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Netflix's Controversial "13 Reasons Why" Is Putting Schools on Guard

The popular young adult drama series 13 Reasons Why has produced a hit for Netflix, but it has school officials and parents concerned with its impact on children. The series revolves around the suicide of a 17-year-old girl and the 13 audio tapes that she left for her parents and peers, explaining all of the reasons that led to taking her life.

Days after the series was released debates over whether it “glorifies suicide” sprang up, putting both educators and parents on high alert. Hundreds of school districts across the country sent home letters to parents urging them to talk to their children if they were watching the show and encouraging them to watch it with them.

The series can be incredibly graphic at times with depictions of rape, bullying, drug and alcohol abuse and of course, suicide. Some parents with children or family members who suffer from mental illness have petitioned for Netflix to remove the series.

Netflix has not done so and defended the series telling The Washington Post that the show’s creator and producers worked with mental health experts to “show how these issues impact teens in real and dramatic ways.”

The show’s creator, Brian Yorkey has defended the show as well and sees it as a conversation starter. “I have tremendous respect for everyone’s point of view,” he said. “I always believe talking about things is better than silence.”

Many suicide prevention experts, however, say the show’s potential for harm outweighs any artistic merit. “It’s a great thing to bring up as a topic, but to me there was a much better way to do it,” Danielle Buckley, a clinical director of a program for children with emotional issues, told The Associated Press. “It really didn't reflect enough that there are lots of supports for people who are feeling that there are no alternatives.”

A school district that recently suffered the loss of seven students to suicide has ordered that the book that inspired the series be temporarily removed from library shelves. Of the 20 copies available at libraries in the Mesa County 19 school district, 19 were already check out at the time.

Leigh Grasso, the curriculum director for the 22,000-student district admitted that the idea of censorship is slippery slope and said the book is not permanently banned and will eventually make its way back into circulation. "I think we were just being cautious until we had the opportunity to look at the book and see how closely related to the movie it was," she added.

The book’s author, Jay Asher, who wrote the book after experiencing the suicide of a family member, has reportedly spoken to 50 different schools and delivered a message to students that he wouldn't be speaking to them if teachers were not afraid to discuss the uncomfortable topic. "Over and over, readers describe 13 Reasons Why as the first time they felt understood," Asher told ABC.

The popularity of the series and book have led the National Association of School Psychologists to address the controversy and urge both parents and educators to be aware of potential warning signs and most importantly -- talk with kids.


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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