Emergency Lancer Letter – 13 Reasons Why

Submitted by Richard Scaletta, GM School District

This week I am writing about a sobering topic. You may have heard from your child(ren) about the recent Netflix series, “13 Reasons Why”. This series focuses on the topic of teen suicide and is gaining popularity among teenagers specifically. General McLane School District values the safety of our students and, therefore, feel it is imperative to address our concerns.

13 Reasons Why follows a high schooler who has received cassettes made by her classmate that explains the 13 reasons for killing herself. There are many graphic scenes throughout the series, including suicide, sexual assault, rape and bullying.

General McLane School District echoes the concerns of many psychologists who are concerned about the number of youth who are binge watching this series without any adult guidance. There are concerns with the way the topic is addressed, some claiming it glamorizes or sensationalizes youth suicide. It is well documented that there is something called a “contagion effect” when it comes to suicide. That means that someone at risk to commit suicide may be convinced to do it when they learn someone else has. This contagion effect is so well proven and documented, it is one of the few boundaries respected by the media who will not report on suicides.

General McLane school psychologist Jen Hardy is doing her doctorate on the topic of suicide and provided these three reminders:

1) suicide is preventable, but it is impossible to predict; 
2) the contagion effect has been well studied and is very real; 
3) suicidal rates are increasing, and, according to the most recent and best statistics it is now the 2nd leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds AND 10 to 14 year olds.

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has issued cautions for educators and parents.

“We do not recommend that vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation, watch this series. Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies. They may easily identify with the experiences portrayed and recognize both the intentional and unintentional effects on the central character. Unfortunately, adult characters in the show, including the second school counselor who inadequately addresses Hannah’s pleas for help, do not inspire a sense of trust or ability to help. Hannah’s parents are also unaware of the events that lead to her suicide death.

While many youth are resilient and capable of differentiating between a TV drama and real life, engaging in thoughtful conversations with them about the show is vital. Doing so presents an opportunity to help them process the issues addressed, consider the consequences of certain choices, and reinforce the message that suicide is not a solution to problems and that help is available. This is particularly important for adolescents who are isolated, struggling, or vulnerable to suggestive images and storylines. Research shows that exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of death, can be one of the many risk factors that youth struggling with mental health conditions cite as a reason they contemplate or attempt suicide.”

We encourage you to have dialogue and conversation with your child(ren) regarding this sensitive topic.

General McLane School District has resources available for students. Each school building has a trained “Student Support Team,” which deals with any issues, other than academic deficiencies that may contribute to a student’s academic struggle. To be clear, our function is not to treat a student with these issues, but rather to get the student to the right facility/professional who can assess and treat the student. Our school psychologists and counselors are available to help refer students and their parents to the appropriate help. Please know that any concerns brought to the schools regarding this topic will, and have always been, dealt with swiftly and professionally.

The school is not the only source of help and the paper from NASP contains several sources including the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

I wish to add that I know that art can sometimes be edgy and can cause controversy. I have not viewed the show and therefore am not casting a judgment upon it. I’m not usually one to promote censorships but with this very serious topic, parents, grandparents and guardians of our youth need to be vigilant and involved in what their children are watching.

On our website you will find the full paper from the NASP with a section specific to families and what you should do. Please look at it. If you are reading this in the paper and do not have internet access, you can contact our central office for a copy.

The Lancer Letter is a weekly editorial by Richard Scaletta, Superintendent of Schools, General McLane School District. Opinions expressed are Mr. Scaletta’s views on the issues and subjects of discussion, and not necessarily those of EdinboroOnline.com or our sponsors.

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