Parents, schools and clinicians are bracing themselves for the second installment of 13 Reasons Why, the wildly popular and controversial series documenting high school students and a number of events including bullying, rape, self-injury and suicide. The first installment of 13 Reasons Why was lauded for highlighting issues that continue to affect high school students at an increasingly prevalent rate as well as preteens (who have the highest increase in successful suicide rates in the United States, an increase of more than 300% over the last 15 years). The series was also condemned because of the sensationalized manner in which some of the topics were portrayed and the lack of discussion or resources provided by the creators of the series or Netflix itself. Schools reportedly took different avenues in addressing conversation around the series, from banning any mention of 13 Reasons on school grounds to advising parents to utilize Netflix parental controls to avoid preteens and adolescents from watching the series. Other schools have taken a more proactive approach by moving their health and wellness curriculum that discusses suicide from high school to middle school. For parents and clinicians looking for resources to discuss or support their children who may be intrigued by the series or who are interested in viewing it, here are some resources that may help.
If your child has or is planning on watching either installment of 13 Reasons Why, it is highly advisable for parents to watch the series as well in an effort to gain a better understanding of the topics and how they are portrayed. As with many sensitive topics with preteens and adolescents, a gentle curiosity around whether they have viewed it, their thoughts around the series and some of its content can go a long way in encouraging open dialogue rather than shutting down an important conversation. For parents interested in talking points about the series, the hardest part can be starting and engaging in a conversation about bullying, rape and suicide. It is important to remember that 13 Reasons Why is not a resource for discussion of mental health and, in a number of ways, broadly missed the mark around suicide and mental/emotional health. Dr. Michelle Scobey’s article and collection of resources is a fantastic piece of writing that can help parents and adolescents understand the sensationalized portrayal of the series versus the reality of such serious topics. Finally, for parents looking for resources that can help schools proactively anticipate the May 18th release of the second season, Teen Line has created a great document for schools and parents that can help both be more prepared for the tsunami of discussions and questions that are likely to occur.
Finally, there is an extremely concerning ‘challenge’ that has been popularized in a number of different countries that is also gaining in interest in the United States. “The Blue Whale Challenge” targets pre-teens to engage in a series of increasingly dangerous behaviors over a 50 day period, culminating with a ‘suicide challenge’. In addition to the dangerous behaviors that are encouraged, the app records personal and location information to scare users of the app into thinking they must complete the challenge or harm will come to those in their life. Because the app is targeting younger children, it can be very important to have open discussions with kids around avoiding the application and reporting any discussion of friends using the application or hashtag #bluewhalechallenge to a parent or counselor.