It was last season’s teen TV phenomenon: a 13-part series exploring the fictional story-behind-the-story of a teenage suicide. Kids couldn’t get enough of it. Adults were outraged. In both cases, there were plenty of reasons why.
The tale of Liberty High student Hannah Barker’s decision to end her own life, amid a backdrop of bullying, back-biting and young love gone wrong, was a viral hit with young viewers.
But the show spawned a virulent backlash from mental health professionals, educators and parents who charged that the show glamourised suicide. The biggest fear: that the popular program could inspire copy-cat attempts by impressionable young viewers.
Tonight, despite or possibly because of the furore, 13 Reasons returns to Netflix. In the new season, suicide is out - or at least graphic scenes depicting it - and social responsibility is in, in the form of strongly worded trigger warnings, disclaimers and after-show de-briefs.
But is 13 Reasons Why, Season 2 something your child should be watching? Here are 13 things you might want to consider:
- The new season begins with a 50-second disclaimer that is a direct response to last year’s controversy:
13 Reasons Why is a fictional series that tackles tough, real-world issues, taking a look at sexual assault, substance abuse, suicide, and more. By shedding a light on these difficult topics, we hope our show can helps viewers start a conversation. But if you are struggling with these issues yourself, this series may not be right for you or you may want to watch it with a trusted adult. And if you ever feel you need someone to talk with, reach out to a parent, a friend, a school counselor, or an adult you trust, call a local helpline, or go to 13ReasonsWhy.info. Because the minute you start talking about it, it gets easier.
- This season, there will be no more suicide scenes - a “creative decision” by the makers to make amends for last season’s no-holds-barred depictions.
- Every new episode now ends with a message directing viewers to crisis resources.
- A new after-show features conversation among actors, experts and educators who explore the issues raised in the program.
- In one episode in the new season, Liberty High students ridicule their school’s new policy forbidding the mention of Hannah’s suicide.
- Although suicide is not directly depicted, the series does grapple with other adult themes, including sexual assault, racism and addiction.
- The first season was based on the book by Jay Asher, and used the device of 13 tapes Hannah recorded before killing herself. Each tape corresponded to a “reason” - a person - partly responsible for her decision to suicide.
- The new season is structured around the lawsuit brought by Hannah’s mum against Liberty High, for its failure to provide duty of care. Each episode is narrated by a different character as that person is called to testify in court.
- The depiction of teen life continues to be laughably unrealistic. (In the words of The Atlantic’s Sophie Gilbert, “It still tends to feel like a fantasia of teenage life where 17-year-olds drive 1968 Mustangs, date adults, drink Scotch out of crystal glasses, and practice their street art in abandoned lofts, blissfully free of parental intrusion.”)
- A study published last July by JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Internal Medicine showed the series corresponded with a rise in online searches around suicidal thoughts and methods.
- Family Zone cyber expert Jordan Foster recommends viewing for teens 16 and older, owing to the intensity of the subject matter.
- Foster also advises that parents watch 13 Reasons alongside their kids and discuss issues and concerns openly. “Avoid demonising mental health issues,” she urges. “Frame the conversation to be supportive and empathetic, as opposed to fear-mongering.”
- “See controversial programs like this as an opportunity to connect with your child,” she adds. “Let them express their emotions without anger of blame - otherwise they will avoid speaking to you about it. Keep the door open for conversation by being understanding and approachable.”
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