Is your child watching 13 Reasons Why?

By: Erin Conaway, CPS, Outreach Specialist

This is an important question for every parent and caregiver of a young person. Whether you think your child has access to Netflix in your home or not, it is crucial that you find out the answer to this question and be prepared to respond.

This new, fictional series, which follows events that lead up to the suicide of a high school girl, is being watched by youth everywhere. They are sharing it with their friends, and it is quickly becoming one of the most popular shows online. Some young people without access at home are watching the show through borrowed accounts of friends or acquaintances. Many young people admit their parents do not even know they have seen it.

Suicide prevention experts across the nation share concern that while the series can help people understand why someone might consider taking their life, it does very little to show that there are people who care, and there is an alternative to suicide. Some of the scenes are extremely graphic. Even though they depict events that are true to the experiences of many young people, they can be highly triggering for any youth but especially for youth with previous trauma or who are emotionally vulnerable.

It is not recommended that young people watch the show. However, it is important that if they do, they do so with you and have support in processing the information they receive from the show. If your youth has already watched the show without your knowledge, don’t panic. See it as an opportunity to have a supportive conversation about the content and ensure they get help if they are experiencing emotional distress.

The National Association of School Psychologists provides the following guidance to help families begin the discussion:

Guidance for Families

  1. Ask your child if they have heard or seen the series 13 Reasons Why. While we don’t recommend that they be encouraged to view the series, do tell them you want to watch it, with them or to catch up, and discuss their thoughts.
  2. If they exhibit any of the warning signs below, don’t be afraid to ask if they have thought about suicide or if someone is hurting them. Raising the issue of suicide does not increase the risk or plant the idea. On the contrary, it creates the opportunity to offer help.
  3. Ask your child if they think any of their friends or classmates exhibit warning signs. Talk with them about how to seek help for their friend or classmate. Guide them on how to respond when they see or hear any of the warning signs.
  4. Listen to your children’s comments without judgment. Doing so requires that you fully concentrate, understand, respond, and then remember what is being said. Put your own agenda aside.
  5. Get help from a school-employed or community-based mental health professional if you are concerned for your child’s safety or the safety of one of their peers.

Warning Signs

Always take warning signs seriously. If you recognize any of these warning signs, get help from a school-employed or community-based mental health professional. Common signs include:

  • Suicide threats, both direct (“I am going to kill myself.” “I need life to stop.”) and indirect (“I need it to stop.” “I wish I could fall asleep and never wake up.”). Threats can be verbal or written, and they are often found in online postings.
  • Giving away prized possessions.
  • Preoccupation with death in conversation, writing, drawing, and social media.
  • Changes in behavior, appearance/hygiene, thoughts, and/or feelings. This can include someone who is typically sad who suddenly becomes extremely happy.
  • Emotional distress.

See Preventing Youth Suicide Brief Facts (also available in Spanish) and Preventing Youth Suicide: Tips or Parents and Educators for additional information.1 and The JED Foundation have also teamed up to create 13 Reasons Why Talking Points, which can assist you to address some of the misconceptions youth may have after watching the series.

See Helpful Links & Resources for additional crisis resources and supports.

1 National Association of School Psychologists. (2017). 13 Reasons Why Netflix series: Considerations for educators [handout]. Bethesda, MD: Author.