Administration ushers caution, communication to viewing of Netflix series, ‘13 Reasons Why’

McKenzie Lookebil and Gracie Warda

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A Netflix show based on a novel by Jay Asher, 13 Reasons Why, has grown in popularity since its release, rated 91 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Recently the district’s administration sent a letter to all parents regarding the show, concerned about students’ conclusions.

“I alerted our staff because Netflix started the program [13 reasons why],” Principal Mark Suchowski said. “It came to our educators’ attention that there’s a story out there, that a lot of our students may be watching, that deals with teen suicide. When I read the novel, I get a sense of this girl making a bad choice. There were a lot of people there to help her, and she didn’t take advantage of it; which is the lesson I would want anyone to get out of reading the story. So I think what the concern with watching the series on Netflix is that people were worried it was romanticizing and glamorizing suicide.”

The issue was first brought to attention during a county superintendent meeting on April 20.

“There wasn’t anything specific in Fenton Schools that inspired us to send the email,” Superintendent Adam Hartley said. “But I found that it is an ongoing issue, younger students are watching the show without the adults in their life knowing about it. Those younger students may not know how to process it. I felt that I needed to send a letter home to our community just to make parents aware. Sometimes with more graphic content, it’s hard for them to see the difference between reality and fiction. It was more of a proactive approach.”

Administrators found it necessary to guide students to conclusions about the show and encourage students to discuss the show with friends and family.

“I don’t think that the people who made the Netflix show wanted to make kids think that suicide is cool,” Suchowski said. “I think that most people I’ve talked to about the novel [and show] are frustrated because obviously the girl is very bright, but she makes a very bad decision. It’s terrible that she went through what she went through, but I think part of it is also that you’re supposed to see yourself in one of those 13 people, and look at the others around you and do more for them. Which I think is a very good lesson, but you arrive at that conclusion with all those conversations with your parents and your teachers and classmates.”

The sensitive topics the show covers, such as rape, bullying, suicide and depression, encouraged Fenton Public Schools administration to send the letter. The goal wasn’t to discourage students from watching it, rather the goal was to provoke conversation.

“Anxiety and depression rates have risen among students, and the issues of suicide and self harm are very real. It’s something that educators have to be aware of, and we need to have processes in place to deal with that.”

– Adam Hartley

“It’s not up to me to decide who is ready and who is not,” Hartley said. “I feel when our students are mature enough and are ready to sit down and talk to their counselor or parent about it, they can watch it. If the show can help us see signs of self harm in others and help them then by all means, we should watch it.”

Included in the email sent Monday, April 24 were talking points inspired by the show are listed from the JED Foundation, suicide prevention foundation, which you can find here.

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