Sunday, April 16, 2017

A Guide for Parents in Response to New Series

A new series released was on March 31, 2017, on Netflix titled, “13 Reasons Why.” The premise behind this series is a high school girl kills herself and leaves behind cassette tapes of the 13 reasons why she killed herself. Each of the reasons is actually a person who she believes wronged her in some way.
The series contains 13 episodes and an epilogue with this series. In each episode, the girl who killed herself narrates the episode through the cassette tapes she has left behind. Her request is for each of the people who are the “reasons” why she killed herself to listen to the tapes and then pass them onto the next person.
There are many serious themes discussed in this series and many graphic portrayals of these themes. Some of those include:
  • Suicide (main character slits her wrists in a bathtub)
  • Rape of an intoxicated and unconscious girl at a party
  • Violent rape of the main character
  • Self-injury (character says she does it “so I won’t kill myself”)
  • Drug and alcohol use and abuse by many characters
  • Gun violence
  • Fatal car wreck involving drunk driving
  • Fighting at school
  • Bullying
  • Gender based violence and discrimination
  • Sexual harassment
  • Sex
  • Law breaking
  • Profanity
In the final episode, the girl who kills herself sees her school counselor because she is “giving life one more chance.” She confides in him that she wants life to be done. She also indicates that she was sexually assaulted at a party. In the episode, the counselor does not ask her if she is thinking of suicide. Additionally, he tells her that if she won’t name the person who raped her (which she will not), then her only option is to “move on.”
The character leaves the counselor’s office, hoping he will follow her, but he does not. She then says the school counselor is the 13th reason why she killed herself. The character then goes home and kills herself by getting into the bathtub and slitting her wrists.
A few of the episodes have warnings at the beginning of the episodes notifying viewers that some scenes may be found to be disturbing. A suicide hotline number and other resources are provided in the epilogue. The epilogue refers to a 13 Reasons Why web site, which has some resources, including 13 Reasons Why Talking Points.
Many teens and younger children are watching the series. I want to encourage you to reach out to your child and talk to them. Find out if they are watching or have watched the series. If so, talk to them about the series and how they felt when watching. Another option would be to watch the series with your child. This way, you could start talking to them about what they are watching right away.
Here are some important questions to consider asking your son or daughter, whether or not they have watched the series:
  • Have you ever thought about suicide?
  • Are you suicidal now? If so, do you have a plan?
  • Do you know what it means to be raped?
  • Do you understand sexual consent?
  • Do you know what to do if someone makes you feel uncomfortable with the way they touch you, act or say?
  • Do you know what to do if you go to a party and feel uncomfortable?
  • Do you understand some of the consequences of drinking alcohol?
  • What words would you say to someone who wanted you to do something you didn’t want to do? (Drink alcohol, do drugs, have sex, etc.)
  • Have you ever been bullied? What did you do about it?
  • Have you ever been cyberbullied? What did you do about it?
  • Have you ever bullied or cyberbullied someone else?
  • Do you have a trusted adult that you could talk to? (parent, grandparent, family friend, teacher, counselor, principal, pastor, etc.)

Although these questions might be uncomfortable, it is important to have these conversations with your child. It is important to talk through “what ifs” so if your child gets into an uncomfortable situation, they have a plan of action and words to say. Here is an article that offers tips on having hard conversations with your child.

If you have concerns about your son or daughter, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. There are many great resources available for parents. Here are a few:

If you have more questions or concerns, I encourage you to contact your child’s school and speak with his/her school counselor. School counselors should be knowledgeable about the resources available in your area and specific ways the school can help you.

Finally, if you do not want your son or daughter to watch this series or other shows with specific ratings, web sites such as Netflix do have parental controls that are easy to use. Go to the settings on your account to check out how to set parental controls specific to your family.


  1. Thanks for the very practical guidance Michelle.

    I've heard a lot of people talking about how the counselor you mention who doesn't dig deeper and appears to be dismissive. Based on your experience, do school counselors have the proper training and the opportunity/obligation to intervene more actively? What does the more appropriate response look like?

  2. Counselors are trained to dig deeper. Many counselors have specific suicide prevention training. We have free resources in Oklahoma (and other states, too) for suicide prevention. Additionally, more and more schools are becoming aware of Title IV and its implications.

    We provide monthly webinars in Oklahoma for topics such as those addressed in this series. Anyone can sign up. We average about 150 viewers each time. To watch archived videos or to sign up for upcoming webinars, go to .