April 20, 2017

A Parent’s Guide to Watching “13 Reasons Why.”

I have highly recommended that everyone watch Netflix’s breakout series, “13 Reasons Why.”

Or, just read the book by Jay Asher. It’s phenomenal story-telling with so many lessons to take away from it. However, I do not recommend that adolescents watch this show alone. For parents, this is your guide to viewing “13 Reasons Why” with your child or teen.

1. Here’s the number 1 rule: Do not allow your child/teen to watch this show alone. This show contains mature subject matter, and you can discuss issues with your child as they come up.

2. Be aware that this show is graphic. Sexual assault and suicide are depicted. Strong language is in every episode, and all of the themes are mature. With that being said, it’s also an extremely accurate look at what children and teens experience in school and is a great reminder for parents.

3. Suicide triggers are present in this show. If your teen is suicidal, proceed with caution and take the time to process each episode thoroughly with your child. This show and the book it’s based on aren’t meant to glamorize suicide, but it can trigger those thoughts as well as self-harming behaviors. Do some outside research to be aware of the signs and keep an open line of communication.

4. Sexual assault triggers also exist. Tertiary trauma can result from being exposed to this type of material. Keep an open line of communication with your child during these episodes. This is a great opportunity to discuss consent with your child and to also discuss how rape culture is perpetuated and can impact others.

5. Do not, I repeat: Do not, trivialize what you see. If it seems unimportant to you as an adult, remember that this is a daily reality for your child. So avoid platitudes and minimizing the importance of bullying, gossip, or any other behaviors that you see portrayed.

6. Listen more than you speak. Allow your child to openly discuss any issues or concerns without judgment, criticism, or punishment. Allow them to lead the conversation.

7. Direct your child to other resources for help. Many children and teenagers don’t feel comfortable talking to their parents about their private lives and experiences. Let your child know that there are other people they can talk to if they are having issues. Provide suicide hotlines, resources for help with substance abuse, information about support groups, and suggestions for other adults that can help (trusted family members, teachers, school counselors). Encourage them to talk—even if they don’t want to talk to you.

8. Don’t feel that you need to lecture about each topic presented in the show. Instead, allow these subjects to be talking points for more open family discussions.

9. If your child brings up a topic that you’re not familiar with, don’t try to gloss over it or guess at how to deal with it. Admit that you don’t know how to handle that situation and then spend time with your child researching strategies or obtaining more information. Use it as a learning experience and let them know that you’re not afraid to find answers if you don’t have them already.

10. Be supportive no matter what. “13 Reasons Why” does an excellent job bringing up issues related to sexual assault, suicide, rape culture, gossip, bullying, and discrimination. If our children open up to us about something they are experiencing, we need to listen first and make sure that our response to this openness doesn’t discourage them from talking to us in the future. If we respond with judgment, we will likely close the door to future conversations with our children.

11. We can model positive behaviors in our own lives. In addition to watching this show and discussing it with our children, we can make sure that our own behaviors set good examples. Do we gossip or bully others? Do we engage in self-harming or substance abusing behaviors? Do we perpetuate rape culture with the jokes we tell? Do we parent with a double standard based on gender? Do we use discriminatory language in our homes? We can check in with ourselves to make sure that we’re not modeling any of the negative behaviors portrayed.

12. We can make sure that we’re not censoring the tough content. Sure, it can be uncomfortable to watch, but we need to make sure that we don’t disregard subjects that are important. We do, however, need to be aware of what our children are capable of handling. This isn’t viewing for all ages. Children who are not in middle or high school do not need to be exposed to this material. Use some parental discretion to determine if your child is mature enough to take in this material.

13. We need to use “13 Reasons Why” as a reminder. Instead of constantly bringing attention to our children’s faults, we need to make sure that they know that they are loved and supported. We need to highlight their positive attributes more often than we do their negative ones. It’s actually a family therapy technique to spend time during a week focusing only on positive behaviors rather than tuning in only to negative ones. When both parents and children use this tool, it can be a powerful way to bring families together.

“13 Reasons Why” is a tough show, but it can definitely open up dialogue about important issues that our children face on a daily basis.

We need to make sure that our children know that they are loved and supported, even if what they need to tell us is difficult. The rate of child and teen suicide is growing, and as parents we need to be in tune with their struggles as much as we are able. We also need to be aware of the warning signs of high-risk and suicidal behavior.

Everyone believes that suicide is something that happens to someone else’s family, but we all need to be aware of the signs.


Author: Crystal Jackson
Image: YouTube
Editor: Catherine Monkman


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Anastasia Teresa Shaver Apr 29, 2017 10:56pm

I agree that the show should be watched with parents. Sadly most kids aren't. I don't know how they would've gotten word out to parents and school officials about the best way to watch this series with your child/teen. It's like an after thought that there is information for parents on how to discuss it. Damage control almost. I know my daughter's therapist and others that I know have seen an increase in depression, self harm, suicidal ideation, and even a few attempts in their teen clients who had binged the series. Before I even knew about the series, my daughter had binged the series. We lost my 16 year old son to suicide and she was the one to find him. She was 12 at the time. She is now 15. After binging the series she resorted to cutting. She had not done that in 2 years. Her suicidal ideation also came back. We've had to increase her therapy and restart her on antidepressant. Coinciden? Possibly. But I doubt it. It was hard for me to watch most of it. I only watched so I could see what she exposed herself to. She agrees now that watching this series was not a good idea for her, and it wouldn't be a good idea for kids with similar diagnoses as her (PTSD, major depressive disorder). I applaud the show for shedding light on bullying, sexual assault and suicide because it does need to be brought to the light. But I wish at a minimum they would have put hotline numbers to call before and after each episode. Not in just beyond the reasons. It would have also been nice if they could have shown there is help out there. That it can get better. I feel they missed the boat on addressing mental health. Sexual assault victims normally have ptsd, depression, anxiety, etc. I know you know this. But it didn't address getting help for that. I do not agree with the show saying they believe all high school students need to watch this. It isn't safe for all kids. Just my thoughts.

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Crystal Jackson

Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned full-time writer. Her first fiction novel Left on Main, the first in the Map of Madison series, will be released by Sands Press in October 2019. Her work has been featured on Elephant Journal, Medium, Elite Daily, Your Tango, The Good Men Project, The Urban Howl, and Sivana East. You can follow Crystal on Facebook or at www.crystaljacksonwriter.com