Conversation about Teen Suicide
13 Reason’s Why on Netflix dives into a frightening topic of teen suicide. Because of the serious topic and graphic nature of the show, many parents do not want their kids to watch the show. The series shows the rawness of suicide and addresses teen bullying, but unfortunately, at the same time it glamorizes suicide. The show touches on some important topics to talk about with your teen. Though the show glamorizes suicide and has some messages that may be confusing for teens, it also opens the opportunity for a dialogue about suicide. Below are some topics the show touches on that you may want to discuss with your teen.
1. Teen bullying. It shows how sexual assault, spreading rumors and bullying can really impact teens. Teens may not be aware of the impact of their actions. In the show the main character, Hannah, was bullied by many of her school mates. Some of the bullying events were big things like sexual assault and others were common things teen experience like loss of friendships. The series showed how bullying can really impact a person’s self worth, self-esteem and identity.
2. Portrays the rawness of suicide. The scene where she cuts her wrist is terrifying and upsetting. They did not hold back on showing how painful and real it can be. The show may have originally done this for shock value, but in the end I think it shows that suicide is not glamorous. Talk to your teenager about this. Discuss how suicide is a permanent choice.
3. The belief it will not get better. Hannah said before she committed suicide because she believes it will not get better. This is something teens struggle with: if it is bad now it will always be bad. Talk to your teen about how periods of sadness and hard times are not forever. Let them know it will get better. If your teen is struggling with depression, therapy can be a helpful option. Sometimes it can be useful for an individual to talk to an unbiased person who they do not have a previous relationship with. This does not mean your teen’s relationship with you isn’t a good one.
4. Suicide should not be done to let others know you are hurting.Hannah’s suicide tapes were heard by many people. Each tape talked about a student that hurt Hannah. Hannah discusses how each event led her to the decision to commit suicide. All those student’s receive copies of the tapes. Those kids lives are impacted by the tapes. Many of those teens lose friends, get bullied more, and turn to drugs. Hannah is getting her feelings across after death which is what teens may want. They may want others to know how much they hurt them. It also can make the viewer forgot that Hannah had a choice. She could not control how other’s treated her but she had control over how she responded to their actions. This is a good opportunity to discuss with your child other ways they can get their needs met. Talk about what your teen can do if they are bullied. Encourage them to talk to you if they feel their voice is lost. Validate your child’s feelings and let them know it is ok to be mad, sad, etc. Discuss things that they can do to help them during these times. Such as letting a teacher or school official know what is going on. Discuss their strengths with them to elevate their self worth. Find out with your teen what makes them happy and relaxed. Some examples could be, listening to music, running, drawing, etc. Encourage them to use those above coping skills when upset.
5. Addresses the topic of rape. If your teen has experienced any sexual assault, this episode (episode 12) may be triggering for them. This can open a dialogue about rape. Talk to your teens about respecting each other and how if they do not hear no, it does not mean that sex is consensual. Talk to your teen about how to check in with the other person to make sure what they are doing is ok. Let them know that if they are uncomfortable in a situation that it is ok to ask the person to stop.
6. Teens often have difficulty expressing emotions. In the show, Hannah tries to get help from the guidance counselor and there are some red flags that he misses. It may make your teen feel like their needs cannot be met. Teen’s have a hard time expressing their feelings and may need you at a parent/adult to help them find the words to express what they need. Talk to your teens about how if they ever feel hopeless like Hannah that you will be there to talk with them and to help them find the words to express their needs.
7. If one therapist is not helpful it does not mean all will be that way.The guidance counselor was not super helpful for Hannah. Let your teen know that this is not always accurate. If an adult they seek help from is not helpful there are always other sources of support. There are other therapists or teachers they can talk to if they are seeking guidance or advocacy.
It is essentially up to you as a guardian to decide if you would like your child to watch the show. If you do choose to let them watch it, these topics can be helpful in starting a dialogue.
Jennifer Schaap MA MFTI
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