13 Reasons Why: Warning, Controversy, and Issues to Discuss


Katherine Langford in 13 Reasons Why. Photo: Beth Dubber/Netflix

Netflix has a new hit on their hands with “13 Reasons Why” but the show is as notorious for what is perceived to be a glamorization of suicide as for its realistic depiction of the issues facing kids in high school today. If your kids are old enough (over 16, that is), there is value in co-watching the show with them, but the images of bullying, rape, and suicide are especially upsetting for kids who are fragile, and completely inappropriate for younger kids. Because Netflix is accessible on many platforms, your kids may have seen it. Therefore, it’s important for parents to be warned about the content, and for them to reach out to kids to discuss the important issues in the series.

Here’s what you need to know:

The series is based on a best-selling book by Jay Asher about a teenage girl who kills herself, leaving cassette tapes behind for everyone to listen to, which attempt to unravel the reasons why she decided to take her life.

The current concern that the series “glamorizes suicide” and suggests that suicide provides revenge for perceived wrongs. The show has garnered a lot of press, including the dramatic occurrence recently of several prominent psychologists stating publically that the show should be taken off the air. There have been a few copycat suicides, and a swatch of articles about the issues of mental health and suicide, including positive spins on the topic, such as this Washington Post article about a group of high school kids who reacted by creating their own show “13 Reasons Why Not” that was broadcast over their school’s loudspeakers – a wonderful public effort to air the issues and create a conversation around anxiety, mental health issues, and suicide.

These seniors at Oxford High School in Michigan are recording tapes to explain why suicide isn’t the answer. From left are Jeam Linares, Jordan Jaden, Riley Juntti, Alexa Alban, Kayla Manzella and Maddy Drypes (Courtesy of Riley Juntti)

Because the show is wildly popular, school heads around the country are sending notes to their parent bodies to raise awareness about the show. Most of the notes warn against younger kids watching the compelling series, and advise that parents have conversations with children who have seen the show.

We found lots to like about the direction and character development… but much to be concerned about in terms of the violence and brutality depicted (the suicide, several fights and two rape scenes). The material can be triggering for some kids.  Because Netflix is easy for kids to access, kids may be accessing the show unbeknownst to their parents – so it’s best to be aware of the show and catch up on the reviews and articles circulating on the show. Here is one from the NYTimes, addressing the issues facing parents and schools.

Our advice is to read Common Sense Media’s review (advising that only kids 16 + see the series, and recommends that parents co-view the show, even at this age). And to talk with your kids about the material, if they’ve seen it. Try this article from Common Sense – 5 Conversations to Have with your Kids after  “13 Reasons Why”.

We also found this article important – it suggests that the show is as much about the objectification of girls as it is about suicide.

Bottom line: Be aware that your kids may be watching this, do your homework on the series and the important topics depicted, and sit down with your family to talk about it.