Note: The advisory below was sent to parents on Friday, April 28.
SUBJECT: Important Message from Superintendent Robert M. Avossa, Ed.D.
REGARDING: “13 Reasons Why” Netflix Series
As a father of a teenager and tween, I am very concerned about a dangerous trend we have observed in our schools in recent days. School District personnel have observed an increase in youth at-risk behavior at the elementary and middle school levels to include self-mutilation, threats of suicide, and multiple Baker Act incidents. Students involved in the recent incidents have articulated associations of their at risk behavior to the “13 Reasons Why” Netflix series. The Netflix website tag-line summarizes the series theme as follows: “After a teenage girl’s perplexing suicide, a classmate receives a series of tapes that unravel the mystery of her tragic choice”.
The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has issued cautions and considerations for educators and parents, as well as additional resources to support discussions about suicide with adolescents.
As an online series, it is possible many parents are unaware of the popularity of this show. As such, the District would like to share this resource and encourage parents to discuss its content if their teen or adolescent has viewed the show. This advisory is for awareness purposes only and is in no way intended to be an indictment of the show or Netflix.
In part, NASP cautions:
We do not recommend that vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation, watch this series. Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies. They may easily identify with the experiences portrayed and recognize both the intentional and unintentional effects on the central character. Unfortunately, adult characters in the show, including the second school counselor who inadequately addresses Hannah’s pleas for help, do not inspire a sense of trust or ability to help. Hannah’s parents are also unaware of the events that lead her suicide death.
While many youth are resilient and capable of differentiating between a TV drama and real life, engaging in thoughtful conversations with them about the show is vital. Doing so presents an opportunity to help them process the issues addressed, consider the consequences of certain choices, and reinforce the message that suicide is not a solution to problems and that help is available. This is particularly important for adolescents who are isolated, struggling, or vulnerable to suggestive images and storylines. Research shows that exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of death, can be one of the many risk factors that youth struggling with mental health conditions cite as a reason they contemplate or attempt suicide.
The complete NASP recommendations and cautions, as well as additional support materials, can be found by clicking here.
If adults or teens know someone struggling with thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-273 TALK (8255) or text START to 741741.
Robert M. Avossa, Ed.D.