoughts?’” he said, “And then engage and get professional help.”
However, he does have concerns about children who are already vulnerable watching the show and deciding that suicide is an option, which is a concern held by UNLV student and sexual assault survivor Caitlyn Caruso.
Caruso watched the show with her roommates and many of them felt “triggered” by the graphic portrayal of violence.
She said the “way that they depicted sexual assault and suicide are appropriate for no one,” and believes if she had seen it after she was assaulted when she was younger she might have believed suicide was an option.
“It shows this idea of justice posthumously,” Caruso said, “It shows this idea of people finally realizing the wrongs they had committed to her. And in a way, when you are experiencing suicidal ideation, that’s something you think about.”
She also thinks the show did not do enough to guide people in need of help to find it.
That is also a criticism of the show from Katherine Loudon the head of counseling for the Washoe County School District. She felt the show did not emphasize where to go for help.
And while Loudon is concerned about “13 Reasons Why” and who is watching it, she said it is just one of a range of content kids have access to that is concerning.
“I’m also concerned about the idea that perhaps some parents aren’t aware that on YouTube or through Instagram or through some of the other social media that their child could be exposed to very similar difficult things.”
She said almost every day her office finds out about a new app or a new website or a new viral challenge that promotes, helps or makes it easier for students to engage in troubling behavior from substance abuse to eating disorders to bullying.
For family therapist Claudia Schwarz, that questionable content is exactly why parents need to be monitoring what their children are accessing and talking about with friends.
She also believes it is the parents who should be watching “13 Reasons Why” not necessarily teenagers because many parents do not know what their kids are going through at school and online.
“A lot of what I took from the show is that the parents, the adults, they’re missing it,” Schwarz said. “They’re missing the signs. They are missing what’s going on in schools and what’s happening to kids.”
She said there are valuable lessons in the show and one of those lessons is to listen to your kids and talk about these kinds of difficult topics.
“They’re not easy. They’re very difficult topics,” she said, “A lot of parents don’t want to go there. It’s too difficult for them to talk about it, even amongst themselves let alone with their children. And it is such an important topic.”
A second season of the show is planned, which will follow the characters impacted by Hannah’s death and the aftermath of her suicide.
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If you or someone you know is in crisis call the national hotline:
Mobile Crisis Response Team - Hotline: South: 702-486-7865 or North: 775-688-1670
De Prevencion del Suicido - 1-888-628-9454
Crisis Call Center - Text Line - Text - "Listen" to 839863
From CCSD: Say No to Bullying
Susanna Schrobsdorff, TIME colunmist; Joe Roberts, Coordinator for the Clark County School District Department of Student Threat and Crisis Response; Katherine Loudon, head of counseling for the Washoe County School District; Claudia Schwarz, licensed family therapist based in Henderson, NV; Caitlyn Caruso, UNLV student