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13 Things Parents Should Know About 13 Reasons Why

By: Rochelle Kruszka, M.A., LAMFT
Youth & Family Therapist, YSB

13 Reasons Why is a new, popular series on Netflix based on the Jay Asher novel by the same name. The series is centered around a high school student, Hannah Baker, who dies by suicide. Hannah leaves cassette tapes behind to let others know what were her “reasons” why she chose suicide, and what the individuals did to contribute to her death. There are some positive aspects of this show, but I also have many concerns about how suicide is depicted in this series.

Here is what the show addresses well:

1) Bullying and “slut shaming.” This show highlights the impact that bullying, spreading rumors, and “slut shaming” can have on teens. Teens’ reputations are important to them, and rumors can spread very quickly (see #2). One of the great takeaways from this show is the importance of being kind to others and treating others well.

2) The impact of technology and social media. A picture can circulate throughout the school within minutes, and things that are sent cannot be unsent. A picture of Hannah, taken out of context, began her downward slide toward isolation.

3) Rape/sexual assault. The series shows that rape and sexual assault are a problem in high schools and that these crimes often go unreported. Victims don’t report for multiple reasons including shame, self-blame, fear of retaliation, and fear of not being believed. These scenes are unnecessarily graphic, which is also important for parents to know.

4) The parents’ reaction to their child’s suicide. Hannah’s parents are devastated by her death, and they have a hard time focusing on anything other than what happened. They are living in anguish, searching for how their child could have done this.
Here is where the series misses the mark:

5) Suicide was the only option. The series does not show Hannah seeking help in any meaningful way. Throughout the series, she writes an anonymous note and poem, and she makes “one last attempt” and visits her school counselor. Mr. Porter admittedly misses an opportunity to be helpful and ends up blaming the victim for her sexual assault (see #3). Hannah does not reach out to any other trusted adults, including her parents, during the course of the show.

6) No discussion or mention of mental health or illness. For those who die by suicide, more than 90% have a diagnosable mental illness (SAMHSA.gov). The show missed an opportunity to discuss how bullying and other life events could have impacted her mental health.

7) Suicide is glamorized. The creators of the show refute this claim, but I disagree. Hannah was beautiful and intriguing. Her tapes made her mysterious and powerful – the other students must follow her orders or risk the tapes being released publicly. She is portrayed as a hero for getting revenge on those who did her wrong (see #10).

8) “Living on” after death. Hannah is able to “live on” and communicate with her peers after her suicide. This is not reality. After a suicide, a person is dead. No more communicating. No more relationship. The person has died.

9) Blaming others for suicide. Rather than focusing on Hannah’s internal emotions and struggle, the show is very much “other-focused.” She leaves tapes for her “reasons” to hear what they did to her. Blaming others simplifies why a person chose to end his or her life, and implies it is a fully acceptable option.

10) Revenge suicide. Along with #9, Hannah was able to exact revenge on all of the people she blames for her suicide. This is a dangerous message to send to youth. Instead of addressing problems head-on using assertive communication, the show focuses on passive or passive-aggressive communication (leaving notes in bags, keying a car, etc.) Of course this is part of what makes television dramatic, but Hannah doesn’t confront any of the people she blames until after her death… when no one can do anything about it. This is not a helpful message to youth who are struggling or vulnerable.

11) The aftermath of a suicide. Hannah’s peers were more concerned with the tapes being made public than actually grieving for a lost friend. In my experience providing support services to classmates following a suicide, students are devastated: not only friends of the student that died but also others that may not have personally known the person.

12) The graphic depiction of suicide. This show explicitly shows the act of Hannah dying by suicide. As an adult, this scene was very difficult to watch, and this is by far the most concerning element of the series. The show creators claim to have consulted with professionals during the creation of this show, however, this scene flies in the face of research by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Showing a graphic depiction of suicide in this manner increases the risk of additional or “copycat” suicides.

13) TV-MA. This show is rated TV-MA for a reason – there are many graphic scenes as well as intense subject matter. Given that this show is so popular with middle and high school students, the content of the show is concerning. The show does display warnings before particular episodes, but teens are unlikely to think, “Oh, this might be too much for me. I’ll shut it off.” The regulation centers of teen brains are not developed enough for that.

What can parents do?

If your child plans to watch the series, take their age and maturity into consideration as well as their mental health status. Then, watch WITH them. Pause the show as needed to discuss important scenes or things that jump out to you.

If your child has already watched the series, ask questions about their experience. What did they learn? What did they like/dislike? What messages do they take away from having watched the show? Do they know what to do if they are having thoughts of harming themselves?

Provide some guidance and support. Tell them what steps you want them to take if they are feeling stressed, isolated, angry, embarrassed, frightened, confused, overwhelmed, or abused. Share with them that there are better options available than pre-planning revenge and ending their life.

Connect with your child regularly. Sometimes it takes a few attempts (or many) to get your child to open up about his or her experiences. Kids often say, “I’m fine” when we ask how they are doing. Ask more open-ended questions about their day and their life to find out what is really going on.

Parents – Do you want your teens to have the take-away message that placing blame and seeking revenge after the fact are the only ways to handle stressful problems? Or that your child’s pain must be insignificant because it doesn’t compare to Hannah’s experiences? This is an opportunity to connect with your child and help reduce feelings of stress and isolation.

We encourage you to review the following resources for more information about the series, talking points about the show, and a discussion guide:

As always, if you have individual concerns about your child related to mental health, or need additional resources, please contact Youth Service Bureau. We will help your family to navigate these challenges.

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Youth Service Bureau, Inc.

Youth Service Bureau’s mission is to help youth and families learn the skills they need to be more successful at home, in school and throughout their community.

