An Adolescent Therapist Comments On

"Thirteen Reasons Why"

By:  Janice Gabe, LCSW, LCAC

An Adolescent Therapist Comments On

       I learned about “Thirteen Reasons Why,” from my young adult and adolescent clients which is the way I learn about most things concerning youth. After several clients empathetically insisted I really needed to watch this Netflix series which tells the story of a teenage girl who commits suicide and leaves her peers a set of tapes that chronicled the events leading up to her decision to take her life.  I have also received many questions from friends, family and colleagues about this series.  Many verbalize concern that it “glorifies suicide.”

       On the whole, I don’t think my opinion necessarily matters because it is not for us or about us.  This story, although it provides a profound message for adults, belongs to the kids who will watch it, form their own opinions, struggle with their emotional responses, and come to their own conclusions.  There will be many varied responses to the series and these responses will be based on how the series relates to each teens' individual story.  Kids who will be most captivated by this series are kids who feel the content resonates with their life in some way.  The suicide scene is very graphic and the content throughout the episodes can be triggers for emotionally vulnerable teens.  Other teens will view the show as nothing more than “a good story” and will not have a strong emotional reaction one way or another.  The thing I know for sure is that many teens will be watching.  I want to emphasize that this series is not appropriate for middle schoolers.

             I do have a few suggestions to parents and adults about how to interact with their teens and young adults about this series: 

-         Most importantly, interact with your teen.  Ask what they have heard about it, if they have watched it or if they are interested in watching it.

-     If they are interested or if they have already watched the series, ask them if you can watch it with them.  I personally feel this is not a show any young person should watch alone. 

-         If they have watched it, and are not interested in watching it with you, I suggest you watch it, let your child know you plan to watch it and would like to get their feedback on it. 

-         I would highly discourage binge watching this show as it is thirteen hours of high emotional intensity.  The content requires time in between episodes to process.  Binge watching may be emotionally overwhelming for many teens.  To be honest, the idea of a depressed teen binge watching this show alone in their rooms scares the crap out of me – and I don’t scare easily.

-         My experience is that most teens and young adults want to share their experience of watching this series.   

-         If you would like to encourage your teen to share, the following communication strategies might encourage them to share more openly. 

-         Finding out how they feel or what they think is more important than “telling them” what we think. 

-         Sharing our emotional responses to the series will provide them with appropriate role modeling for expression of feelings.

 For example –

 I was so sad when _________________________________________.

 It broke my heart when _____________________________________.

 It scares me because________________________________________.

  I felt so sorry for____________________________________________.


-         Other communication starters include statements that encourage them to expand on thoughts or ideas – 

I don’t understand _________________________________________

I really wonder about ______________________________________

I didn’t realize ____________________________________________ 

I was confused about ______________________________________

            These statements are more likely to engage kids in conversations than direct questions – such as -------------------- 

            “You wouldn’t do that would you?”

            “Is it like that at your school?”

            “Why didn’t she ask someone for help?”

            “Why do kids care so much about what others think?” 

These statements make kids feel like a caterpillar being poked by a stick (i.e., they just want to withdraw.) 

            I would encourage adults to avoid judging or criticizing, making sarcastic comments, or lecturing their kids about this series. 

            I don’t think this series can be judged as good or bad, helpful or harmful.  None of the characters are perfect.  None are completely “bad” or completely “good”, perfectly innocent or entirely guilty.  It’s complex, confusing, thought provoking, not easy to understand and complicated with no simple solutions.  In this way it reflects the life of most young people.        

 (May 2017)