The Netflix series 13 Reasons Why has been making headlines lately due to it’s popularity and controversial subject matter.
Teen-idol Selena Gomez was a producer on the show and used her personal social media to promote the series. She is followed by 118 million people and a lot of them are impressionable teens.
National Association of School Psychologists issued a warning against viewing the series to parents of “vulnerable youth.” They want to warn parents and educators that there are extremely complicated issues discussed in this series. Their concern is that teens who are at risk for suicidal thoughts will watch this dramatized series and relate intentionally or unintentionally to the main character, Hannah, who kills herself.
The show also shows very graphic scenes of sexual assault, rape, underage drinking, driving under the influence, body shaming and, ultimately, a graphic scene depicting Hannah’s suicide.
The solution is not to push this show away and tell teens not to watch it because then it becomes an act of rebellion which could make it even more appealing to them. Instead it should be seen as a platform for parents and schools to talk about mental health issues.
It is up to the parents whether or not their children should watch it but if they want to watch it then parents/guardians should watch it with them and set aside time to talk through the serious subject matter.
Some have accused 13 Reasons Why for glamorizing suicide but the conversations and concern about the subject matter are making people have the tough discussions that they normally would not have with their teens or other people in their lives.
Parents are right to want to be present and control the environment that the teens watch a show because no one should watch it passively.
It is a show that demands discussion and reflection. The topics of mental health and depression are hard for anyone to cope with but especially teenagers who have not fully developed emotionally and are also working through extreme hormonal changes.
Suicide in teens or anyone can stem from them feeling alone or from feeling lost. That’s why it is important to watch with a purpose and to openly discuss the feelings that this show evokes. If not discussed as a serious issue and just 'binge-watched' as another show then it could lead teens to confuse this show was a glamorization of suicide; when really it is a tool in furthering the discussion of mental health in our society and in young teens.
The complaints from concerned parents, schools and organizations are not unfounded but the blame is misplaced on the show. The blame should be placed on people who view this show as another Gossip Girl or Pretty Little Liars, it is a social commentary put in a form that was easy to distribute in order to get the message out to its target audience. If you asked all teenagers to watch a 60 Minutes on mental health they would not be as willing.
The responsibility of viewers is to use the show as a platform for discussion.
Here are some other articles about the impact of the show: