What parents should know about the portrayal of suicide on Netflix's '13 Reasons Why'
Posted April 27
Three episodes of Netflix's "13 Reasons Why" open with a warning for young audiences. Twice for scenes depicting rape and once for a graphic suicide scene that has had media buzzing all month.
Much of the controversy over the series comes from experts who are concerned that such a realistic portrayal of a young girl taking her life could cause suicide contagion, where exposure to suicide causes an increase in suicidal behaviors among the teens who watch it.
The series, based on a young adult novel of the same name by Jay Asher and co-produced by Selena Gomez, follows Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) who, after killing herself, leaves 13 cassette tapes in which she explains why she ended her life, addressing each tape to a person she blames for her circumstances.
As mentioned earlier, there are also two rape scenes depicted in the show, one involving Hannah that is particularly explicit. Both rape and suicide are important topics for parents to discuss with their teens, but that doesn't mean that watching the extremely violent portrayals (along with a healthy smattering of F-words) in "13 Reasons Why" is the way to do so.
On Tuesday, CNN published an in-depth article that included expert opinion on the negative impact that "romanticizing" suicide on television could have on high-risk teens. Several school districts and the National Association of School Psychologists have all issued warnings to educators and parents about teens who watch this show.
"We do not recommend that vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation, watch this series," the NASP said in a statement. "Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the character and/or develop revenge fantasies. While many youth are resilient and capable of differentiating between TV drama and real life, engaging in thoughtful conversation with them about the show is vital."
Signs that a child might be vulnerable to suicide, as reported by CNN, include spending more time alone in their room, being secretive with their phone or computer or having a history of self-harm, such as cutting.
Nic Sheff, a writer for "13 Reasons Why," published an op-ed in Vanity Fair last week about his suicidal experiences. He said that hearing graphic detail about another woman's failed suicide attempt actually convinced him out of trying to kill himself, and that was why he wanted to make the scene in the show as detailed as it was.
"It seemed to be the perfect opportunity to show what an actual suicide really looks like — to dispel the myth of the quiet drifting off," he wrote. "It overwhelmingly seems to me that the most irresponsible thing we could've done would have been not to show the death at all."
Whatever someone's opinion is regarding the effects that a graphic suicide scene might have on teens who watch it, the scene in "13 Reasons Why" is so violent and bloody that it's difficult for many adults to digest. It's hard not to look away.
While rape and suicide are real, important issues, parents should consider if such heavy, potentially traumatizing content is the way they want to start these discussions with their teens.