Thirteen More Reasons to Talk to Kids About What They Are Watching

Dear Parents and Families,

I want to share a concern that has surfaced recently about a television show some of our students -- including some 6th-graders -- are watching. The show, now available on Netflix, is called 13 Reasons Why. It is based on a book, Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher. (Both links provided give a summary of the story for parents to preview.) Although labeled as a “Young Adult” novel, Thirteen Reasons Why contains very mature subject matter including suicide and rape. The show is produced by Selena Gomez, a former Disney child star, and this might contribute to the show reaching a younger audience than intended.

The concern is that translating these sensitive subjects from a book to the visual medium of film can intensify their effects. Some experts, like suicide prevention advocate MollyKate Cline, have been critical of the show.  You can read her op-ed article published in Teen Vogue here. Cline’s main point is that the show dramatizes the heartbreak of teen suicide without providing any examples how it could have been avoided.

 As parents, we all struggle to keep a watchful eye on what are kids are seeing, saying, and doing online. The lack of accurate and consistent ratings for TV shows make this more difficult. It can be easy to think of Netflix as a TV channel but it is not at all the same as broadcast TV. Paid subscription channels like HBO and Netflix have different standards for content ratings. Ratings are a voluntary practice by the entertainment industry and each studio has their own system. (Here is a link to Netflix general guidelines.)

Parents and students can have different ideas about age-appropriate content. I am not trying to be a censure. If your child does watch the show, I would encourage parents and students to talk together about the topics and issue. Here is one guide called “7 Things You Need To Know Before Your Teen Watches 13 Reasons Why.” Another source is the guide to this show by Common Sense Media.
I have created a Webmix of all the links above and links to Teen Suicide Prevention resources. The webmix has all of the links group in one place. As always, the school mental health team and guidance is available to talk with students and parents about these important issues.