Be Prepared! Season 2 of “13 Reasons Why” Starts Soon.

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 Netflix series "13 Reasons Why" came in like a whirlwind last year. I'm worried that Season 2 will have a similar effect this year. Last year I saw many teens significantly affected by Season 1, and I'm hoping we can all be prepared more this year.
I’m hoping we can all be more prepared this year to talk to our kids and teens about watching “13 Reasons Why” responsibly.

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.

Warning!

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

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.

Accepting responsibility

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.

Guilt

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 consent

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.

Resources

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.

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) Toolkit on 13 Reasons Why.

Body Safety and Sexual Consent – Start Younger than You’d Think!

We hear about child molestation and rape far too often these days. While we can’t anticipate all the situations our kids will be exposed to throughout their lives, we can teach them how to protect themselves in all situations and if there’s trouble to speak up. Teach them to respect themselves, to respect others, and to never keep secrets. Talk about consent often, starting in the toddler and preschool years!

Start in the toddler years?

What about their innocence?

It’s never too soon to talk about body safety. You don’t need to cover all the specifics at young ages, but there are many age appropriate things to talk about at each stage.

The message and words change over the years as your child grows, but start young!

Teach proper body part names.

We call eyes “eyes.”

An elbow is an elbow.

Why should we call a vagina a “hoo hoo” or a penis a “wee wee”?

If kids ever need to talk about those body parts and the other person doesn’t know the slang, it’s more difficult to get the point across.

Wouldn’t you feel awful if your preschooler tried to tell a teacher that another adult touched her inappropriately, but the teacher thought “hoo hoo” was just a fun term, so didn’t act on the issue?

Teaching kids about private body parts is important.  Let them know that their swim suit area is private. No one should be able to look or touch there without permission from Mom or Dad and from the child himself.

Teach respect of personal space.

Many kids love to hug and kiss everyone they see.

Other kids hate to be hugged or kissed.

Sometimes they just don’t feel like it, but other times they’re okay with a big bear hug.

All of these feelings are okay, but we must be mindful of how these interactions are approached and consented.

Ask permission.

Teach your kids to always ask permission before entering someone’s personal space.

They can say something as simple as, “Can I give you a hug and kiss goodbye or should we high-five or blow kisses?”

Encourage kids to demand permission before being touched. You can model this kind of expectation by asking before touching.

~ Can I be a tickle monster and get you?

~ It’s time to wash your back. Should I do it or do you want to do it yourself? Now it’s time to wash your penis, do you want help?

~ Do you want me to rub your back to help you fall to sleep?

Be sure others ask similar questions of your child.

Talk to family members about this when the child isn’t present. You don’t want it to be an ordeal in front of everyone, so a little discussion ahead of time can help the adult understand and follow your expectations.

If adults continue to enforce a hug or kiss, it’s a red flag that they don’t appreciate boundaries. I would not recommend allowing your kids to be alone with them. They might simply be innocently wanting a hug from a cute kid, but they also might be testing to see how the child reacts in preparation for more intimate touches.

Don’t force your kids to be kissed or hugged by anyone, even family members. If they don’t want Grandma or Uncle Buddy to get too close, they shouldn’t be forced to give a hug or kiss.

Think about the message that sends.

They should not have to submit to being touched. Ever.

Teach proper hygiene.

Once kids are potty trained, they can start learning to wash their own genitals. It will take practice before they can do an adequate job, but if you don’t start teaching them, how will they ever know what to do?

If they still need help toileting or bathing, be sure they know that only adults who have permission are allowed to help. This means you must tell them that it’s okay for any specific person to help.

Wipe properly.

Many girls wipe inadequately after urinating. Some rub too hard, which irritates the genitals. They often miss some of the urine and the inner labia stays moist, which leads to redness and pain.

Teach them to wiggle the toilet paper between the skin folds.

Many kids will need help wiping after a bowel movement for many years, but you can show them how to wipe until the toilet paper no longer has streaks on it. Using a flushable wet wipe is often helpful.

At bath time teach them to wash their genitals.

For girls this means using a mild soap and rinsing between all the skin folds with water well. Soap residue can really irritate the sensitive labial skin.

For boys, washing the genitals and between the buttocks is important too. If he is uncircumcised, teach him to gently pull back on the foreskin to rinse the head of the penis. If it does not yet retract, do not force it.

