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5 Conversations to Have with Your Kids After "13 Reasons Why"

Families can talk about everything from cyberbullying to mental health.

The widely popular and controversial Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, based on the best-selling 2007 book, is the story of a teen girl who dies by suicide, leaving behind a series of tapes that hold the story of her motives. Teens who watch this excellent but extremely dark and dramatic series may find themselves identifying with many of the characters, including the smart, troubled Hannah Baker. When the first season premiered in 2017, it generated a major conversation among parents, teens, educators, and mental health professionals regarding its handling of mature subjects including suicide, sexual assault, school shootings, and cyberbullying. While many were concerned that the show was insensitive and didn't adequately portray the reality of depression and the many resources available to struggling teens, studies showed that many families watched it together and said it helped them open up conversations about these difficult subjects.

In this story, where not many adults are role models, Hannah's friends are left to process Hannah's suicide on their own, and the second season of the series continues to follow their journey in the aftermath. Luckily, there are lots of real-world resources for teens who are dealing with mental health challenges, and Netflix has expanded their own help center as well, including a warning video that will run before each season. Families who choose to watch 13 Reasons Why together can use the opportunity to talk about any of the issues the series addresses: here are some conversation starters to help you talk to your kids:

  • Ask: Have you witnessed or experienced cyberbullying or more traditional bullying? What different forms can bullying take? What can you do to fight it?
  • Do you think 13 Reasons Why romanticizes suicide, or does it provide an important outlet and opportunities for discussion? Or both?
  • Families can talk about the way suicide is addressed on this series. When is it important to talk about mental health, especially if you're worried about a friend or family member? What resources are available to help both kids and adults?
  • What do you think about Hannah's choices? Was it right for her to blame others for her suicide? What are some healthy ways to cope when relationships, family, and school get overwhelming?
  • Sexual assault, specifically the rape of a main character, plays a large role in this series. Families can talk about resources available to teens; the Crisis Text Line is an excellent way for phone-shy teens to reach out in times of need.
Polly Conway
As Common Sense Media's Senior TV Editor, Polly is responsible for championing the latest and greatest in TV for kids and families. She's an expert in the realm of shows that are created for (and/or appeal to -- not always the same thing!) kids, tweens, and teens, with a particular focus on educational television for young kids. An enthusiastic advocate for positive representation of girls and women in media, she also has her finger on the pulse of pop culture and speaks to the press regularly about the good and bad of kids' TV (highlights include a chat with the legendary Weird Al!). Before coming to Common Sense, Polly spent time developing her own writing career and served as an educator in Oakland's diverse schools. Both helped her discover a deep desire to give kids the best possible media experiences. Additionally, her BA in Acting from San Francisco State and MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts have given her a unique understanding of how great media is created, and she's always happy to discuss any episode of her #1 whole-family TV pick, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Email Polly at [email protected] or find her on Twitter.