Dear adult in the life of a NHS student:
The following information is being given to you to help inform you in regards to a Netflix television series based on Jay Asher’s 2007 book entitled “Thirteen Reasons Why.” The series was released in full to the public at 12:01 AM on Friday, March 31st . The topics covered in this book and series are: adolescent bullying, rejection, heartbreak, sexual assault, abuse, revenge, depression, desperate but unsuccessful efforts to find help or understanding, and suicide. The book provided 13 reasons related to interactions with peers, family and school personnel justifying the teenaged lead character’s ultimate decision to end her life. Such series can be very difficult to watch and could easily trigger feelings of distress in vulnerable viewers. We are notifying you of this in order to enable you to make informed decisions regarding viewing this series. In the event your child chooses to view this series, you may wish to discuss some of the issues raised. To facilitate discussion of these issues with your child, we are enclosing an outline of suggestions that may help with such a dialogue.
Please note that this letter is not recommending viewing this series; it is intended only to provide you with information we feel is relevant to the health and well being of our students. It should also be noted that Netflix opened all 13 episodes for continuous viewing so parents should consider metered viewing of the series.
Director of Health, Safety & Equity Programs
Northampton Public Schools
Why We Need to Talk About 13 Reasons Why
Your school’s halls are most likely buzzing with students discussing the most recent Netflix series hit, 13 Reasons Why, based on the popular book by Jay Asher. The series follows a group of high school students as they piece together a story left behind for them by their classmate Hannah Baker, who died by suicide.
While this popular series sheds light on important topics, there are some shortcomings in its execution. Without mention of mental illness, which affects one in five adolescents, and coming dangerously close to romanticizing suicide, this show is missing a crucial opportunity to discuss an issue that is affecting so many teenagers. Additionally, there is no example of successful help-seeking with a theme of silence throughout the story. As Hannah’s classmates struggle with the aftermath of her suicide, there are no scenes highlighting her peers reaching out to talk with their parents, teachers, or coaches despite having a difficult time coping. Without showing how to ask for help, or that treatment and counseling are available, the show is only depicting what not to do without giving an example of what to do.
In addition, there is an unfortunate scene in which Hannah visits a counselor at school and discloses that she has been raped and is struggling. The counselor not only doesn’t offer hope, compassion, or resources, but blames her for the rape and lets her leave while she is clearly distressed. Schools need to be aware that teens are getting this message and make sure students know that their counselors are responsive.
Despite some of its faults, 13 Reasons Why does provide insight into the cultural psyche of the 21st century American teen, and will certainly resonate with viewers. It is a good time to remind students of the messages of hope that you have instilled using the SOS Program and stress that suicide is never the solution. Remind students that there is always something they can do if they are concerned about something someone has said or done in person or online: ACT
- Acknowledge that they are seeing warning signs and that it is serious
- Care: show the person your concern
- Tell a trusted adult
Use SOS wallet cards to distribute the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) and resources at your school/organization while reinforcing the ACT message or write the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Crisis Text Line (741741) in a visible location, like a white board, to encourage help-seeking.
For more discussion points about 13 Reasons Why, SAVE, in partnership with the Jed Foundation, drafted talking points to assist parents, teachers, and other gatekeepers in talking to youth about suicide as it relates to the situational drama that unfolds in the series.