We parents invest time and effort ensuring our child’s health and daily safety. We teach them not to talk to strangers; to report bullying, wear bike helmets and be careful crossing streets. We warn them about cyber threats. We baby proof and child proof our homes to the max. We teach our kids to swim. We schedule regular visits to the doctor. We talk about these things.
But we do not talk enough about death much. We do not have a proactive stance, nor a comfortable habit of dialog, to protect mental health and prevent suicide. 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 recent NBC news reports show a dramatic increase in teen suicide, especially among girls.
Our deepest fear, the one we never want to speak aloud, is the death of a child. Preventing it involves discussing not only physical health, but also emotional well-being. As we talk to our children about their physical safety, we should as freely speak with them about emotional health. Many of our schools have provided parents with warnings about 13 Reasons Why (a first-person account of a teen girl’s path to suicide). Most of us were caught short by the first season, only realizing how vulnerable our children were to its seductive drama after they were hooked. Here’s a dual heads up: 1) Season Two is here; 2) If your child watches, be ready to talk about it.
PIA’s mission is to encourage effective communication. If you communicate regularly with your child about physical safety, then suicide demands equal attention. If your child watched the first season, we hope you’ve discussed it with her. Terrifying imagery is more manageable for kids in the context of a conversation with a trusted parent. And you may want to ask your child, too, to share how he feels about his safety in general.
It may be hard for us to fully grasp how frightening the world has become for young people. Don’t forget, they are experiencing lockdown drills at their schools several times a year, and they know the reason is to learn to hide quietly from a rampaging shooter. Fear has infiltrated their lives in ways we never thought we would need to counter. It may not be unrelated, this generation’s obsession with suicide. Our kids are being forced to face and acknowledge their mortality, despite our efforts to help them feel safe.
Your best bet, for children in middle school or younger, would be not to view 13 Reasons at all, (this season includes gun violence and a very graphic sexual assault). But if they do watch, please don’t let them watch alone. Sit with them. Discuss afterward. Ask if anything particularly scared them. Point out to your child that it is misleading for a heroine to narrate her own suicide after the fact. If suicide is successful, there is no opportunity to return to tell one’s story. Teens expect the future will always beckon – the next party, the next school year, the next adventure – and they don’t understand how death redraws the map, leaving it blank. Suicide is final, death is forever. The heartbreak, for parents, is endless. Tell them that, plainly.
Here is a list of resources to guide you:
13 Reasons Why Netflix Series: Considerations for Families
Tips for Talking To Your Teen About “13 Reasons Why” (via Erika’s Lighthouse)
“Netflix 13 Reasons Why: What Viewers Should Consider” (JED)
And, for a more personal and heartfelt parent’s perspective, please see our blogger’s latest post:
“Suicide Is an Impossible Subject to Tackle, But as Parents, We Have To,” by Lori Gaon.