Dear Parents and Caregivers,

I are writing to inform you about the Netflix series titled, 13 Reasons Why, and its possible impact on our students. 13 Reasons Why Season 1 came out on Netflix in March 2017. Season 2 was released last Friday, 18 May.

Season 1 was popular with teens, but was concerning because the show is based on a novel and the story of a 17-year-old girl who takes her own life. The topics covered in this book and series include: sexual assault, abuse, revenge, depression, suicide, and school violence. The book provided 13 reasons related to interactions with peers, family and school personnel justifying the teenage lead character’s ultimate decision to end her life.

At this point we are not certain what situations will be presented in Season 2, but we anticipate that the content may be disturbing to some students, especially those with mental health issues. If you do allow your child to watch this series, we recommend you watch it with them and discuss it afterwards.

With the second season, Netflix is offering some resources to help parents take control of the subject matter head-on. They now offer a parental control for individual movies and series in the form of a PIN number. You will be able to assign a unique code for specific films and shows, which includes both seasons of “13 Reasons Why.” When you set the code in the account section of your Netflix account, your child will not be able to access any episodes in the series without this code.

Whenever we try to stop our children from doing something, it is important that we tell them why—after all, they can easily see things at friends’ homes or elsewhere. It is key that they have your words in their brains as they watch things. The more we convey our concerns based on our family values and on science, in a calm, non-judgemental tone, the more effective we can be.

Here is one essential thing that I want every parent to know. When we bring up hard topics with our children and teens, even if you muddle your way through them, you are giving them direct evidence that you can handle challenging subjects. The result then is that they are more likely to come to you in the future when they face challenges. If we don’t bring up issues related to all sorts of topics that come up in sexual lives, relationships in general, mental health, etc, then our children are much more likely to look for answers on the internet or from peers—or no one at all—rather than sharing their concerns with us.

So what to tell our children about shows such as “13 Reasons Why”?

Here are a few prompts for you to consider:

Just the sheer act of being in a movie glamorises and condones hurtful behaviours. We get drawn in by the characters’ glitz and glamour, and when they engage in social cruelty and we may normalise it subconsciously.

Research shows that people internalise the scripts they see on screens. These types of shows focus repeatedly on jokes and actions involving careless and emotionless sexual encounters. They show people in their worst light and ongoing interpersonal cruelty. They rarely show realistic conversations and even rarer do they show people trying to repair their mistakes in any realistic way.

Shows that have rape are incredibly distressing to the heart and mind.

Taking one’s own life is a tragedy beyond words. The way the first season dealt with suicide was incredibly irresponsible and many mental health experts wanted the series banned.

If your children are going to watch the series, talking about the issues ahead of time is ideal. To be proactive, Netflix has created a discussion guide to accompany the first season and they have indicated they will release another guide to accompany the second season as well. Netflix has also created a short clip featuring the actors out of character talking about the show’s heavy themes including: spotting signs of depression, talking to your child about the show, understanding consent, talking to someone about alcohol and drug abuse, the many forms of bullying, and taking the signs of potential harm very seriously.

We can try to ban our younger children from watching the show, but the subject matter is still out there, online or in conversations with friends at school. It is important to include our kids in these conversations in an age-appropriate way so they will know what to do if they or someone they know is affected.

One of the major concerns of the first season is that the teens were seen going to adults for advice and the adults consistently failed in helping for various reasons. It is an awful message to give children. I am a big believer in encouraging your children to find trusted adults beyond you as a parent.

If your child has warning signs of depression or suicide, don’t be afraid to ask if they have thought about suicide and check out the resources available. If your child is in need of assistance, please reach out to me directly, or the Principal or Assistant Principal.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Jacci Young
School Counsellor