The Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” is all the rage these days; everyone seems intrigued by this show exploring the aftermath of a teenage girl’s suicide. Locally, at the end of this school year, there were several suicide attempts in the middle schools and high schools with these teens and tweens reporting that they had been inspired to commit suicide after viewing this show. While some regard the series as a way of opening up a difficult conversation about such a sensitive subject, others have lambasted it for normalizing (and perhaps even glamorizing) suicide as a way to gain attention.
Whatever your personal feelings, it’s important to recognize that your own children have certainly heard of this show (and quite possibly even watched it), and that it’s your responsibility as a parent to help them make sense of what they’ve seen or heard about it. When it comes to this kind of tragedy, Utah currently ranks 15th in the nation in the number of suicides per capita; this isn’t some problem that only exists on television or elsewhere-it’s right here, and we need to talk about it.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you discuss “13 Reasons Why” with your children:
This Show Is NOT For Young Kids
With the easy accessibility of the internet, unfortunately children as young as elementary-school age have access to television shows that are intended for a mature audience. Parents should not permit this! Keep tabs on what your kids are watching; it’s not being overbearing, it’s being a good parent. There are different opinions on whether or not teens should watch this show, so work with your spouse or partner to determine where you stand, but young kids and tweens should absolutely not be exposed to these dramatic and mature themes.
Emphasize That Having Suicidal Thoughts Does Not Mean You Are Broken
As you talk to your teen about the topic of suicide, make sure he/she knows that it’s not bad to acknowledge having thoughts of taking one’s own life. The truth is that a lot of people have these kinds of thoughts at one time or another, and that although we of course never want to condone suicide as an acceptable option, we need to be able to open up and appropriately discuss hard things. Shame about one’s feelings can be one of the main reasons that struggling teens don’t reach out for help, so make sure your children know that they don’t need to feel bad about themselves if suicide has ever crossed their mind.
Teenage Trauma is Real, and We Must Acknowledge It
Sometimes it’s hard to take kids seriously; after all, what do they know about the real world? While it’s tempting to believe that our own children will never experience some of the harsh realities that the show depicts (bullying, sexual assault, depression, etc.), no one is immune. The reality is that many teens -both male and female – do experience sexual assault, bullying, and victim-blaming. This is one of the hardest things as a parent to accept – we do everything possible to keep our kids safe and bad things may still happen. Talk to your kids about how going through things like this may affect them, how to recognize their own feelings, and what to do if they ever find themselves in traumatic situations. Don’t try to “fix” their feelings- just listen and seek out appropriate professional help as needed.
There Is Always Hope
If kids are feeling extremely down, having trouble socially or academically, or are even feeling suicidal, they need to know that things in their life can and will improve. The depths of depression or trauma can cloud a view of a happy future, but you as a parent can help inspire hope. If things are bad, you need to employ professional help to assist your child (and YOU!) in finding a way out of the darkness. Here are a few resources to help parents talk about suicide and also find help for teens who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide: