Schools across the US are issuing warnings to parents about Netflix’s latest original series, 13 Reasons Why, over concern that the breakout teen drama could glamorize teen suicide.
So where does the concern lie with the critically well-received show – and why are schools getting involved?
What is the show?
13 Reasons Why – which hit the popular streaming platform on March 31 – draws its plot from Jay Asher’s 2007 young adult novel of the same. The show’s episode count matches its title, with each installment following a series of audio recordings a teen leaves behind for her classmates and peers explaining why she decided to kill herself.
Every episode jumps between the past and present, profiling how each tape subject impacted Hannah’s (Katherine Langford) decision to take her life.
13 Reasons Why was executive produced by Selena Gomez, and originally intended to be a mini-series, though there are rumours of a second season.
Why is it controversial?
Throughout the series, there are instances of sexual assault, rape, underage drinking, driving under the influence, body shaming and, ultimately, a graphic scene depicting Hannah’s suicide.
What are schools and mental health experts saying?
In a public statement, the National Association of School Psychologists issued a warning against viewing the series to parents of “vulnerable youth.”
“Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies,” the statement read. “They may easily identify with the experiences portrayed and recognize both the intentional and unintentional effects on the central character.”
The NASP said that while 13 Reasons Why “accurately” conveys that there is no one cause of suicide, “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.”
Parents of students in the Montclair Public Schools District in Montclair, New Jersey, were sent a letter on Monday warning of the shows “extremely graphic” scenes, according to ABC News.
Similarly, the superintendent of Newton Public Schools in Newtonville, Massachusetts, wrote to parents, “As a community that has felt the tragic impact of youth suicide, we are particularly concerned about the content of this series. These issues are extraordinarily challenging and may be difficult for some students to process in a healthy and appropriate way,” reported CBS Boston.
In Maryland, at least four middle schools in the Bethesda area also sent letters home with students about 13 Reasons Why, according to NBC News4 Washington.
“Mental health professionals are concerned that adolescents, watching without an adult available to process the themes and their own feelings, could be at an increased risk of self-harm,” the letter reportedly read. “We would be particularly concerned for any student who may be struggling emotionally and views the series without the opportunity to process the content.”
Derek Turner, the spokesperson for Montgomery County Public Schools, told News4 that the series “romanticizes” some “very adult themes.”
Schools have taken similar action in Ohio, New York and Canada, among other places.
One of the writers from the Netflix show, Nic Sheff, has defended the more graphic scenes, telling Vanity Fair, “Facing these issues head-on—talking about them, being open about them—will always be our best defense against losing another life.”
He added, “I’m proud to be a part of a television series that is forcing us to have these conversations, because silence really does equal death.”
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