What is “13 Reasons Why?” Should I allow my child to watch it?

“13 Reasons Why” is a show created by Netflix depicting a high-school student who commits suicide and leaves behind a set of pre-recorded cassette tapes that describe her painful experiences with peer pressure, bullying, and sexual assault. Jay Asher, the author of the book released in 2007, shared in a recent interview, “When we do or say things, we can never know exactly how another person is going to take it because we don’t know what they’ve already dealt with.”

After reading Asher’s book, pop-star Selena Gomez purchased the rights to the Netflix series, which she has called her “passion project.” She has been instrumental in its development and promotion, and thinks the controversial subject matter has started important conversations on a national scale. In an interview with Rolling Stone, she said that suicide “is difficult for people to talk about, but it is happening and hopefully [the show] opened the door for people to actually go and change it.”

Unfortunately, a recent analysis of Google search data revealed that searches with the phrase “how to commit suicide” was 26% higher than typical in the months following the shows release. Researcher John Ayers told CNN, “While ‘13 Reasons Why’ has certainly caused the conversation to begin – it’s raised awareness, and we do see a variety of suicide-related searches increasing – our worst fears were confirmed… Thousands of people, thousands more, are searching online about ways to kill themselves.”

The National Association of School Psychologists recommends avoiding the television show. “While many youth are resilient and capable of differentiating between a TV drama and real life, engaging in thoughtful conversations with them about the show… presents an opportunity to help them process the issues addressed, consider the consequences of certain choices, and reinforce the message that suicide is not a solution to problems and that help is available.” While the show can be “appreciated as an opportunity to better understand young people’s experiences, thoughts, and feelings,” they caution “children and youth who view this series will need supportive adults to process it.”

“13 Reasons Why” Guidance for Families from the National Association of School Psychologists

  1. Ask your child if they have heard or seen the series 13 Reasons Why. We don’t recommend that they be encouraged to view the series. If they have watched it, do tell them you want to watch it, with them or to catch up, and discuss their thoughts.
  2. If they exhibit any of the warning signs above, don’t be afraid to ask if they have thought about suicide or if someone is hurting them. Raising the issue of suicide does not increase the risk or plant the idea. On the contrary, it creates the opportunity to offer help.
  3. Ask your child if they think any of their friends or classmates exhibit warning signs. Talk with them about how to seek help for their friend or classmate. Guide them on how to respond when they see or hear any of the warning signs.
  4. Listen to your children’s comments without judgment. Doing so requires that you fully concentrate, understand, respond, and then remember what is being said. Put your own agenda aside.
  5. Get help from a school-employed or community-based mental health professional if you are concerned for your child’s safety or the safety of one of their peers.

An open environment is essential when talking with your children about their emotions and mental health. Speak calmly and honestly with your children about your observations and concerns. Ask questions, allow for silence and contemplation, and listen carefully to their thoughts and experiences.

If your child shares their emotional pain or thoughts of suicide with you, immediately give them your undivided attention. Ask if they have ever thought about killing themselves. Listen non-judgmentally, be caring and kind in acknowledging their feelings, stay with them, offer information, and seek professional treatment and guidance with them.

If you or someone you know are in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available to everyone, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The deaf and hard of hearing can contact the lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889. Dial 911 in an emergency. Learn more at: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/



1. Jay Asher tells why the Thirteen Reasons Why anniversary edition contains the book’s original ending. (2017). Penguin Teen News. Retrieved from http://www.penguinteen.com/thirteen-reasons-why-anniversary/
2. “13 Reasons Why” Netflix Series: Considerations for Educators. (2017). National Association of School Psychologists. Retrieved from http://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources/school-safety-and-crisis/preventing-youth-suicide/13-reasons-why-netflix-series-considerations-for-educators

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