Not good when Netflix, not parents, takes on ‘the talk’

This week, the state’s largest school district warned parents about the Netflix series, “13 Reasons Why”, which is built around a young woman who took her own life because of 13 people or events at her school.

“While the show is compelling and dramatic, the concern many of us that work with children share is that it does not accurately model what we would want or hope individuals do if they are struggling or in crisis,” an e-mail to parents in the Anoka-Hennepin District said.

It’s a popular series that is getting some credit for at least bringing up the issue of teen suicide, which is a sad testament to how unable or how unwilling parents are to talk about the second-leading killer of young adults.

That’s unfortunate for obvious reasons but also because the series is everything the portrayal of suicide as a discussion starter shouldn’t be.

This scene, experts seem to unanimously agree, does nothing to keep your kid from taking his/her own life; it’s that graphic, that gratuitous, and that dangerous.

It’s likely your teen is watching the series, which is why it’s important that parents be warned about the series. But if you’re waiting for this series to be the opener for the discussion in a household of teens, you’re making a dangerous mistake.

“Research has shown that you don’t want to be specific about how a person dies because it could trigger some people to take their lives,” Sue Abderholden, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Minnesota, tells the Star Tribune.

“I just wanted it to come across in a way that kids would be frightened, but confused — in a way that they would talk about it because it’s something that’s happening all the time,” the show’s executive producer, Selena Gomez, said yesterday. “So, I’m overwhelmed that it’s doing as well as it’s doing.”

“13 Reasons Why,” however, is a poor substitute for the other extreme of addressing teen suicide in public discourse: saying nothing.

That’s the approach a school in Edmonton is taking, advising parents not to talk about the series. At all.

The discussion that is unfolding at school is troubling,” Azza Ghalithe, principal of St. Vincent Elementary School, said in an email to parents. “Please let your child know that discussion of 13 Reasons Why is not permitted at school due to the disturbing subject matter.”

“What the principal was trying to do is to remove the conversation from the classroom and put it back in the home,” a spokesperson for the school said.

But that’s not happening and it’s one reason kids kill themselves.

Where is the middle ground here? That’s the irony. It’s the easiest part. Organizations like SAVE — Suicide Awareness Voices of Education — and NAMI (disclaimer: a family member is on the NAMI Minnesota board) have tons of resources to help.

It’s not something to leave to Netflix.

Related: Local Grand Forks high school student dies by suicide (Grand Forks Herald)