Six Things to Do with Your Teen When Watching '13 Reasons Why'

It’s no secret that the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” has generated a lot of buzz – not just among its teenage audience, but among school leaders and parents, too.

The series focuses on a young woman, Hannah, who decides to end her life by suicide. She reveals the reasons for her decision in a series of tapes sent to the people she claims played a role in that decision. It’s not a series for the faint of heart, either, as some scenes are pretty graphic.

To be sure, some of what’s causing the stir – at least some of it, anyway – is the very graphic depictions it contains. But it’s also other content. In addition to suicide, the series wrestles with a lot of other subjects: bullying, substance abuse, harassment, and more. The series, say some of its critics, also doesn’t provide a sense of hope. The students and adults are depicted as offering no solutions or little compassion for Hannah.

As parents, it’s not always easy to broach topics like this with our kids. But kids are dealing with some very big and very real problems, and if we shut this out, we could run the risk of marginalizing something they are feeling and need to discuss – maybe with us, maybe with a peer, but they need to get it out.

So what to do? It’s surely not simple, that’s true. Still, you can be a great resource for your kids in several ways: 

  1. Take time to talk. You’ve been able to talk with your kids about lots of things since they were in diapers – school, friends, sports and more. Sure, they’re older and a little more worldly now, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have questions. Encourage them to ask, and tell them you always have time for them. And don’t be afraid of not knowing the answer. It’s OK to say, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I’ll get it.
  2. Watch their emotions. This is not a “feel good” series, really. There are teens who are pretty resilient and will have some good conversations about what they watch. But if a teenager identifies with Hannah, or feels isolated in school or other situations, that should be a signal for you to step in. Learn the warning signs.
  3. Consider what kids may need. Maybe viewing the show opens a discussion about self-defense when dealing with a bully in school. It shouldn’t be used as a first resort, but knowing how to defend yourself – both physically and verbally – isn’t a bad thing. There are classes for both. Take them, if you want.
  4. Learn about coping skills. Whether it’s finding ways to manage stress or going to the gym to work out – even getting more sleep or adopting a pet – coping skills can be a big benefit. It can sometimes be hard to make time for that, but it’s time well spent.
  5. Talk about prevention. Silence isn’t an option when someone is hurting. The show doesn’t do a great job of giving suicide prevention help – until the end. There are several resources out there that can help and may offer insight as you move through each episode. Suicide hotlines, crisis hotlines, even crisis text lines are available. Ours is 1-877-695-HELP, or text “4hope” to 741741. There’s also the national suicide prevention line, which is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  6. Know there is help available. As you have probably heard before, your child didn’t come with an instruction manual. And protecting them from life’s hurts just isn’t realistic. When kids don’t respond to attempts to talk or seem to shut people out, particularly if it’s been going on for some time, reach out to professionals for some help: Beech Acres Parenting Center, Solutions and Talbert House may all be resources.

Our kids are our future. They can be pretty darned resilient and may get through most of what life throws at them. But they may need a little help along the way.

If your teen wants to watch the series, that may be just fine. Just be there with them to talk. It does matter.