Talking to teens about the new season of 13 Reasons Why

Photos – local – dm1reasons01z-b
"13 REASONS WHY": (Left to Right) Dylan Minnette as Clay Jensen and Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker.

Their story isn’t over…with a more official trailer released yesterday, season two of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why is set for release on May 18. Season one was a fictional account of a young teenager Hannah Baker who dies by suicide, leaving behind messages for 13 people who she claims were influential in her decision to take her own life. Season two alludes to someone covering up the truth about Baker’s death, additional suicide attempts, and a school shooting. The school shooting could be particularly triggering for students nationally in light of the recent tragic shooting in Florida.

The show has sparked a great deal of conversation among viewers especially on Twitter. Tough issues are addressed in the series such as sexual assault, depression, bullying, substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide. However, experts in the field of mental health and suicide prevention expressed concern regarding how the show approached these topics, particularly Hannah’s graphic suicide and all the attention she received, as viewers may begin to romanticize suicide, seeing it as a viable option.

Suicide is currently the second leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds with reports indicating that hospitalizations and emergency room visits for suicidal thoughts and behaviors have increased since the release of season one. In response, a Netflix study evaluating the effects of the show found the following:

  • 75 percent of teen and young-adult viewers found the show relatable.
  • 58 percent of teens talked to their parents about the show and its issues.
  • 51 percent of teens said they apologized to someone for how they’d treated them.
  • 70 percent of parents and 77 percent of younger viewers wanted more informational resources.

Producers have responded and since created a video message from the cast warning viewers struggling with similar issues that they may want to watch the series with a trusted adult or avoid it altogether. Cast members also provide resources and encourage those struggling to reach out to a parent, friend, counselor, or another adult. A season one discussion guide is available addressing the difficult topics of the series along with suggestions for how to begin effective conversations. Finally, Netflix has increased their parental controls to allow parents to make their own best decisions for viewing.

Talking Points for season one are also a good resources for parents and educators on how to participate in meaningful dialogue with youth who have watched the series. Many of these messages will be applicable for season two as well:

  • Parents should be aware of what their children are watching and are encouraged to monitor access to the series via computers and mobile devices.
  • Parents with a vulnerable child are encouraged to have open discussions with their child about why watching the series might not be in their best interest.
  • Parents are encouraged to watch the series with their children and use the series to begin the much needed conversations surrounding difficult topics. Youth are often hesitant to bring these topics up and this series can provide a venue through which to do so.
  • Educators and parents are encouraged to truly listen to what youth are telling them, take their concerns seriously, and be willing to offer help.
  • Educators and parents are encouraged to caution youth against binge watching episodes.
  • Educators and parents are encouraged to be familiar with the warning signs for youth suicide.
  • Remind youth that school-based mental health professionals are available to help, particularly in light of season one’s portrayal of the school counselor as not being helpful.
  • Youth are encouraged to speak up and tell a trusted adult if there are concerned about a friend.

Lastly, suicide is preventable. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you can contact the following resources:

  • For the Crisis Text Line, text HELP to 741-741.
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • The Lifeline also offers an online chat function.
  • For an emergency, dial 911.

Erbacher is also the author of Suicide in Schools: A Practitioner’s Guide to Multi-level Prevention, Assessment, Intervention, and Postvention.