Suicide is one of the most challenging discussions to have with a teen in today’s society. Why? Because our teens are highly influenced by the romanticism of suicide in social media and among their peers. Social media includes so many mixed messages about self-worth, attitude, friendship, style, fashion, beauty, popularity, remedies for emotional pain, etc. Our teens are very vulnerable to messages through social media, books, movies, and peers. Sadly, because of this, adults need to be privy to all the ways our teens are interacting with the world.
Have you read the novel or seen the series on NetFlix titled “13 Reasons Why” yet? If not, this article is for you.
I will discuss some of the issues I have with this book and movie series.
Let me start by saying that I strongly encourage you to view the series and possibly even read the book to develop a greater understanding of the risks involved in embracing “13 Reasons Why” and its view of suicide. If you think I am the only therapist who is perturbed by the development of this material, think again. Many other mental health professionals and child advocates feel similarly. If you Google the title, you will see a host of articles, clips, reviews, etc on the topic from both sides of the coin.
Is is appropriate? Is it safe? Will it lead to suicide?
An article written in the New York Post provides an example of the disgust and opposition by many in an article from Jennifer Wright. She explains how the movie basically tells teens (i.e., in a subliminal fashion) they are better off dead. For mental health professionals, there are a host of red flags with this media and I fear that teens (primarily those who are vulnerable, impulsive, or attention-seeking) will act out some of the things they have read about or seen in this movie. Many of my teen clients and families have already brought up concerns about whether or not this media is appropriate to view. Sadly, one of my teen clients appeared sad that she could not partake in watching the movie or reading the book with her peers. She turned toward my office window and said “but everyone else is doing it.” Thankfully, her mother remained firm and said “absolutely not!” But will other parents do this as well? Most likely not. This is what scares me.
My client later revisited this topic and stated “I’m not going to kill myself just because I watch the movie or read the book.” Two days later she came to me with strong suicidal thoughts after her best friend ended their 6 year friendship. The first book she discussed (for some kind of comfort or something to relate to) during this session was “13 Reasons Why.” Her reasons for having suicidal thoughts were fraught with anger and resentment. Hadn’t her family and I identified and discussed her unhealthy obsession with killing herself out of anger toward her friend, she would have attempted suicide.
Protecting our teen population
I think we can all agree that we cannot protect our teens from everything in this world. We also cannot control every media production that comes out to entertain or relate to our teens. But what we can do is make better decisions about the types of things teens are reading and viewing in today’s world. We can educate our teens to make mature and safe decisions when it comes to social media, dating and relationships, romance, suicide, self-harm, and other risky topics. Informing our teen population is the first step toward protecting them. Sadly we cannot count on authors, musicians, etc. to avoid negatively influencing teens. That’s not how the world works. Unfortunately, the hard work is on parents and families to keep their teens protected.
What are some of the reasons I think this series and book needs to be removed from the public eye:
- It romanticizes suicide
- It’s content can cause teens to fantasize about their “crush” and consider ways to get their attention
- It avoids the reality that some suicides go unrecognized and life goes on without the teen’s memory
- It may romanticize the idea that there is the ability to make their “ultimate message” known after death by leaving clues or “reminders” of their life behind
- It’s creepy and eerie
- It isn’t written by someone who is qualified to discuss or acknowledge the devastating reality of teen suicide
- It seems written to vulnerable teens who find the topic fascinating or interesting
- It may give vulnerable teens with personality disorders or a strong need for attention ideas
- It’s another barrier parents have to “fight” with their kids about in order to protect them
- Its producer should have consulted with a mental health professional in order to be useful to families
- It is obviously for profit
- It dismisses the power of copy-cat suicides
- It needs to be removed from NetFlix of all places
Stay tuned for my article on this topic with detailed explanations on why I believe the above is important to consider at: http://blogs.psychcentral.com/caregivers Wednesday, May 10th. As you learn more about this media production, I encourage you to also consider other TV shows such as “How To Get Away With Murder, etc.” These shows can all send the wrong message. A message we don’t need in today’s world.
Call to action
If you are as concerned by this series as my esteemed colleagues and I am, I urge you to contact NetFlix encourage them to be more socially responsible with the content and provide opportunities for viewers to access mental health resources. Sadly, we cannot control their content, neither can we stop the production of these films. But what we can do is encourage NetFlix and other networks to wisely consider the pros and cons of these kinds of series and to promote the seeking of support and help.
Feel free to share your thoughts and concerns below. Lets talk this through and get all sides.