Encourage questions.

As kids get older, they have lots of questions about their body. You want them to ask you or another trusted adult for answers, rather than going to the internet to find answers.

Answer questions as truthfully as you can. Don’t feel like you have to answer more than what’s asked.

Where do babies come from?

Of course when they ask how babies are made, you need to answer it to a level they can understand.

Young kids don’t need to know that a penis goes into the vagina to release sperm and fertilize an egg. They can’t comprehend that.

Think about what they’re asking and answer that question truthfully without going into details they won’t yet understand.

If you’re not ready to answer the question when it’s asked, buy yourself time. Tell them that it’s a great question and you want to think about it. Be sure to give a specific time that you’ll be able to answer the question. Think about it, prepare what you’ll say, and discuss it at the chosen time.

Model healthy relationships.

When kids see healthy relationships, they learn that that is what is appropriate and acceptable in a relationship. Show respect in what you do and say to all people around you. Demand respect in how others treat you.

If you’re in an unhealthy relationship, work with a counselor so you both can learn to work together to improve the relationship. If that’s not possible, especially if the relationship isn’t safe, think about how to safely separate. It isn’t easy, but if your kids grow up watching an abusive relationship, they are more likely to end up in the same situation.

Teach kids to ask for help.

It can be really hard for kids to learn when it’s best to work out problems and when to ask for help. No one likes a tattle tale, but there are times kids need help from adults.

When safety’s an issue, an adult should be part of the solution. If a friend is doing something dangerous, such as running into the street, it’s best to tell an adult.

If kids are simply frustrated that another child won’t share a toy or play the game your child wants to play, that is something that kids can at least start working out on their own.

Praise kids when they make smart choices about asking for help when needed and when they solve their own conflicts appropriately.

No means no. Stop means stop.

Teach kids that we always need to respect others when they say no or stop.

For example, if Sissy says to stop tickling her, stop.

When friends or adults don’t listen if they’re told no or stop, kids need to think about if they feel safe and if they still want to be around their friend. If they don’t feel safe, they need to talk to you or another trusted adult.

Books can help talk about these difficult topics. Some suggestions for saying “no” appropriately and “stop” when needed:

For teens, I love this Cup of Tea video. It explains so well that no means no!

No secrets!

Remind kids that they’ll never be in trouble for telling you things. There are never secrets in families. We might keep surprises, but never secrets.

You might need to change your wording at times… If you’re buying or making a gift for someone, it’s a surprise, not a secret. Surprises are fun. We can build up suspense for the fun by not telling. But secrets make us feel bad because we can’t share them.

Remind your kids that if anyone asks them to keep a secret, it’s best to tell their parent.

A great book on this subject is Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept!

Believe kids.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe what our kids tell us. But if we don’t believe them or we discount their stories, they will stop telling us things.

I know that I’ve been challenged to believe many things my kids tell me, but instead of downplaying the story or telling them to stop lying, I try to ask more questions.

Once my daughter told me about an accident the bus had while she was on a field trip. I didn’t believe her (surely the school would have alerted parents) and asked more about what she was saying without outright saying she was lying or telling stories. I asked for more clarification, thinking she’d contradict what she had said, but she kept to the same story. It wasn’t too much later that the school sent out a message that the bus had been in an accident and there were no injuries. I told her that I got the message and she just beamed. She knew I didn’t believe her! But it was an opportunity to let her know that sometimes I might not believe stories initially, but I was proud that she told me and continued to try to show me the truth.

If your kids ever tell you they don’t want to visit or stay with a certain person, find out why. If they say they’re scared, don’t discount it. Even if you trust the person, believe your child. Molesters are adept at grooming families to gain trust. Kids generally don’t make abuse up.

Men and women are different.

When kids are young, teach in general terms about males and females.

You can talk to young kids about why men and women look different than kids. Many will question why men have facial hair, women have breasts, or how a baby will get out of mom’s tummy. They might want to know why you have feminine hygiene products in the bathroom or what they’re for. Answer the questions to their level of understanding.

Talk about puberty before changes happen. Younger kids are more open to learning new things. Once changes start, kids are confused and more self conscious. Puberty starts in girls around 8-12 years of age and in boys about 2 years later. When you notice changes, reassure your kids that it’s normal and they’re just growing up!

For more on menstruation specifically, check out my Q&A about periods.

