Parents should watch 13 Reasons Why with their kids

WITH the recent release of 13 Reasons Why Season 2 we've seen Netflix come under fire from parents and organisations with claims that the second season was unnecessary, too graphic and glamorises underage drinking, drugs and suicide.

And while all these things may be true, it doesn't actually change the fact that it's here, readily available on Netflix and our teenagers are probably going to want to watch it.

If you haven't caught up, the hugely popular first season of 13 Reasons Why follows a teenage girl who takes her own life and leaves behind 13 tapes detailing how her peers' actions led to her decision. The second season shows the aftermath of her decision as her parents and friends search for answers and closure.

Since the release of the first season we have seen a rise in suicide related conversations, questions, concerns and sadly, attempts. However, as a child psychologist and the executive director of services at Act for Kids, a charity devoted to the prevention and treatment of childhood abuse and neglect, I urge you not to ban your teenagers from the watching the show.

This sounds a bit controversial I know, and I'm certainly not saying that it's appropriate for all children, because it's not. But if your older children have expressed an interest in watching it or are engaging in conversations around it at school, the likelihood that they will watch it with or without you is quite high. And trust me, watching it without a parent or trusted adult present could be quite overwhelming or damaging.

Brandon Flynn plays Justin Foley, a heroin addict dealing with personal drama, in 13 Reasons Why. (Pic: Netflix)
Brandon Flynn plays Justin Foley, a heroin addict dealing with personal drama, in 13 Reasons Why. (Pic: Netflix)

It's important that parents look at the show as a teaching opportunity and a way to start meaningful conversations with their kids around alcohol, drugs, sexual assault, mental health and suicide. Don't be afraid to talk about suicide and other tough issues with your kids, because when we avoid it we are adding to the stigma and shame that keeps them suffering alone.

Make sure that your children know all the alternatives to suicide and the treatments and support services that can help them with mental health and other issues.

Sadly, we know that one of the biggest fears a child or young person has around disclosing abuse, sexual assault or suicidal thoughts is that they won't be believed or taken seriously. That's why it is incredibly important to listen to our kids and to validate their thoughts and feelings.

As a mother of three daughters, now in their twenties, I understand that at times our kids might not want to tell us what's going on in their world or how they're feeling about things they've watched or heard. Let them know they won't get in trouble for coming to you with things, your concern is for their safety and the safety of those around them.

If you do decide to watch the show with your child make sure you are taking steps to manage the themes and feelings it might bring up for you both.

There are a number of resources that have been created for children and parents in response to the show, I really encourage parents to educate themselves, not only about the content of the show but also the warning signs of depression, trauma and anxiety.

If you're worried about the questions your children might have and how to answer them, then do some preparation and have some strategies in place to ensure you are all feeling OK.

Read some helpful resources about from the likes of headspace, We Are Teachers, or beyondblue.

Christian Navarro, Dylan Minnette and Brandon Flynn in 13 Reasons Why. (Pic: Netflix)
Christian Navarro, Dylan Minnette and Brandon Flynn in 13 Reasons Why. (Pic: Netflix)

In this instance, reading some spoilers is the right way to go. Knowing what's coming up will help you know whether or not to skip a part of the show or to pause to talk about what you just watched.

Make sure your child knows you can pause or stop watching at any time.

Don't binge watch the episodes. Make sure you leave time in between for the questions and feelings that might come up for them and yourself.

Make sure that you and your children are doing lots of healthy activities such as going for a walk or exercising and spending time with friends and family.

Talk to your child about the best ways to solve problems when things feel bad. A problem shared with someone who cares is a problem halved.

Most importantly, use your judgment as a parent. You know them the best, you know what they can handle and what might upset them. Play the parent card if your child is too young or immature to process the content, but be aware that for older kids with access to smart phones, tablets and laptops, watching it in secret would not be a hard feat should you forbid it.

You're far better off watching it together, tackling the hard conversations and showing your kids that you really care and they can come to you if they are ever struggling with their mental health.

Dr Katrina Lines is the executive director of Act for Kids, an Australian charity providing free therapy and support to kids and families who have experienced, or are at risk of, abuse and neglect.


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