How To Talk To Your Kids About “13 Reasons Why”


Kids are watching “13 Reasons Why” so instead of telling them not to, let’s talk to them about it. 

There are plenty of articles warning parents to shield their children from watching the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why”. The show is an adaptation of a book about a high school female who commits suicide. Before killing herself, she records tapes detailing the 13 reasons why she commits suicide. She distributes the tapes to the people in her life who she believes contributed to her death.

You can and should read those articles, but this is not one of them. Just assume that your kids are watching the show, have read the book, or have been a part of a discussion about the themes contained in the story. It’s not outside the (terrifying) realm of possibility that your children have been in similar situations or have felt the same way as the lead female, Hannah, expresses through the tapes. They’re watching it anyway, so let’s take this opportunity to have necessary conversations with our kids. Below are questions to ask and truths to impart as you talk to your kids:

1.  Have you ever wished you were dead?

Do not be afraid to ask your child about suicidal thoughts (often referred to as suicidal ideation).  For example, “Have you ever wanted to escape from life? Have you ever wished you’d go to sleep and never wake up? Do you ever wish you were dead or never existed?” You will not make someone suicidal by asking them about it; broaching the subject of suicide allows an opening to allow the chance for someone to get the help they need.

2. Do you ever hurt yourself on purpose?

Often referred to as self-injurious behavior or self-harm, many adolescents engage in cutting, scratching and/or burning behavior. An open, honest and non-judgmental conversation can allow your child to express themselves to you without the fear of shame or punishment. Self-injury is often not a suicide attempt; it is often a coping skill to process or express intense emotions such as hopelessness, worthlessness, emptiness, and psychological pain.  

3.  Who are your friends?

Ask your child who they consider to be their friends. Friends become a pseudo-family and a source of support, connectedness, and intimacy for adolescents. Kids don’t need a large group of friends, but they do need 1 or 2 people they can trust, who truly know them, and who accept them as they are. If you can’t name any of your child’s friends, ask them about it — they many not have many. Feeling lonely in a crowd of people (like at school) contributes to hopelessness and worthlessness. If your child’s friends are constantly changing, that can be a sign that the relationships are stressful, damaging or dangerous. 

4.  Would you like to talk to a counselor?

The Seacoast has hundreds of licensed counselors and therapists and many specialize in working with children or adolescents. Since many adolescents love to talk about themselves and are open to counseling, they may readily go if given the opportunity. Accessing mental healthcare doesn’t carry the same stigma with Millennials as it does for older adults. For adolescents, therapy is usually short-term (3 to 6 months) and solution-focused. Treatment goals are based on individual needs and are usually related to increasing coping skills and improving current functioning. To get help finding a therapist, check with your insurance company, a school counselor, or comment below and we can help connect you.  

5.  What are some of the things you live for? 

Encourage your child to identify people, places, things, and intangibles that keep them moving forward and spark joy in their lives. Get a bit creative with this question by using art or collaging  to create a visual reminder. Make a space in your home to hang their creation as a daily visual reminder of their reasons for living. I encourage you to reflect on this question and create your own reminder of your reasons for living.

6. It gets better. There is hope.  You are loved. 

Not many of us yearn to relive our middle school or high school days, and certainly not with the social media pressures and relational stresses that exist today. As adults, we can see the temporary nature of the drama of high school, but when you’re currently living it, it can seem overwhelming and all-encompassing.  We know it gets better because we’ve lived through it, but adolescents don’t have the gift of hindsight or perspective.

Most importantly, express your love for your kids often.  This may be through words or by actions — how is not important, but frequency is.  You can show up at their art show or sports game; take them to see the band they’re desperate to see; show interest in a video game they are playing; or just simply give them a few minutes everyday of your undivided attention. However you do it, communicate your interest, acceptance and love for them in a way they can understand. You will be glad you did.

 If you or your child is in crisis, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK. This information does not substitute medical advice.