YSB provides Youth-Focused Family Counseling, Diversion and School-Based Services (including mental and chemical health, and crisis response services), and Youth & Family Education.

Cottage Grove 651-458-5224 | Stillwater 651-439-8800 | Woodbury 651-735-9534

ysb.net

 

Adolescent Mental Health: 14 Ways to Support Your Teen

I received a phone call this past winter from a parent who had attended one of my workshops a few weeks before.

“Dr. Walsh, I definitely feel like I know a lot more about what is going on inside my daughter’s brain after your workshop. But I have to say that it feels like my daughter is a lot more extreme.

“What do you mean? Can you give me some examples?” I responded.

“Oh all kinds of things. She just doesn’t seem like herself. I get it that all teens are tired and grumpy sometimes, but my daughter never wants to get out of bed anymore. For anything! She seems so down, isn’t eating well, and doesn’t want to see any of her friends. This started at the beginning of the school year and that was two months ago! I am getting nervous that this isn’t just normal teenage stuff.”

“You are right that the adolescent brain is subject to rapid mood shifts and bouts of the blues.” I said. “But I am glad that you called. A sad mood that descends and never lifts is a sign that something else might be going on.”

Here are tips to: distinguish the “normal” from the “abnormal”, stamp out stigma, and take the next steps:

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Help your family THRIVE through the holidays!

The holidays are fast approaching; and with them the joy and the stress they bring. mistletoe

Some years it seems the joy diminishes and the stress increases as the busy-ness of the times get in the way of the family fun.

Here are some thoughts on increasing the joy and decreasing the stress.

Focus on Connection. Not Perfection.

While it’s fun to show off our cooking skills, our wrapping skills, our decorating skills, etc., the effort we put into achieving perfection can result in less time and energy for connecting with those we love. And really, isn’t the connection what matters?

One way to make the connection front and center is to have family discussions. Sit with your whole family (especially children and teens) and talk about the upcoming holidays. Have the first discussion at the beginning of the school break before things get really busy. Ask your children what makes the holidays the most fun. If your family isn’t practiced at this type of question it might be uncomfortable to ask your kids about what they like best about the family time, and it may seems down-right weird to them to be asked. That’s why as parents we need to have the patience to sit with our kids as they come up with any answer or non-answer to get us to go away. Stick with them. They do have opinions on this.

Once you know what truly matters to your whole family focus on that. If needed, decide as a family what extras can be eliminated to give a more relaxed pace to the whole school vacation schedule. Say “no” to one event? Buy a pie instead of making one? Skip the holiday cards this year? Focus on the stressors you can control. The more rested and relaxed the family feels, the better you all will be able to deal with the stressors out of your control.

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Bullying: What it is and What You Can Do

By: Crystal Gentry, LSC, District Homeless Liaison, South Washington County School District
(as shared through Washington County’s CONNECT Collaborative)

As we start the month of October, the topic of bullying comes up (especially in schools), as October is National Bullying Prevention Month. One of the most common and complicated aspects regarding bullying is what exactly is bullying? As a school counselor, I hear the word “bully” get used a lot, but it is important to recognize the difference between bullying and conflict. Conflict is a normal part of life, and learning how to handle conflict appropriately will help give students the proper tools they need to be successful.

Normal Peer Conflict Bullying
Equal power; friends Imbalance of power; not friends
Happens occasionally Repeated negative actions
Accidental On Purpose
Not Serious Serious with threat of physical or emotional harm
Equal emotional reaction Strong emotional reaction from victim, and little or no emotional reaction from bully
Not seeking power or attention Seeking power, control, or material things
Not trying to get something Attempt to gain material things or power
Remorse – will take responsibility No remorse – blames victim
Effort to solve the problem No effort to solve the problem

 

What to Do if Your Child is Being Bullied

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Suicide Prevention: We All Play a Role

By: Emily Johnson, Youth and Family Therapist, & Sarah Holmboe, Parent Education Coordinator, at Youth Service Bureau

 

Screen shot 2016-04-19 at 11.45.24 AM

September is Suicide Prevention Month and a great time to review the risk factors for suicide and what we can all do to help. While having a mental illness (such as depression or anxiety) can be a risk factor for death by suicide, suicides typically happen in moments of crisis. A suicide attempt is often an impulsive decision that young people turn to when they feel a breakdown in their ability to deal with their stress, mood, or perceived hopelessness.

According to the World Health Organization, over 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, and is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. Fortunately, all of us can play a role in preventing suicide. Here are some things we can do to help prevent suicide and offer hope and support to those suffering:

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Helping Kids Cope with Stress

This article originally appeared on http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/stress-coping.html

KH-CMYK_Logo-URL(WHT)To adults, childhood can seem like a carefree time. But kids still experience stress. Things like school and their social life can sometimes create pressures that can feel overwhelming for kids. As a parent, you can’t protect your kids from stress — but you can help them develop healthy ways to cope with stress and solve everyday problems.

Kids deal with stress in both healthy and unhealthy ways. And while they may not initiate a conversation about what’s bothering them, they do want their parents to reach out and help them cope with their troubles.

But it’s not always easy for parents to know what to do for a child who’s feeling stressed.

Here are a few ideas…

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Understanding Self-Harm: What Parents Can Do

photo3Self-harm can be very difficult for parents to understand, and is oftentimes just as confusing for the young person who is doing it to themselves. Parents wonder just how serious the self-harming is, and if their child is trying to end his or her life. Self-harming incidents are often not one-in-the-same as suicide attempts, but there are obvious safety concerns associated with cutting and other types of self-harm. For example, sometimes children accidentally cut themselves too deep, causing serious injury. Here are some tips for parents who suspect their child may be self-harming.

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