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Go Ask Mom

Wake schools recommends students steer clear of Netflix show '13 Reasons Why'

Posted April 28

Wake County public schools this week joined other systems across the country, recommending that students not watch the new Netflix series, "13 Reasons Why," which depicts a teen's graphic suicide.

I wrote about the very popular series last week, sharing tips for parents whose kids may be interested in watching the show or have already seen it. Based on the 2007 young adult novel by Jay Asher of the same name, the series tells the story of Hannah Baker, a high school student who, before killing herself, sends cassette tapes to classmates detailing the 13 reasons behind her decision.

Mental health experts, including several I spoke with, have raised concerns about the way the series depicts suicide. Some have said it could do "more harm than good" in efforts to prevent teen suicides.

Research shows that teens who are struggling with suicidal thoughts and mental illness are more likely to attempt suicide when a family member or classmate has died by suicide – or even the lead character of a popular TV series.

Seeing somebody, especially a person who appears to have everything together, die by suicide can spur other teens, with already low self esteem and mental health issues, to make the same decision for themselves, Ann Oshel, senior vice president of community relations at Alliance Behavioral Healthcare, which serves Wake, Durham, Cumberland and Johnston counties, told me last week.

"We have heightened concerns about copycat suicide, especially if it’s somebody really popular in school – a cheerleader, athlete, student body president," Oshel said in my article last week.

Since writing that story, I've heard from many parents, who told me that their middle school or high school student has watched the series without their knowledge. One middle school student had seen the entire series three times since it was released in late March. Many simply had access to their family's Netflix account and were watching it from their phones or tablets in their bedrooms or when their parents weren't home.

In its message to parents, Wake schools notes that the series is rated TV-MA for mature audiences only, which means it is specifically designed to be viewed by adults and therefore may be unsuitable for children under 17.

"This miniseries attempts to address many topics that can lead to important conversations with students, such as bullying, cyber-bullying, assault, rape, and suicide. However, aspects of the miniseries go against the recommendations of mental health professionals and suicide prevention models," wrote Bren Elliott, assistant superintendent for student support services. "We want to bring this to your attention because we have found many of our students have already watched some of the series, have heard about it, or are asking questions about it."

"We do not recommend that your student watch the series," Elliott writes. "However, if your student is going to or already has watched the series, we encourage you to watch it together and discuss your reactions to the issues raised in the series."

The alert, found on the system's website, shares more resources and tips for parents, along with information about Wake's middle school and high school suicide prevention program.

Other schools also are alerting parents to concerns about the show.

"In the upstate New York community of Grand Island, school administrators warned that the series 'sensationalizes suicide,'" according to an Associated Press story. "Indiana's largest school district warned in an email that the series 'does not accurately model what we would want or hope individuals do if they are struggling or in crisis.'"

Despite concerns, the show is popular. According to the AP story, the show has 340,000 Twitter followers and 2.4 million likes on Facebook. Actress and singer Selena Gomez, who produced the series and has struggled with mental illness, said she was ready for backlash.

"It's going to come no matter what. It's not an easy subject to talk about," she said in the AP story. "But I'm very fortunate with how it's doing."​

If you or somebody you know needs help, please reach out.

Call or text the Raleigh-based HopeLine Crisis Line, which helps people across the country, at 919-231-4525 or 877-235-4525. HopeLine's crisis line is open 24 hours a day from Wednesday through Sunday and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., Monday and Tuesday. The text line is available from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., weekdays.

You also can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433. Both are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

A Change.org petition has been started to include suicide prevention resources with each episode.

7 Comments

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  • Stacie Hagwood Apr 29, 5:11 p.m.
    user avatar

    I have seen it; definitely encourage parents to watch WITH their teen. I found that it opened up a lot of topics that could be discussed. Sure there were the heavy ones , but there were also people that she blamed that either hadn't done anything wrong, or who were just dealing with their own teen angst. As an adult I could see that so many of the characters were complicated young people (and even the adults) dealing with their own complicated lives. It could open up some really interesting conversations and give young people some perspectives other than myopic views.

  • Melanie Lane Apr 29, 11:03 a.m.
    user avatar

    I respectfully disagree. This is something that makes teens want to watch something not not watch it. The recommendation should be families watch it together and talk about it. Use it as a chance to communicate, not to close doors. It exists. Kids will see it if they want to. If you think you can prevent it, you don't remember what you were like as a kid. Find ways to make it helpful instead..

  • Patrick Murphy Apr 29, 9:26 a.m.
    user avatar

    Heh, now they are all going to watch it.

  • John Townsend Apr 29, 9:00 a.m.
    user avatar

    How many suicdes have been linked to this show?

  • Mary Meadows Apr 29, 8:05 a.m.
    user avatar

    View quoted thread


    I haven't watched it BUT it appears there are better ways of having a learning experience then with a show that depicts suicide in a positive manner. Choosing a alternative method is not hiding - it's a personal choice.

  • Linda Tally Apr 29, 2:02 a.m.
    user avatar

    My family - teens particularly - are watching this. Together. And discussing it. Heavy stuff, but necessary. And designed to be discussed, rolled over, pondered, and compared. Great opportunity for learning. Sad some folks prefer hiding.

  • Robin Duff Apr 28, 4:54 p.m.
    user avatar

    They'll be watching in droves now.