2 Reasons Why Not...
I feel compelled to write today for two reasons. First, I want to address a controversial Netflix series that has become a topic of conversation among school leaders across the country as well as among some of our own students. Second, I want to share some information and resources regarding some of the topics and issues raised in this series
The Netflix series is called 13 Reasons Why, and is based on a novel of the same name written in 2007 by Jay Asher. Rated TV-MA (reserved for programs specifically designed to be viewed by adults and “unsuitable” for children under 17), the series focuses on a young girl named Hannah who makes the decision to take her own life, but not before leaving behind thirteen audio tapes—one for each of the persons she feels has played a role in her decision. The creators’ stated intention is to begin a much-needed national conversation about the issue of teen suicide. However, mental health professionals have not only given the series largely negative reviews, they have also provided serious criticisms of the program as a whole for glamorizing suicide, portraying adults as feckless bystanders in their own children’s lives, and for displaying in graphic detail not only suicide but other topics such as rape, intimidation, cyber-bullying, and shaming.
The National Association of School Psychologists has written this about the show: “We do not recommend that vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation, watch this series. Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters or develop revenge fantasies. While many youth are resilient and capable of differentiating between a TV drama and real life, engaging in thoughtful conversations with them about the show is vital. Doing so presents an opportunity to help them process the issues addressed, consider the consequences of certain choices, and reinforce the message that suicide is not a solution to problems and that help is available.”
Having now watched the series myself and discussed it with colleagues in the mental health field, I believe the many warnings about the show are warranted. Make no mistake, the TV-MA rating is justified. There are graphic and gratuitous depictions of drug use, underage alcohol use, and sexual assault to go along with rampant profanity that is often degrading to women and demeaning to people on the margins of society. Put simply, children the ages of our students at PS should not be watching this series without an adult. If your child has already viewed the series, or if you are planning to view it with your child, please follow the guidance of mental health professionals and talk directly with them about their perceptions of what you are watching. Make sure they know that they have adults in their lives with whom they can talk honestly, directly, and purposefully…about anything.
Criticisms of the show aside, it is an excruciating tale of adolescent pain. That children feel this depth of pain at times is indisputable. To propose (as I believe the series does) that these same children are virtually alone as they try to navigate this pain is irresponsible, in my opinion. At PS we try very hard to represent and promote a community focused on uniting in the education and support of each child, and we are called to provide daily reminders to our children and to each other that we are not alone…that our children have us and that we have them—no matter the circumstance, no matter the situation. At the same time and as people of faith in that same community, we are also called to remember that we serve a loving God whose compassion knows no bounds, whose forgiveness is limitless, and whose grace defies understanding.
The vital importance of a supportive community coupled with a sustaining spirituality are two very important ideas that are completely absent from the Netflix series, and these omissions are the two reasons why I'm not willing to buy into the narrative it's trying to create.
Here are some helpful and informative resources that we hope can guide you in your conversations with children about the issues raised in this series:
“13 Reasons Why: Should Parents Be Concerned About This Netflix Series?” by John Ackerman, PhD: http://700childrens.nationwidechildrens.org/13-reasons-parents-concerned-netflix-series/
“13 Reasons Why Netflix Series: Considerations for Educators” (from the National Association of School Psychologists website): http://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources/school-safety-and-crisis/preventing-youth-suicide/13-reasons-why-netflix-series-considerations-for-educators
“13 Reasons Why: Talking Points for Viewing and Discussing the Netflix Series”: https://www.jedfoundation.org/13-reasons-why-talking-points/
The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting and Health for Lifelong Thriving: http://www.lisamillerphd.com/
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