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Marietta school chief echoes growing concerns over new TV series on teen suicide


Update Thursday: This week Marietta Superintendent Grant Rivera also sent home a note about "13 Reasons Why," the new Netflix series about a teen suicide and the aftermath. Marietta Schools is seeing an uptick in students experiencing emotional stress and citing the show to school staff. Fulton County Schools sent a warning note home earlier this week. Fulton and other local systems, including City Schools of Decatur, are sharing mental health resources with their parents.

Rivera wrote:

If you are not aware, this thematic series is described (according to the official Netflix website) as follows: “After a teenage girl’s perplexing suicide, a classmate receives a series of tapes that unravel the mystery of her tragic choice.”

As a superintendent, it is not my place to pass judgment on the Netflix series or its appropriateness in your home for school-aged children.  I do however feel a responsibility to make sure our MCS families are aware of the popularity of this show and resources to support our students and families.  In recent days, MCS personnel have reported an increase in the number of students manifesting severe emotional distress, hyper vigilance, and, in some isolated cases, suicide ideation (several of whom have specifically referenced the Netflix series).

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has issued cautions and considerations for educators and parents, as well as additional resources to support discussions about suicide with adolescents.  For more information, please refer to the NASP website.

If Marietta City Schools can better support you or your child, please do not hesitate to contact your child’s counselor (contact information for each school counselor is provided in the attachment).  If you have an immediate need, please contact the Georgia Crisis and Access Line at 1-800-715-4225

Here is the original blog

Former Fulton Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa sent a note home to parents in his new district of Palm Beach County expressing concerns over the influence of a controversial Netflix series that deals with the aftermath of a teenage girl’s suicide.

Explaining that students are referencing the popular series “13 Reasons Why,” Avossa says the district has seen "an increase in youth at-risk behavior at the elementary and middle school levels to include self-mutilation, threats of suicide, and multiple Baker Act incidents."

(Florida's Mental Health Act of 1971, known as the Baker Act, enables schools to provide emergency services and temporary detention for mental health evaluation and treatment on a voluntary or an involuntary basis.)

“Thirteen Reasons Why” is based on Jay Asher's 2007 young-adult novel of the same title about the suicide of a high school junior. The website for the best-selling book explains the plot: Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who committed suicide two weeks earlier. On tape, Hannah explains that there are 13 reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list. Through Hannah and Clay’s dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers.

While critics have panned the series, it has become a favorite among younger viewers.

Here is the note Avossa sent Friday.

SUBJECT: Important Message from Superintendent Robert M. Avossa, Ed.D.

REGARDING: “13 Reasons Why” Netflix Series

As a father of a teenager and tween, I am very concerned about a dangerous trend we have observed in our schools in recent days. School District personnel have observed an increase in youth at-risk behavior at the elementary and middle school levels to include self-mutilation, threats of suicide, and multiple Baker Act incidents. Students involved in the recent incidents have articulated associations of their at­ risk behavior to the “13 Reasons Why” Netflix series. The Netflix website tag-line summarizes the series theme as follows: “After a teenage girl’s perplexing suicide, a classmate receives a series of tapes that unravel the mystery of her tragic choice”.

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has issued cautions and considerations for educators and parents, as well as additional resources to support discussions about suicide with adolescents.

As an online series, it is possible many parents are unaware of the popularity of this show. As such, the District would like to share this resource and encourage parents to discuss its content if their teen or adolescent has viewed the show. This advisory is for awareness purposes only and is in no way intended to be an indictment of the show or Netflix.

In part, NASP cautions:

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 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.

The complete NASP recommendations and cautions, as well as additional support materials, can be found by clicking here.

If adults or teens know someone struggling with thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-273 TALK (8255) or text START to 741741.

Sincerely,

Robert M. Avossa, Ed.D.

Superintendent

 


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.