If there is a teen or a tween in your life, chances are you’ve heard of 13 Reasons Why, a Netflix original series based on a young adult novel with the same title, that premiered March 30, 2017. It’s a gripping, binge-inducing and deeply emotional account of a young woman’s high school experience of casual sexism, bullying, sexual assault and ultimately, suicide. The show has sparked enormous controversy over whether it glamorizes teen suicide, and whether it is ethical to show such a graphic depictions of assault and suicide. Suicide is tragically contagious - research shows that exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviors makes others who are at risk more likely to attempt suicide themselves. And according to this report from Business Insider, 13 Reasons Why has already sparked a measurable increase in calls to national suicide hotlines in the U.S., Canada and Australia.
Reportedly, Netflix was aware of the risks, but wanted to air the show to start a national conversation about teen suicide. And, Netflix created an extra episode Beyond the Reasons to delve deeper into the issues and a linked website with suicide prevention and crisis hotlines.
Should shows like this be allowed? Should you let your kids watch? These question are complicated. Many of the articles and opinion pieces frame the question as black or white; it should be shown or it shouldn’t, and reasonable arguments exist on both sides. But, as is true for so many highly charged issues in our 140-character sound bite world, an important nuance of the argument is missing. For parents and educators, the more pressing question is, now that this well-produced and extremely popular show exists, how do we help our kids navigate it?
Blueshift’s work to date has been with documentaries, diving deep into the context of films, providing background information and tools for discussion and further learning. Our work with Audrie & Daisy, another Netflix Original, may be helpful. Audrie & Daisy is also likely to trigger survivors of sexual assault or other traumas with harmful or frightening memories and thoughts, including suicide. To help parents and schools navigate this reality, we partnered with Futures Without Violence and the Audrie & Daisy film team to create a discussion guide, a parent guide and classroom lessons with suggestions for how to work with the intense topic in a constructive way. Those materials have been downloaded thousands of times and will be helpful for parents and teachers who want to talk about 13 Reasons Why in the classroom.
The urgent tenor of discussion that has erupted around 13 Reasons Why is a clear indicator that greater support and education is needed. The young people watching this series and their adult allies need support navigating the complex and uncomfortable issues it raises. Blueshift is more committed than ever to provide meaningful tools and helpful resources that can build media fluency so we and our children, friends, students, and neighbors can appreciate art and become critical consumers who make informed decisions about how and when we let media into our daily lives.