Letter to the editor of USA Today:
13 Reasons Why, a Netflix series about a teenage girl who commits suicide, has received criticism from the mental health community. The main concern is that the show arguably sensationalizes teen suicide, and it also makes the topic intriguing and perhaps even more appealing or attractive to certain individuals. The contagion effect has been well documented as a real phenomenon for teen suicides.
But the topic of teen suicide within entertainment isn’t something new. Teens have always been curious about suicide and death as concepts. Blame it on the frontal lobe being immature or hormones and emotions running high, teens can be extreme, and suicide can become an extreme idea or solution for vulnerable youth.
13 Reasons Why is perhaps emblematic of a larger societal issue, in which desensitization toward humanity is becoming the norm thanks to the Internet, the news media, the entertainment industry and social media. Today, teens are flooded with information and in real time, so much so that it seems the impact of upsetting moments is being neutralized or even diminished. For example, in the wake of the suicide of ex-NFL player Aaron Hernandez, people tweeted jokes and memes, ridiculing him.
Because everything is so accessible these days to teens, and because teens are often curious about topics that are tough for them to make sense of — like suicide — parents more than ever need to be involved in their children’s lives.
My advice on 13 Reasons Why? Don’t let your teens watch it. Instead, talk to them about what’s on their minds. Having a meaningful conversation about socially or emotionally challenging topics is a much better idea than letting them binge watch episode after episode of Hannah’s painful attempts to make sense of rape, sexual assault, underage drinking, body shaming and driving under the influence, and of her friends coping with her suicide.
Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D.; Ashburn, Va.
Click the video above to hear from local psychologist Dr. Erik Fisher about what parents should tell their children about the show