Some of my favorite books on puberty:

Online activities.

The internet has opened the doors to a lot of knowledge and sharing of information. It can be used to better ourselves, but it can also leave kids open and vulnerable. It can lead to bullying. Sometimes it encourages feelings of inadequacy. Online predators can take advantage of our kids.

This is a huge topic and cannot be covered here, but in short: teach kids to never share anything online that they wouldn’t want the public to see. It is okay for parents to monitor online activities, it’s not threatening their privacy. It’s helping them stay safe.

Think of supervising online activities like supervising learning to drive.

You would never just give the car keys to your teen and expect them to safely drive. You first have them learn the rules of the road and pass a written test to get a learner’s permit. The learner’s permit allows them to drive while being supervised. After many hours of supervised driving, they may get a license that allows them to drive alone, but you probably wouldn’t let them take a long road trip alone yet. They start out with quick trips around town, then onto highways, and finally longer trips. The specific timeline of that depends on the teen. Some need longer times at each stage, others show maturity and responsibility more quickly.

Common Sense Media has a number of helpful articles about online safety.

Our actions impact others.

Kids can learn how their actions affect others and that they can’t alter anyone else’s behavior without first changing their behavior.

While this doesn’t seem initially to impact sexual consent, it does. What happens if we all do what we want when we want, without caring what others think or feel? We take advantage of others and hurt people. We don’t want our kids to grow up without empathy or social conscience. It also helps kids to identify their own feelings in response to other people’s actions, which might help them avoid people who make poor choices.

Talk to kids when you see opportunities to talk about the impact of behaviors. Find examples they can identify with.

For example, if a child was being noisy at the library, what kind of impression did they make? How did the noise affect everyone else’s experience at the library? What situations can they think of that they were noisy when they should have been more quiet? How can we be more mindful of our own noise level?

What can kids do if they see a bully? Is it hard to recognize the significance of bullying when everyone’s laughing at another child? Should they join in the laughter when someone’s being teased? Can they stand up for the person being bullied? When should they talk to an adult?

rewind

A fun game to play that can help kids learn how to change their behavior to get a better outcome I call Rewind. You roll play and rewind a situation and play it out differently. When kids complain about the outcome of an event, have them role play it to try to get to a better ending. The trick is they have to be the first to change what they say or do. In the real world we can’t just expect someone else to change a behavior.

For example, if your son is upset that no one would play hop scotch at recess, he can’t simply expect that someone will join him the next day. Other kids might not realize that he wants to play. Maybe he can ask kids to play with him. Roll play what to say if he’s turned down. Think about why other kids don’t want to play hop scotch. Are they all busy playing basketball? Talk about being open to taking turns: maybe another child will play hop scotch with him if he plays basketball with the other child first. The trick is that he just can’t expect others to change their behaviors unless he changes his first.

Respect

One word that summarizes most of the above is respect.

Respect Yourself

Respect yourself enough to eat right, sleep adequately, and exercise. Take care of your body and mind. Be the best you can be. Don’t do things that you know could harm your body or cause you to get into trouble.

Respect Others

Respect others and their wishes. If you’re kind and respectful towards others, they will appreciate it.

This does not mean that kids have to do everything other people ask them to do. They should never do anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or that they know is wrong. See the last respect point…

Demand that others respect you

Just like you should respect others, they should respect you. If everyone respects other’s thoughts and feelings, we would have no abuse or bullying in our lives.

We can’t change other people’s actions all the time, but we can leave situations where people are not kind and respectful. Kids need to know that they should talk to an adult if someone is not being respectful to them.

We hear about child molestation and rape far too often. Teach kids to respect themselves, respect others, and to never keep secrets. 
We hear about child molestation and rape far too often. Teach kids to respect themselves, respect others, and to never keep secrets.

Teen Dating Violence: Recognition

Would you recognize signs of dating violence? Many teens don’t report it to friends or family. It can be difficult to recognize despite the significant prevalence. Victims might not say anything out of fear for their safety, embarrassment, low self-esteem, or not recognizing the abusive behaviors. Whatever the reason for the under-reporting, parents and other adults who interact with teens must recognize signs of dating violence to help protect our kids.

Relationships

Teen Dating Violence: RecognitionWe want our kids to develop healthy relationships where they can have fun, grow in their own identity, and be true to their own values. Healthy relationships are founded on honesty, trust, and communication. There is mutual respect.

