Challenging Subject Matter in 13 Reasons Why

The following information was sent to all employees earlier this week:

I am writing to briefly inform and offer support around a Netflix series that premiered on March 31st. The show, entitled 13 Reasons Why, is a 13-part adaptation of the novel of the same name. It portrays the story of a high school student who dies by suicide and then leaves messages for the survivors detailing the ways in which peers and adults in her life contributed to her pain and desperation. The series has gained significant traction with a wide adolescent audience over the past few weeks and has begun to be discussed and dissected in the mainstream media as well. Some Deerfield adults have already been invited into conversations with our students about the content of the show, and we’re hearing about it in the Counseling Center, too. My hope with this email is to raise your awareness of the show and to provide you with a few tips for discussing some challenging subject matter with your children

I think it’s important for us as adults to be available for perspective and scaffolding as our students explore how the show resonates for them. It raises lots of important and relevant issues for our kids, including rape and sexual assault, bullying, stalking, dating, and the use of explicit pictures. These are critical topics for this age group, and as much as we can listen attentively and lean into these kinds of difficult conversations as adults, the better off our students will be. The show has also been criticized (rightly, in my mind) for portraying suicide as means for revenge and for teaching those who have hurt us a lesson. This framing of the lead character’s death is not subtle (the suicide itself is graphically portrayed in the final episode), and I think it runs a significant risk of being misleading or triggering for some of our vulnerable kids who have contemplated or been touched by suicide. For a more detailed discussion of the prevailing concerns with 13 Reasons Why’s portrayal of suicide, see this recent Washington Post article

Much like with the other topics raised by 13 Reasons Why, I believe it’s important for us to attend to the topic of suicide. It is a normal and developmentally appropriate issue for adolescents to try to wrap their heads around. It’s a rare opportunity to talk directly about an area that’s typically difficult to broach. It’s also a chance to challenge our kids to think critically about the way it is portrayed in this show and in other forms of media. 

For more specific suggestions, the following are some links with tips for discussing the topics raised in 13 Reasons Why: 

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/tv-reviews/13-reasons-why 

http://mailchi.mp/931a259224c8/13-reasons-why-talking-points?e=cb298cf09b

https://www.jedfoundation.org/13-reasons-why-talking-points/ 

I hope this is helpful. And again, please feel free to contact me or any of our counselors at any time.

Thank you,

Josh

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