Lake Tahoe school district responds to ‘13 Reasons Why’
A trending Netflix series with graphic depictions of teenage rape and suicide has mental healthcare professionals and educators concerned.
In “13 Reasons Why,” 17-year-old Hannah Baker commits suicide by slitting her wrists in a bathtub, but leaves behind 13 cassette tapes, each featuring a person she says contributed to her death.
When the series debuted on March 31, the National Association of School Psychologists issued a warning to parents and educators that while the show does bring up difficult topics that should be discussed — like suicide, bullying, rape, drunk driving and slut shaming — it could negatively influence some “vulnerable youth.”
“Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies,” according to the association.
“Research shows that exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of death, can be one of the many risk factors that youth struggling with mental health conditions cite as a reason they contemplate or attempt suicide.”
A superintendent from a school district in Florida recently told The Washington Post that his schools have reported at least a dozen episodes of self-harm in which the students have cited the show when discussing their behavior. He noted that this was a significant increase from what the district normally sees.
Lake Tahoe Unified School District spokeswoman Shannon Chandler said that the district’s intervention counseling team met on Thursday to discuss the show.
“They know that this is out there and kids are talking about it,” said Chandler.
In response, the counselors will be holding a panel for parents called “300 Reasons Why Not” on Tuesday, May 30, from 6 – 8 p.m. in the multipurpose room at South Tahoe Middle School.
Communication about the difficult topics in the show is key, according to Kristin Wilson, national director of clinical outreach at Newport Academy, which has teen treatment centers in California.
“I encourage parents to watch it on their own first to know what the topics are and what’s being portrayed on screen so they can have these conversations with their kids,” said Wilson.
“I think that what the show did get right is that suicide is often a result of multiple cumulative experiences — it’s usually not just one thing that causes someone to want to take their own life. One of the undertones I feel was not OK, was that it seemed like it was justifying Hannah’s suicide through the experiences that she had lived through.”
The National Association of School Psychologists pointed out that the show did not emphasize that suicide is not just a consequence of “stressors or coping challenges,” but of a “treatable mental illness.”
“I think kids today struggle with cyberbullying, drugs and alcohol, sexual assault and just trying to negotiate relationships — friendships, love interests, and family relationships are difficult for kids in general. So it’s so important to talk to kids about suicide as not being the answer,” said Wilson.
The statistics point to a need for these conversations.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in teens and young adults between 15 to 24 years old, said Wilson. Seventeen percent of high school students have seriously considered suicide, while 8 percent have made an attempt in the last 12 months.
“I think talking to your kid about difficult subjects can be uncomfortable, and I think this is a great conversation starter,” she added.