The Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” came in like a whirlwind last year. With it came increased thoughts and attempts of suicide. I’m worried that Season 2 will have a similar contagion effect this year. I’ve already heard from many teens that they plan on watching it. Last year I saw many teens significantly affected by Season 1, so it was on my radar to watch “some time soon.”
When my 15 year old said she wanted to watch it but needed me to unlock her Netflix restrictions to be able to view all maturity levels, I knew I had to watch it sooner rather than later.
It hit me hard.
The show did a great job of getting me hooked. I binge watched most of the episodes over one weekend. I put off grocery shopping and other necessities. It was hard to stop watching despite the fact that it was hard to watch.
There was a lot of debate about whether or not Netflix was responsible in showing this series. The producers claimed they wanted to bring the issues to the forefront. Mental health experts argued that it sensationalized suicide. I can see both sides. It does bring the conversation to the forefront, but can also lead to increased feelings of depression and post traumatic stress.
I couldn’t stop thinking about it for several weeks. There was so much to process! And I’m a 40-something year old pediatrician mother of teens who has a lot of life experiences to help with the processing. I can’t imagine processing this as a teen. And for those who have a history of abuse, rape, or other traumatic life events, this series could really be traumatic to watch.
This blog was first attempted a year ago, but it was too fresh and I could not finish it. I went to it many times, but never could finish it. It’s been a year and now Season 2 is coming, so I thought I’d finally finish it it in anticipation of all the kids who will see the upcoming season.
What’s it about?
Season One was about a girl who committed suicide and left tapes to explain the 13 reasons why she did it. It left a number of issues unresolved, such as a victim dealing with rape, a shooting, a counselor who failed to help on an at-risk child, and more. Season Two is expected to tackle these issues based on the previews.
It doesn’t sound any less traumatizing to watch than the first season. They do have a website dedicated to helping people who are struggling and supposedly will have warnings and helpful resources with each episode.
No more hiding the subject.
Depression is a significant problem. We do need to discuss it.
Between 10-15% of teenagers have some symptoms of depression at any given time. We need to recognize and address it better than we do. Less than a third of teens with depression get help, yet 80% of teens with depression can be successfully treated.
It is recommended that all teens be screened for depression yearly. If your teen hasn’t been screened, schedule a yearly physical with his or her physician, and be sure they are screened at that visit with a standardized questionnaire.
Schedule a visit that is dedicated to discuss depression if you’re worried about depression. If your teen has significant risks for suicide, take action immediately.
Again and again in Season 1 there are opportunities for the teens to talk to an adult, but they don’t, which is too often the case in real life. It’s not that parents don’t ask. They do.
In real life and in the show, parents offer to listen, but kids don’t talk. You can argue that parents should push harder, but that usually tunes teens out even more. Having teens fill out a standardized questionnaire can help identify problems that might be missed at home and school.
Open the conversation.
Conversation is desperately needed. Our kids are exposed to much more than we were.
The internet allows them to research just about anything – and they can find inappropriate things intentionally or accidentally.
Rumors spread much faster than they did when we were kids due to social media.
Our kids are at risk of being photographed in compromising situations more than we were in the days of bulky film cameras and when video recorders were not in everyone’s phone.
This show could be a great eye-opener for parents of teens. The first season depicted teens getting drunk, struggling with relationships, drug abuse, abusive relationships among family and friends, sexuality, bullying, and rape. Maybe parents already know these things happen, but don’t realize how it affects their kids. Watching shows like this with your teens can help to start the conversation.
Teens hear about and see this stuff so we as parents cannot shy away from it. Whether they go to public schools, private schools or religious affiliated schools, they are not in bubbles. These situations and topics affect them in real life.
Watching shows that tackle controversial topics together (or watching separately but discussing) helps open a needed conversation. They need help processing all the “stuff” they encounter at school and online.
For more on bullying and suicide, see this comprehensive summary from Drug Rehab.
