“Don’t Watch Alone”
We parents are not hesitant to voice our fears over child safety – we give them stranger danger talks early; we walk safety patrol in the neighborhoods of many of our schools; we encourage our kids to report bullying, wear protective helmets, eat well, exercise, learn swimming and water safety; and we prod them to master cyber smarts.
But the darkest fear is the one we can hardly bear to voice aloud – the death of a child. We protect aggressively against accidents. We act preventively to protect their physical health. But we do not have a well-defined proactive stance to help prevent suicide. It’s tempting to dismiss the possibility as unthinkable (not in my family!) but the fact is, it does happen – to someone’s child. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide was the second leading cause of death for children and young adults ages 10 to 24 in 2014. And the tipping point for those who may be vulnerable to suicide has just gotten a little less stable with the release of a Netflix series that packs a wallop of mixed fascination and horror for teens and pre-teens –“13 Reasons Why.”
The majority of our member schools have reached out to parents with warnings that this series is viewed by the mental health community as potentially dangerous to kids – especially preteens and teens. Many schools have offered lists of resources to help both parent and child probe this issue in a context less dramatic, and, frankly, less seductive, to impressionable young minds than is “13 Reasons Why.” Most schools have issued a stark plea to their families not to allow their children to watch it alone, or without some parental input and context.
PIA’s mission is to encourage effective communication. If you communicate regularly with our child about his or her health, then this topic is another area of your child’s welfare that demands your loving monitoring. If you find – as many parents have –that your child has already viewed the series, then talk about it – now. Below is a list of resources to guide you. Talk critically, too, about how misleading it is to have a suicide victim narrate the action after the fact. After a successful suicide, there’s no opportunity to narrate or revisit the story. The act is final, in a way nothing else ever is for a young person. You can assure your child that after he fails a test, there will be other tests and other chances, or after a broken romance, there will be other relationships – but after a suicide there can be no more chapters. The book closes forever.
Like the strongest horror story, this one earns the hashtag, #don’twatchalone. Don’t leave your teen or pre-teen alone to process this show. Counteract the risk to his or her health. Talk now.
Here are some resources to get you started.
“Why Talk to Kids About ’13 Reasons Why'” by a school psychologist (via Child-Mind Institute)
Tips for Talking To Your Teen About “13 Reasons Why” (via Erika’s Lighthouse)
“Netflix 13 Reasons Why: What Viewers Should Consider” (JED)
PIA Website Editor