The controversial Netflix series is inappropriate for kids but holds important lessons for the adults in their lives.
Since the debut of 13 Reasons Why on Netflix, and now with plans for a second season, public officials and parents have expressed concerns that the series glamorizes suicide and may trigger vulnerable teens struggling with mental illness. Colleagues in the mental health field have spoken to me about patients struggling with the show’s content, and schools are seeing a rise in student self-harm.
But we should really be talking about the parents.
I agree with my colleagues that 13 Reasons Why is inappropriate for teenagers. Yet some of its lessons on parenting — or lack thereof — could prove valuable.
Adolescence is characterized by increased independence and identity formation. Coupled with an underdeveloped ability to reason and plan, adolescents often cannot anticipate the consequences of their actions, and they need continued supervision and support. Teenagers with minimal monitoring are more likely to have sex, abuse substances, and engage in other risky behavior, so it’s unsurprising that the teens in 13 Reasons Why suffer significant pain and hardship while unsupervised. Suicide is the third leading cause of adolescent deaths, and parents have a duty to identify the signs and symptoms to help guide distressed teens toward appropriate treatments.
Hannah, the protagonist of the show, takes her life and leaves behind 13 audiotapes that describe how peers and school officials failed her and were ultimately responsible for her suicide. Her parents are blindsided and spend the first season trying to decipher her motives. They had little insight into the serious struggles of their daughter, and via flashbacks, we see myriad misplaced sentiments…