It might be risky for people who have been sexually assaulted or have experienced trauma of any sort to watch this series and shows like it. I have seen some teens who suffered from post traumatic stress reactions after watching Season 1.
If you struggle with a history of assault or abuse, cautiously watch it with someone you trust. Stop if viewing becomes uncomfortable.
Things to discuss.
Of course I haven’t watched Season 2 yet so I can’t comment specifically on it. Common Sense Media has a short video on things to know and once the shows are available online, they will have more.
Some things that can be discussed from Season 1:
Social media is a theme throughout the series. Kids send messages that spread to everyone at school several times. Cyberbullying is real. It doesn’t go away when kids go home, which is historically a safe zone, but there are no longer safe zones for kids due to the internet.
In the first season, a picture that can easily be mistaken for something it isn’t is shown to friends to brag (inappropriately) about a sexual experience (that didn’t happen) is shared by a friend (with minimal resistance). This of course causes the girl in the picture to be thought of as a slut and the guy as cool. This slut label lasts for months despite the fact that it isn’t true. There are several discussion points here:
Talk to your kids about never sharing pictures or words online that could be hurtful or embarrassing to anyone. Ever.
Talking to adults
There is a consistent theme in season 1 of teens not wanting to talk to adults. I have teens of my own so I know this is an issue regardless of how often parents try to connect.
It is a normal phase of life, but kids need to know that it’s important to talk to a parent or another trusted adult if any significant issues arise. I always remind teens that their brains aren’t mature until the mid 20s, so if they need advice, they need to ask an adult. Even very smart and kind teens can give bad advice because they just don’t know yet what the best advice is.
Alcohol and drugs
Each party these characters attend has what appears to be every teen drinking alcohol. This normalizes the use of alcohol. There is talk of not drinking and driving, but it is still not responsible (or legal) use.
Talk about how Jessica goes from occasional use of alcohol to regular use, even at school, as a means to deal with her emotions. As she becomes more depressed, she attempts to self medicate with alcohol and marijuana. This is not a healthy way to treat depression.
Teens need to know there are many healthier options to have fun at a party and more effective ways to address any depressed feelings. I have written more on teens and alcohol previously.
There is much more written about how alcohol and drugs can increase the risk of suicide on Drug Rehab.
Use some of the show’s examples to highlight how individual choices and actions make a difference.
Jessica’s actions restrict her from cheerleading. She blames the coach, but it is her behaviors that are causing the coach to make consequences.
When a minor accident caused a stop sign to be knocked down, it led to a more serious accident. By not calling the police when the stop sign was knocked down, they indirectly lead to the death of a friend. It didn’t seem like such a big deal but actions have consequences.
After suicide, many friends and family members feel guilty, but people who are suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts need professional help. Friends and family members should show love and support, but they are not capable or trained to help sufficiently.
Put a suicide hotline number in every phone.
Learn warning signs so you can help a friend if needed.
Rape and sexual harassment
There is a general theme of girls being objectified and sexually harassed at school. There are few students who seem to realize the seriousness of this.
We need to open the discussion of how to treat others with respect, not objects.
Sexual assault and consent is an often misunderstood topic. While rape can result in physical trauma, it does not always cause physical injury or involve brutality. Victims do not always have bruises or obvious physical symptoms.
In Season 1 we learn that Jessica was raped and didn’t even know it due to alcohol. There are many instances of rape where victims blame themselves for not saying no firmly enough or because they lead someone on.
Victims are often blamed for dressing suggestively or flirting too much.
People who have experienced sexual assault but have no physical trauma are less likely to report the incident to the authorities or to get proper healthcare related to the encounter. People who have had sexual assault are more likely to have symptoms that seem unrelated, such as headaches, chronic pain, difficulty sleeping, poor physical health, depression, and anxiety.
Discuss sexual consent with your kids and teens.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255
National Sexual Assault Hotline. RAINN. Free. Confidential. 24/7.
Stop Bullying. Resources to help prevent bullying and cyberbullying.
Alcohol Addiction Center. Resources for alcohol misuse and addiction.