13 Reasons Why

I had heard a lot of discussion coming from different groups about the recently released Netflix’s ” 13 Reasons Why.” There seems to be a huge controversy about whether children should be watching this. I believe it is not only necessary, but important that kids watch this show with their parents and not just with friends or alone. This show is the closest depiction that we have at this time that honestly, and with great integrity, addresses suicide and bullying for adolescents.

Your children are probably hearing about this show. It is a cultural phenomenon right now, so I want to give you 5 reasons why you should watch it with them.

Reason One: Content

The first reason to watch this at home with your child is the intense subject and honest portrayal of a depressed teenager who can no longer handle her life. The premise for this show focuses on Hannah Baker and her recent suicide in a small town. Hannah leaves behind 13 prerecorded tapes implicating various people from her school that contributed to her committing suicide. Each episode is a different tape and talks about a person who Hannah feels hurt her and contributed to her deepening depression and ultimate death. Clearly, the subject matter is intense. This show should be watched with a parent present, who can be there to process reactions and feelings for their child. If you’re not sure if your child is mature enough to handle this content, please watch it first, so that you can still talk with them if they are hearing about it at school. You can also decide whether it is an appropriate show for them to watch with you.

Parents need to be able to have a healthy discussion regarding the content. See what your child is responding to, look at the social cues (when they seem uncomfortable or upset, have a certain reaction or make a certain comment). Ask open-ended questions to see what is coming up for them. Help them to talk through what they are thinking and feeling.

Reason Two: Reactions

The movie is very deep and portrays real emotions that can easily trigger kids. Many of the story lines (in addition to the main theme of suicide) include sexual assault, bullying, and depression. These stories could be taken from your child’s high school. Most adolescents have experienced, or known someone who has experienced, these types of situations. Most adolescents have gone through at least some of the emotions depicted in the show during their 12 years of school. These stories are powerful and can open the door to conversations about how you and your child are reacting. It is important to watch each episode together to see if any of these issues are affecting your child. This is a great opportunity to discuss tougher issues and explore reactions to these difficult topics.

Reason Three: Communication

The show opens doors to discuss serious issues that affect many adolescents and kids today. This show goes beyond entertainment and provides an opportunity for your child to feel safe to be honest about their own feelings and thoughts. The show and storylines can lead to new conversations and discussions that may not have been approached before.

To make sure you have successful conversations while watching this show, follow the 3 E’s: Empathy, Empowerment, and Engagement. Show empathy by demonstrating that you are listening and want to understand their perspective. Use phrases like “I’m wondering if you’re feeling overwhelmed or bothered by what’s being presented here.” You want to make sure you ask questions, rather than telling them what they are feeling. Empower your child to share opinions. Ask where they’re coming from and what their feelings are about what they’re watching. Then, engage them in a conversation about what to do if something is coming up for them. They might have always had these concerns, but now they have talked to you, someone who can help them do something about it.

Reason Four: Relationship

When new conversations are happening, you have an opportunity to develop a new relationship with your kid. There is a platform to set up new patterns of communication, to learn more about each other, and to discuss real issues that parents don’t always discuss with their kids. You have an opportunity to grow closer and learn more about your child – what is going on with them, how they view these scary issues, and how they might respond. If you aren’t watching this with them, they might still be watching it or hearing about it and feel like these issues are off-limits to discuss with you. When you watch with them, you can put forward your views and discuss your values. This creates closeness and understanding, rather than distance, silence, or secrecy.

Reason Five: Help

Issues can surface when watching a show like “13 Reasons Why.” If you are watching the show with your child, you can assess whether your kid is facing or has faced bullying, sexual assault or depression and thoughts of suicide. You can identify whether further help or resources are needed to address these for your child. The show may also spark other possible issues that are arising or other needs for help. If you are uncovering new issues with your child or your child’s school, it is important to know the resources available. There are great bully prevention programs that can begin to change the culture at schools. There are also parent resources and other community services that can support parents, students and the communities in addressing bullying. I have some great resources listed on my website. It can also be important to find a therapist who specializes in these issues for your child and your family, to find appropriate support. For information on my program, The Empowerment Space, please visit my website.

The issues affecting the kids in this show are raw and heavy, but very true to life and what is going on in our society today. Although the content is intense, this subject matter is so important and needs to be watched by kids who are mature enough to handle it, with their parents.

Are you worried about your child being bullied? Please don’t hesitate to reach out to Danielle Matthew, LMFT, founder of The Empowerment Space: dmatthew@empowerment.space or 818-267-4282.