What you must know about “13 Reasons Why”

We have suggestions on how to help your child navigate the serious issues this hit teen show raises.

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If you’re a parent, you may have received a note from your teen’s school to warn you about the Netflix teen drama series, 13 Reasons Why, which has just been renewed. The Ministry of Education has even sent out an advisory cautioning parents about the perils of your tween’s unsupervised viewing of the show.

Notes Chong Ee Jay, Touch Community Services (TCS) manager, “I have received quite a number of text messages, e-mails and phone calls from concerned parents and educators about the show.” Touch conducts cyberwellness talks in schools and offers counselling services. Parents who have seen the show are shocked and worried about the show’s content, as well as its influence and impact on children and teenagers, Chong adds.

So, just what is it about the show that has everyone in a tizzy?

What is 13 Reasons Why about?
The drama shows the aftermath of the suicide of high school student, Hannah Baker. Before her death, Baker recorded a collection of 13 tapes. Each tape details how a particular individual in school —a classmate, acquaintance or school counsellor — had contributed to her decision to kill herself.

A TCS poll shows that at least 82.4 per cent of Primary school students and 99.6 percent of Secondary school students have witnessed cyberbullying behaviour online.

Needless to say, the serial covers a number of heavy subjects, some of which you may not be comfortable discussing with junior. If your child is watching the show, Chong advises that you watch it yourself, watch clips of it or do some research. When you get a better understanding of what the show, you’re in a better position to help your child process the themes by having a frank discussion of the show’s content and themes. Here’s what you need to know about the show…

1. It is rated M18 on Netflix
WHAT While the rating does little in preventing your child from accessing the show, you can use Netflix’s parental filters to ensure that junior cannot watch the programme.
STEPS TO TAKE You can set a pin code to restrict Netflix access ― go to your account settings and select the Parental Controls options. After keying in your password, you will be prompted to set your four-digit pin code.

2. Bullying is a real problem in the show
WHAT Being bullied is one of the main reasons why Baker decides to take her own life. Chong says that children and teenagers in our schools are dealing with the troubling issue of bullying and cyberbullying. A TCS poll shows that at least 82.4 per cent of Primary school students and 99.6 percent of Secondary school students have witnessed cyberbullying behaviour online.
STEPS TO TAKE Educate your child as to what bullying is. Talk to your kiddo about what it looks like and why it happens. You can also detail steps your child can take to avoid being an easy target, such as using assertive behaviour like smart comebacks to shut the bully up. Also, teach them how to get away from the bully to seek an adult’s help. Tell junior it is important to speak up and report such incidences to you or the school’s principal or discipline master.

Find out how to discuss the tough issues highlighted in the series with junior…next!

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3. It includes scenes of sexual assault

WHAT The series has a couple of rape scenes. One involves Baker, the other, her close friend Jessica Davis. In both instances, the act is carried out by a fellow school mate, Bryce Walker, whose basketball teammates are protecting him from any disciplinary action.
STEPS TO TAKE Be an active listener and get your child to share what they think about the assault and rape scenes they have seen in the show. Chong suggest that you talk to your child about the steps they can take to fob off unwanted sexual advances from strangers or even when they are in a relationship. Stress to junior that it is all right to reach out to you or a close friend for help, or to tell the police or school counsellor. More importantly, you should remind your child that while sex plays a meaningful role in a loving relationship, it is not when the act is initiated without consent or forced upon them.

4. Alcohol and drug abuse are a big part of the show
WHAT Characters are shown drinking or smoking and taking drugs in various scenes. Towards the end of the show, Davis hides her drinking problem from her parents.
STEPS TO TAKE Talk to your child about the dangers of binge drinking — which can result in death — and alcohol addiction. The Health Promotion Broad’s website includes helpful information on the health risks and dangers of alcohol like liver damage. Be sure to also introduce them to sites like the Central Narcotics Bureau, which details the critical effects and legal consequences of being caught abusing different kinds of drugs.

Inviting your child to share their thoughts will help you better address any areas of concern.

5. It portrays truancy as cool and okay
WHAT During the show, different characters skip school and justify their actions by giving the excuse that they are dealing with the emotional trauma of coming to terms with Baker’s suicide.
STEPS TO TAKE During your discussion with your children, touch on:
* The underlying reasons for truancy in the show — is it due to bullying, fear of failure, lack of motivation, or the character’s lack of self-esteem?
* The consequences of truancy.
* The future job prospects of a person who does not get an adequate education. What employment can he hope to get with minimal qualifications?

6. It has a graphic suicide scene
WHAT In the series finale, Baker is shown slitting her wrists with the razors she stole from her parents’ drug store, while lying in a bathtub filled with water. The final scenes show Baker’s parents rushing in to find their daughter’s lifeless body.
STEPS TO TAKE Chong says you have to be aware of your child’s emotional state. If they are going through an emotionally trying time — for instance, a breakup or grieving over the loss of a loved one — then your child should not be watching the scene, since there’s the risk they might follow in the character’s footsteps.

Use an inquiry-based approach in your questions. Ask your tween…
- What do you think about how Baker committed suicide?
- What do your friends say about the show or this scene?
- How would you help your friends if you see that they are emotionally distressed?

Inviting your child to share their thoughts will help you better address any areas of concern. Getting help from counsellors shouldn’t be overlooked either, especially if you’re uncomfortable talking about such themes with your offspring.

Helplines

* Samaritans of Singapore (24 hours) 1800-221-4444
* Institute of Mental Health (24 hours) 6389-2222
* Touchline (for ages 12 to 25) 1800-377-2252
* Singapore Association of Mental Health (9am to 6pm, weekdays) 1800-283-7019

Photos: Netflix/iStock

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