If you’re the parent of a teen- or tween-age kid, there’s a good chance that you’ve watched, or at least heard about, the Netflix original series, “13 Reasons Why.” Our local school system recently sent us a notification concerning the show, offering up resources like this one to help have a discussion about suicide with our children, and I’m glad that they did this.
My husband, a teacher, first heard about “13 Reasons Why” from his high school students and he’s watched a few episodes so far. I haven’t watched it yet, and I’m not sure that I will. Mainly, my time is limited and 13 hours is a big investment in a television show. But I’m also not sure that I want to see the subject matter played out in front of me.
It’s not typical for me to read opinions and critiques of something and not judge it for myself firsthand. We’ve talked about watching it with our kids, and we’ve had discussions about both the show and the topic of suicide with them. Unfortunately, teenage suicide has touched our lives tangentially, so it’s a topic we’ve talked about several times before the show was even on the radar. My personal opinion is that all parents should initiate this discussion with their appropriately aged kids. Simply not talking about it and pretending it doesn’t exist is not the way to deal with this heavily fraught subject.
The topic of suicide is not singular; meaning, there are many different things that may lead somebody, of any age, to take their own life. This show appears to place the blame for the death of the main character on the people around her, and especially the other kids in her life who mistreat her or who at least don’t stop others from mistreating her. As such, many parents view “13 Reasons Why” as a great show to watch in order to drive home the point that everything you do and/or say matters, and that you should always treat others with kindness.
While these are good intentions, what if you’re the parent of the suicidal kid? Would you want them watching something that makes an idea in their head more real — and therefore, doable — to them? Would you want them watching something that suggests what to do and how to do it? What about reinforcing the idea that they don’t have to take ownership of their feelings and reactions, and instead simply lay them at the feet of others while making a dramatic exit from life?
As with nearly everything in life, there are at least two sides to this story — two ways of looking at this show as either something to watch or something to avoid. Whichever side you choose, be aware that mental health professionals and other leading experts stress that, “suicide is usually the result of multiple causes, often involving mental illness, and not something that can be blamed on a person or single event.” Furthermore, and most importantly, people with suicidal thoughts need to know that there is always somebody they can talk to, whether a parent, school counselor or mental health professional, and they should seek help if and when they need it.
While it’s important to get the topic of suicide out from the shadows to allow for productive conversations between parents and children, only a child’s parent(s) can determine when and if it is the right time.
For more information, and/or to help you start this conversation with your child(ren), here are some resources: