Parenting

Should Your Teens Skip '13 Reasons Why'?

Netflix’s new series, 13 Reasons Why, was sure to spin up controversy. After all, it’s hard to do a show about teen suicide without hitting someone the wrong way. It’s a touchy subject that needs to be handled properly, taking special care not to glorify it as a concept.

Unfortunately, Netflix apparently didn’t do that. As a result, some schools are warning parents not to permit their kids to watch the show.

A Boston-area school district is among several issuing a warning to parents over the new Netflix show 13 Reasons Why.

Newton, Massachusetts schools sent a letter home with students this week encouraging caretakers to preview the show before letting even teens watch it, describing the show as “difficult” and warning that kids could be “overwhelmed” by the subject matter.

The show has faced a flood of criticism since appearing on the online streaming service earlier in the month, with critics claiming the show, which is based on a teen novel of the same name, glorifies suicide as a way of sending a message.

The book 13 Reasons Why, a young adult bestseller, followed a young teen girl, Hannah Baker, who leaves coded messages to thirteen friends, acquaintances, bullies, and key figures in her high school to teach them a lesson about how to treat other people in the wake of her suicide.

That right there, the concept, is the problem. It’s why Newton schools are warning parents, and why many other parents have made similar decisions on their own.

The idea of suicide “teaching” the people left behind can be a powerful thing to someone who feels powerless. The idea that “If I kill myself, that’ll show them” is seductive. To have a show that literally has people being shown the error of their ways following a suicide may be incredibly tempting to someone teetering on the brink.

Further, it appears the show lacks the nuance of the book. Whereas the book reportedly made it clear that the suicide was the result of profound mental issues that wouldn’t have been resolved by changes in behavior, that appears to be missing from the Netflix series.

Depression in teens is a serious issue, and it is one that needs to be tackled as needed. During my high school years, I struggled with it plenty, even going so far as to contemplate suicide myself. Thankfully, I never did it, but it was in part because I knew it wouldn’t do anything except hurt my loved ones. Those I really wanted to hurt simply wouldn’t care.

By showing that a suicide can change people’s ways, however, Netflix has inadvertently argued that while your loved ones might hurt, you will radically change other people’s lives for the better. It makes suicide seem like a noble sacrifice.

It’s not.

Should you let your kids watch 13 Reasons Why? That’s for you to decide, but it’s also probably a good idea to also discuss that the show is a work of fiction. That means things will always work out the way the writers meant for them to, while reality is rarely so neat. The cops don’t always catch the bad guy, the roguish thief’s complicated plan often goes awry, and the sweet but geeky guy doesn’t actually get the girl. In that vein, suicide isn’t the answer.