13 considerations for Netflix series

Published 10:44 am Friday, May 18, 2018

The second season of the controversial Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, was released on Friday. The first season raised significant concerns for parents, educators, and mental health professionals because of its dramatic, often graphic portrayal of difficult issues such as sexual assault and suicide.

While the story lines of the characters in season 2 have not been fully revealed, Netflix did indicate that difficult, sensitive issues will again be explored and may include another suicide attempt, a rape trial, and a school shooting. Conversations about these topics are important, and it is vital that families are aware of what their children are watching.

Stephanie Chitwood, Leah Coots and Jill Harris, school psychologists for the Harlan County School System, compiled the following considerations for families to keep in mind when viewing and discussing 13 Reasons Why: Season 2:

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• Vulnerable youth should not watch either season of the series. Vulnerable children may include those with a history of mental illness, previous suicide attempts, or those who have experienced significant trauma. The series’ powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies.

• Parents and/or caregivers should watch the series with their child. Remember that children who view the series may need supportive adults to help process it. Ideally, parents should watch the series before and with their child, so that they can be better prepared to discuss the topics covered in the series.

• While binge watching a new season of a series is tempting, doing so with intense content can be associated with increased mental health concerns. Binge watching powerful content, such as the content in 13 Reasons Why, alone can be particularly damaging.

• Because of the nature of the topics covered in the series, some scenes may be uncomfortable to watch. If a scene feels uncomfortable to watch, don’t feel that you have to watch it; feel free to skip forward, or look away. Also, if you are uncomfortable with a scene, there is a great chance that your child may also be uncomfortable.

• Don’t be afraid to have a conversation about mental health and suicide — it doesn’t increase the risk or plant the idea in someone’s head. But, it is helpful to invite conversations about feelings, thoughts, and perspectives.

• Mental health challenges are commonplace, and often emerge during the teen or young adult years. Therefore, it is important to encourage your child to talk with you about these issues, and ensure that they feel comfortable coming to you should issues arise in the future.

• The vast majority of people who face the challenges portrayed in 13 Reasons Why find ways to overcome them naturally. Reinforcing resiliency and protective factors, such as good family support and communication, adaptive and coping skills, and school and community connectedness, can lessen the potential risk factors that lead to suicidal ideation.

• Suicide is not simply caused by stressors, but is most often a combined result of a treatable mental illness and overwhelming or intolerable stressors.

• While many youth are resilient and capable of differentiating between a TV drama and real life, those who are isolated, struggling, or vulnerable to suggestive images and storylines may be negatively impacted and affected by watching the series. Remind your child that suicide is not a solution to problems, and help is available.

• Sexual assault is a theme in several episodes in the first season of the series, and is likely to be discussed in the second season. Watching the series may provide an opportunity to open a dialogue about issues related to consent, ongoing harassment, and peer pressure, as well as recognizing sexual assault.

• Bullying is demonstrated in several forms in the series — physical, verbal, and social isolation are all prevalent. — Whatever the form, bullying can be helped by speaking to a trusted adult such as a parent, teacher, or school psychologist.

• In today’s climate, vulnerable adolescents may be sensitive to gun violence and threats toward schools and students. Because this may be a theme explored in the second season of the series, parents should be prepared to discuss safety measures and alleviate anxiety, as well as caution students against communicating statements that could be interpreted as threatening.

• While talking about these issues is important, if you or someone you know is at risk, it is critical to get help from either a trusted adult or a professional resource, such as a school employed or community based mental health professional. For immediate help, call 1-800-273-TALK, or text TALK to 741741.