The Netflix series 13 Reasons Why debuted on Netflix in March 2017, and last month was followed by the second season.
The original series, produced by Selena Gomez, was intended to be a catalyst for conversation about teen suicide. While conversations about suicide can be helpful in prevention, the original series missed the mark. The program, which portrays 13 reasons why a teenager kills herself, sends unhealthy messages about suicide, and it has been our opinion that vulnerable young people should not watch the show. However, it is likely that if your teenager has access to the internet, they have seen it.
Having viewed the series ourselves, we were hoping the second installment might improve upon the original. While the directors and actors appear to have made an effort to show the very real harm caused to those left behind in the second series, there are unfortunately very graphic and unhelpful scenes and messages through the season.
- 1. It romanticises suicide. The original series primarily depicts a young woman who suicides. It presents the viewer with very confronting and graphic imagery of suicidal behaviour. Research clearly indicates the risk of exposure to stories of suicide in the media which shows increased risk of copied behaviour. Teenagers often fantasize about the aftermath of suicide, and the show sadly romanticises this fantasy.
- 2. It also romanticises revenge and portrays suicide as a way to teach others a lesson. The show depicts Hannah Baker leaving instructions for specific people to listen to audiotapes so they’ll understand the role they played in her decision to kill herself. While we believe the authors intended to highlight the horrors of bullying, unfortunately the way this is portrayed may encourage teens to solely blame others for their problems.
- 3. Mental illness is not addressed. Characters in the series present with symptoms of depression, substance abuse and psychosis, yet the show does not talk about this, nor does it portray teen mental illness as treatable.
- 4. Young people will be affected differently. Given the graphic nature of some of the scenes in the second series, it is likely your teen has had an emotional response. The degree they have been affected will vary depending on their life experience. It is important to check in and facilitate a conversation to see how they have coped, and encourage them to be supportive of their peers’ responses as well.
- 5. Assume they have seen it.Many young people will want to watch the series, despite the unsettling content and parent consent. With the series being on Netflix, teens (and even younger children) can watch on their tablets, smartphones or laptops in the privacy of their bedrooms, at friends, or at school. The young person in your life is likely to benefit more from an open conversation with you, rather than being told not to watch it.
- 6. The portrayal of adults as incompetent or unavailable. The teenagers in 13 Reasons Why feel unable to turn to the adults in their life for support, or help to solve a problem. When the characters are brave enough to try, the adults often let them down. It is important for parents to be aware that young people often are reluctant to ask for help. Talk to your children about whether they feel similarly understood and supported. Give them a different experience and encourage them to turn to safe adults if they need support.
- 7. It graphically portrays many forms of bullying. Bullying is a significant themethroughout the series, in its many forms. Verbal harassment (by both students and teachers), physical attacks, and sharing of embarrassing photographs are frequently portrayed. Many young viewers who themselves have been bullied may be very distressed whilst viewing.
- 8. It graphically portrays sexual assaults. Graphic portrayals of both female and male sexual assault are featured. The victims experience shame and helplessness, and the perpetrators are not adequately punished, if at all. This again sends a dangerous message to our youth that adults and the criminal justice system will fail them. Many young people, and adults, will find viewing these scenes distressing, potentially triggering symptoms of trauma.
- 9. The producers and Netflix have issued warnings about the show. While the show was produced with good intentions, and is intended as fictional entertainment, both the producers and Netflix have added warnings and links to resources about mental health and suicide following criticism regarding the content and its impact on its intended audience. Make sure your young person is aware of where they can go in Melbourne for support.
- 10. It regularly depicts substance use in minors. From alcohol use to shooting up heroin, substance use features strongly in the show. While an attempt was made to depict the reality of detoxing and likelihood of relapse, the overall message potentially normalizes drug use.
- 11. It features gun violence. The series depicts gun violence in several scenes, including an attempted suicide, a threatened murder, and the planning of a mass shooting. While gun laws in Australia will mitigate the effect, viewing scenes depicting gun violence may be distressing for many young people.
- 12. It features cutting and self-harm. Cutting, is a form of nonsuicidal self-injury (NSSI). One of the shows characters is frequently depicted as having cut herself. While she eventually seeks effective treatment, viewing of these scenes can trigger difficult reactions in many viewers. Most teenagers are aware of cutting as a form of emotional regulation or self-harm. We encourage you to open a conversation about coping with distress so your young person knows they have options.
- 13. 13 Reasons Why, Season Two shows a biased view of teenage life.While all of the themes depicted in the show are based in reality, equally accurate themes are omitted. If the teenager in your life is already having a difficult time, watching this series may contribute to feelings of hopelessness and despair.