Dating abuse can happen in any unhealthy relationship. It happens to smart people, rich people, girls, guys, LGBT, and can happen in any community. We see news stories of abusive relationships but it doesn’t always seem real. A new bride murdered.  A teen raped.  A sports figure accused.

Failed recognition

Unfortunately we don’t even know about most abusive relationships. People suffer silently.  How is a parent to know?

Can a teen see risk factors before becoming involved with a risky personality?

Abuser characteristics

Parents might look for the “type” of teen that they want their child to steer away from, but unfortunately, the abusers are not easily identified.

Abusers do not look like drug dealing, tattoo covered, pierced people in tattered clothing.

They are difficult to recognize on first glance because they tend to be popular, smart, good looking, and personable.

They are often good at reading people and responding to other’s desires, making them seem “perfect” initially.

Abusers manipulate others. Have you heard of gaslighting? It’s a common means to make the victim feel responsible.

They gain trust.

They weave deception.

Traits to watch for in an abuser:

  • Blames others for all problems
  • Jealous
  • Impulsive
  • Wants to move quickly into a relationship
  • Criticizes others
  • Does not respect personal boundaries
  • Denies responsibility for actions
  • Takes risks
  • Insulting (you’re fat, you’re stupid, no one else would love you like I do)
  • History of hitting or hurting others
  • Tries to monopolize your time and life – wants to control what you do, who you’re with, even what you’ll wear
  • Seems perfect initially (no one’s perfect!)
  • Mood swings or can’t manage anger or frustration well

What an abusive relationship might look like

Starting out – all seems great!

The relationship typically starts out well. A lot of laughs, good times.

If it didn’t, people would leave.

Power and Control cycle

Abusers have a power and control cycle that builds over time. They gain a little trust, then test with a little control.

Bit by bit they become more controlling and abusive. It builds so slowly many people miss the early warning signs and then are so swept by the cycle that it’s hard to leave.

Abusers want to know your every move, which at first might even seem flattering, but it is a control tactic. They might choose what you wear or where you go. Abusers monitor your phone calls to see who you talk to. They isolate you from your friends and even family so you lose your support group. They put you down so you feel no one else would like you or want you.  Abusers make you feel less of a person and they are “good” to put up with you.

They get jealous (again, flattering on the outset because they “care”). Abusers often apologize for hurting you, but then claim it is your fault that they behave that way.

In truth, they blame others for most of their behaviors and only take credit when things make them look good.

Cool tool

Breakthecycle.org has a really cool interactive wheel to see the relationship between words and actions. Move your cursor around the wheel to get more information on each topic in the orange part of the wheel.

Signs of an unhealthy relationship:

  • One or both people try to change the other
  • Control: one person makes most or all of the decisions
  • Isolation: one or both people drop friends and interests outside of the relationship
  • Fighting: one or both people yell, threaten, hit, or throw things during arguments
  • Verbal abuse: one or both people make fun of the other’s opinions or interests
  • Jealousy and control: one or both people keep track of the other all the time by calling, texting, or checking in with friends
  • Relationship moves quickly to “serious”
  • Mood swings, anxiety, depression, personality changes
  • Physical signs: bruises, cuts, scrapes, showering immediately when coming home
  • Abused feels guilty and “at fault” and makes excuses for their partner
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Multiple sexual partners

Follow your instincts

If you suspect something is not right, act on your hunch and take action to address issues and leave the relationship early if problem behaviors persist.

 

If your teen is in a relationship with someone who is violent, your teen may:

  • Avoid friends, family, and school activities
  • Make excuses for a partner’s behavior
  • Look uncomfortable or fearful around a partner
  • Lose interest in favorite activities
  • Get lower grades in school
  • Have unexplained injuries, like bruises or scratches

If you think your teen might be an abusive person:

Teens who use physical, emotional, or sexual violence to control their partners need help to stop. Don’t make excuses if you think your child has a problem.

If your teen is abusive, he or she may have these characteristics:

  • Jealous and possessive
  • Blames other people for anything that goes wrong
  • Damages or ruins other people’s things
  • Wants to control a partner’s decisions
  • Constantly texts or calls a partner
  • Posts embarrassing information or pictures about a partner online

Next up:

How to prevent and seek help for teen abusive relationships.

This is part of a series on Teen Dating Violence:

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