Do You Know About 13 Reasons Why?

13 Reasons Why

Last week a bright, inquisitive 12-year-old girl stood at my desk and breathlessly told me how she had read 13 Reasons Why over the weekend, and that she loved it, and that she thought it had a powerful message.

My heart sank.

I asked her about the message she had gotten from the book, and she replied, “You never know how you treat someone is going to affect them.” In a way, she was right – that is a message in the book, and it isn’t a bad message.  But in the case of 13 Reasons Why, the reader has to wade through date rape, teen sex, drug use, underage drinking, bullying, profanity, and a teenager committing suicide to get to that message. For my money, there are a lot better books with a message of “be kind to others.”

My heart really plummeted when I learned that 13 Reasons Why is now a Netflix miniseries (TV-MA) – and that some of the kids in my middle school were already watching it.

I’m the middle school librarian at a small private school, and I know that many parents view me as the first line of defense for their children to read age-appropriate, quality literature. I take that trust seriously, but I have to admit that anytime a book has been turned into a Netflix series, that first line of defense has already been breached. A book I was able to keep from kids who should be too young to read it is now on video and possibly streaming onto your childrens’ devices.

As a librarian, part of my job is to connect students to reliable sources when they are doing research. I’m going to do that now for you, my readers. Below are links to some sources you might find useful when deciding if you want the Netflix version of 13 Reasons Why streaming into your home, along with some discussion points for you to employ with your son or daughter if they have already been watching it.

The Author

Who is the man who wrote the book about a teenage girl who takes her own life? What is his education, his experience, his research methods?  This link will take you to the author page on his blog. In brief, he was 31 years old when he wrote the book. Prior to writing 13 Reasons, he had dropped out of college, was working in a bookstore, and was partly inspired to write the book from a relative who attempted suicide. He does not cite any research he conducted, nor does he claim to be an expert.

The Experts

The website Reporting on Suicide offers guidelines for discussing suicide that was developed by suicide prevention experts and journalists. It emphasizes that suicide is usually the result of multiple causes, often involving mental illness, and not something that can be blamed on a person or single event. 

Suicide prevention advocate Molly Kate Cline wishes that if the makers wanted to create a cautionary tale about teen suicide, they would have included the positive steps teens can take when they are feeling as if they want to harm themselves.

This Washington Post article cautions against what it refers to as “suicide contagion”:

Experts advise against sensational headlines or describing a suicide in graphic detail, which studies have shown can lead to suicide contagion, or “copycat” suicides…Teenagers, a key demographic for the book and, ostensibly, the series, are at particular risk when it comes to contagion.

If you are concerned that your child has read the book or has seen the series, Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) has compiled this list of talking points and discussion questions. Here is an example of just one of the fifteen points in the document:

When you die you do not get to make a movie or talk to people any more. Leaving messages from beyond the grave is a dramatization produced in Hollywood and is not possible in real life.

Opinions and Reviews

This mom tells a powerful story about watching this show with her 15 year-old son.

And because my teen had already survived a past suicide attempt a few years earlier, it was the absolute worst message for him to receive.

From Vox.com: 13 Reasons Why is based on Jay Asher’s bestselling YA novel of the same title, which is not so much about suicide as it is about the adolescent fantasy of suicide, and the idea that it might be romantic and mysterious and sexy.”

This is the link to Commonsense Media’s review of the series, and this is the book review at PluggedIn.com.

It is never my intention to tell anyone how to parent, but I do hope I have offered you information that will help you make an informed decision when you are deciding if this series and book is right for you and your family.

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