Talking With Families About 13 Reasons Why

by Beth Wittcoff, Principal, Annie Sullivan Middle School, Franklin, MA

13ReasonsWhyOver vacation, while listening to WBZ radio, I learned of the new series on Netflix 13 Reasons Why. Based on the novel by Jay Asher published in 2007, the new mini-series (March 31st release) profiles Hannah, a high school student who commits suicide after leaving behind thirteen tape recordings detailing why she took her own life. Her former classmates, many of whom are the subjects of the tapes, are left to piece together Hannah’s final weeks in this made-for-television mystery.

After researching the show I decided to make this the top priority of our weekly counselor meeting upon our return to school. After collaborating with my school based team (assistant principal, school nurse, guidance counselor and school psychologist) we decided we needed to act to make our parents aware that children in our school were watching this series. Click here for a copy of that letter – feel free to use some or all of it if you would like to send something out to your school community.

I also felt it was important to share this with as many school communities as I could, hence my reaching out to MESPA. My team feels that the show’s content is extremely graphic with disturbing scenes in each episode. Some scenes may be difficult for impressionable minds to watch and process in a healthy way, especially if watched alone. The trailer and advertisements for the series are, in our estimation, misleading. We believe the series has some of the following shortcomings:

  • There is no mention of mental health and treatment options, even as it references suicide throughout
  • The idea of suicide is romanticized throughout
  • There are no examples of effective help-seeking by the teens impacted
  • There are several scenes throughout depicting serious trauma in which teens do not seek help or resources (i.e. rape, bullying, sexual identity/orientation, car accidents, fights, alcoholism, drug use, suicide)
  • The series does not express what to do in harmful situations in terms of getting help or utilizing healthy coping skills
  • Trusted adults in school, such as a counselor, are trained to respond to any student needing support and do so in a compassionate way. The scene depicted in the series displays a school counselor who does not offer hope, compassion or resources

In our letter, we encouraged families to find out if their children had read this book and/or watched the series. If so, we also recommended that families take the opportunity to talk to their child about the complicated issues it brings to light.  If you have not yet researched the show I encourage you to do so. Below are some links we found helpful:

JED Foundation and SAVE Talking Points

JED Foundation and SAVE article

Riverside Trauma Center

Signs of Suicide Prevention Program

BethBeth has been the Principal of the Annie Sullivan Middle School for the last thirteen years and had the distinct honor to open the school in 2004. Before coming to Franklin, Beth was principal of Hopkinton Middle School for five years where she also taught for four years. Beth began her career in Natick MA. She lives in Southborough where she served on the Northborough/Southborough Regional High School for sixteen years. Beth can be reached on her twitter account @bwittcoff. You can also check out Sully’s twitter account @sullythehusky.

Are you interested in sharing your ideas, insights and questions? If so, click here to sign up for a post. Julie Vincentsen, Principal of Ruggles Lane School, will reach out with specifics. Are you interested but nervous because you’ve never blogged before and don’t know where to begin? Don’t worry – as long as you know how to use Microsoft Word you will be up to this challenge. We write for our communities all the time – this just changes your audience. You probably could even take a current newsletter you’ve written and repurpose it for your colleagues!


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