You may have heard about a controversial new show called 13 Reasons Why. The show was adapted from Jay Asher's book by the same title, and deals with the very difficult topic of teen suicide. The book came out almost ten years ago, but the new show has brought both the story and topic into the spotlight. Some are concerned about suicide contagion or the glorification of suicide, while others applaud the fact that the show forces us to have open conversations with our children and students about anxiety, depression, and suicide. Regardless of which side of the fence you are on, here are 13 Reasons Why you should read the book, watch the show, or both:
1. If the kids are talking about it, you should too. Sometimes it is difficult to talk about things with adolescents. We worry we might trigger feelings that are uncomfortable or harmful. We fear the unknown. Silence, however, creates the biggest unknown. Honest conversation can help shed light on even the most uncomfortable of topics.
2. "Welcome to your tape." In a digital world where everything becomes a meme, I am both surprised and not surprised this has gone viral. However, if you hear this, it is important to open up the conversation about where the phrase comes from, what the intention was for using it in the story, and if it is appropriate to use in in a cavalier way. Check out this article to know more:
3. Almost 20% of teens grades 9-12 have contemplated suicide. This statistic is alarming and it should be. Chances are your child knows someone who has contemplated suicide or self-harm.
4. The effects of bullying last long after the incident. Whether supporting a student after they have been bullied or helping a bully to understand the consequences of his or her actions, understanding the more-than-casual relationship to depression and anxiety is an important connection to make.
5. Approximately 20% of students report being bullied in the last month. With the age of social media and ease of communicating from a distance, bullying has become even more prevalent.
6. There is more to bullying than just the bully and the bullied. Within and around that dynamic are many, many bystanders. Chances are, even if your child wasn't directly involved in a bullying incident, her or she has most likely witnessed one. Unfortunately, standing up for someone can make you a target. It is important to help your child understand how to advocate for others in a safe way.
7. Controversy should make us contemplate both sides. Some people praise this story while others vilify it. In order to make an informed decision, we should all experience the story and both perspectives. This article published by CNN gives a holistic explanation of both points of view.
8. Talking to other parents helps. You are not alone in your desire to protect your child. Luckily, there are other parents out there who also want to keep their children safe as well. Talk to them. Share your concerns. Collaborate. The more we connect to one another, the more we eliminate the stigma attached to such topics.
9. Talking to teachers and administrators can shed light. Your son or daughter spends a lot of time at school, and they are around a lot of adults. Chances are there is at least one they connect with who may have some insights, even if your teen responds to your questions about what happened at school with "Nothing." Reach out to them. We are all on the same team.
10. There are signs. There are always warnings or signals. They may be subtle, but they are there. Don't overlook them. Don't explain them away. Ask questions. Don't give up.
11. If you build it, they will come. Many teens struggle with the idea of coming to adults for help. They worry about getting in trouble, getting their friends in trouble, or other social consequences that are insurmountably important to them. If you build a relationship that is based on mutual trust and communication, the chances are much higher they will come to you for help when they need it. I have heard several parents who have "safety first" rules. For example, if a teen finds themselves at a party where they feel unsafe, and they can call home and get a way out with no fear of punishment. They can tell their friends, "My dad called, I need to get home," so they can save face and not come home to a punishment. This is just one model that can build a relationship with your teen around safety and trust before anything else.
12. It is about time we forced ourselves to be uncomfortable when it comes to the lives of our children. If we can't talk about these topics, we make them more shameful and more powerful. By opening up a dialogue, we create a level of comfort that may save someone's life one day. If your son or daughter is worried about a friend, and feels they can talk to you about that, you have successfully ended the silence that may have resulted in tragedy.
13. The more you know, the more you can do. Educating yourself on the signs and symptoms of depression and suicidal ideations is just the beginning. Experience this story with your son or daughter. Show them how to get help, either for themselves or a friend.
Jamie Tworkowski said it best, "Hope is real. Help is real. Your story is important." I encourage you to visit the non-profit organization To Write Love On Her Arms to learn about resources and ways to support your kids and their peers.