13 Reasons Why: what every parent needs to know

Woman wearing headphones looking at a laptop

13 Reasons Why was one of the most talked about series streamed on Netflix Australia last year, quickly cementing itself as a cult hit—especially with young people. It comes as no surprise, as young people find it easy to connect with a compelling and suspenseful story.

We need to be aware that popular media portrayal of these complex issues can be taken out of context and may pose risks for young people that are vulnerable, impulsive, or have been experiencing issues with mental health and distress. For these reasons, it is important that young people are not only aware of serious issues such as self-harm and suicide, but also that parents check in and keep the lines of communication open.

It is no secret that the release of 13 Reasons Why sparked concerns from mental health experts in Australia, and around the globe. If you haven’t had a chance to watch the series yourself, the story centres on a female teenage suicide and her “13 reasons” for doing so. Headspace do an excellent job at explaining why these portrayals can cause serious impact on vulnerable young people—extensive exposure to this type of content in popular media can not only lead to a potential contagion effect but can also cause desensitisation to the severity and finality of suicide.

It was these concerns that propelled me to reach out to Netflix last year in Washington, D.C to open up a conversation about the crucial role we can all play in creating a safe and supportive environment for young people, especially those that are vulnerable. Being new territory for Netflix, I was encouraged to see their team jump on board and collaborate with leading Australian mental health organisations Headspace and Everymind, to develop support materials for young people to access once season 2 of 13 Reasons Why airs in Australia.

Should negative emotions be triggered, by either viewing the series or negative conversations at school, work, or within the media, the resources offer guidance and support to young people, detailing where to go for help and actions that can be taken.

With season 2 of 13 Reasons Why set to air tonight at 5 pm EST on Netflix Australia, we encourage parents, carers and teachers to have a look at the resources, available at http://www.13reasonswhy.info, familiarise yourself with them and share them with your children and anyone else within your community. It is important that we, as parents, carers and educators, are engaged with our children and keep the lines of communication open. Even if your child is unlikely to watch the show, they might be able to offer support to a friend at school that they may be worried about.

While there is no panacea for protecting young people from harmful online content, as the national coordinating online safety body, we will continue our efforts to engage and encourage industry to offer better safety approaches and safeguards to protect our young people.

When it comes to mental health, Australia is truly world-leading. For Australians in need of psychological support, help with online issues such as exposure to harmful online content, there are a range of mental health services and online safety organisations that can assist. Contact ReachOut, Kids Helpline, Lifeline or visit our Online Wellbeing Directory for guidance and support.


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