‘13 Reasons Why’ a great reason to talk to your child about suicide
CASTLE ROCK – A new Netflix series that debuted in March has become a popular topic of conversation in the hallways of several Douglas County schools, causing concern for some parents.
’13 Reasons Why’ is a fictional story, based on a 2011 New York Times Best Selling Novel by Jay Asher, that focuses on a teenage girl and the reasons she committed suicide.
“What is concerning to some parents is the Netflix series. In places, is fairly graphic,” explained DCSD Prevention & School Culture Coordinator Staci McCormack. “Both the book and the Netflix series are written from the perspective of this young woman who died by suicide. After her death, tapes are discovered where she speaks about people whom she feels are responsible for her suicide ideation and eventually her death.”
In addition to the suicide itself, scenes in the Netflix series depict rape, teens cutting themselves and other mature themes. While this may be worrisome for some parents, who may wish to insulate their teens from this type of material, McCormack and others in the Health and Wellness department wanted to bring awareness of the series to parents and say it could be an opportunity.
“[Discussion of the series and suicide] is everywhere,” DCSD Intervention and Support Coordinator Colette Hohnbaum. “We can’t put a cap on it, but let’s be thoughtful about it. If your kids are going to watch it, watch a couple [of episodes] with them.”
“I look at the positive side. This fictional book and this series on Netflix can actually prompt some good conversation with your child at home,” McCormack added. “It is really important to remember what research tells us – talking about suicide does not create suicidal ideations.”
She encourages parents to welcome their child’s curiosity and to talk about it.
“Many children are curious about death or suicide,” Hohnbaum said. “When we know and are aware and expect our kids to be curious about things, that is when we can step up and say, ‘I notice you were reading or watching this. Why are you interested in it? What are you thing about it?’”
Regardless of whatever the latest video or trend may be, it all comes back to the same timeless theme.
“Don’t assume anything,” McCormack said. “It is important for us to have our eyes on our kids at all times. Engage in conversations with them about what they are watching, reading and thinking.”
“Listen to your kids,” Hohnbaum said. “Be aware of what is out there and what they might be viewing. Watch things with your kids and discuss it with them.”
They encourage parents to especially keep an eye out for dramatic changes in behavior or physical appearance, depression, threats or efforts to hurt themselves. Additionally, children who have attempted suicide previously or have had a loss in their lives recently may be at higher risk.
READ MORE: Intervention & Support Resources
Team U.P., in DCSD’s Health and Wellness department, is working to build Upstream Prevention efforts in partnership with schools, so that students have the skills and coping mechanisms to handle the daily challenges they face in their lives and during crisis.
“Life is tricky for all of us. That never changes. Having the resiliency skills to catch us and embrace us in challenging times are key,” McCormack said.
Additionally, they work with students through programs like Sources of Strength, to build a network of trusted adults and peers they can turn to when they are having trouble.
“If we each have a safety net below us and it is only tied in two places and we start to fall it might not catch us,” McCormack said. “We want to build a safety net that is filled with trusted adults, mental health support, positive mentors and positive friends. If our safety net is tied in many places it is going to be so much stronger and more secure. Parents are part of that strong safety net."
They know that it takes a partnership between the schools and parents to protect our kids. Team U.P. wants parents to know that they have someone to call if they’re not sure how to handle a situation.
“If, during some conversations, a little yellow flag comes up – don’t feel like you have to walk this alone. We are here for you,” McCormack said. She says a great place to start is often a teacher or counselor at your child’s school. “There are great people in our school buildings. If you are having a conversation with your child for the first time about really significant topics like suicide or suicidal ideation and you are walking away from that conversation questioning if it is developmentally appropriate – that is what we are here for. Call us. Talk to a counselor or a mental health provider. Tell them, ‘this is how the conversation went. Would you consider this developmentally appropriate, knowing what you know about kids?’”
If a parent needs assistance afterhours or in a crisis, they are encouraged to call Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-TALK (8255) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
Finally, McCormack and Hohnbaum say that this is a two-way road. In this case, they felt it was important to share the emergence of this show with parents – but they also welcome parents to reach out if they come across a new trend or media that concerns them.
Again, it takes all of us, working together, to protect our students.