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Marietta Schools warns parents about Netflix's '13 Reasons Why' over its depiction of suicide

This was originally posted Thursday, May 4, 2017 by Rodney Ho/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Suicide is a touchy subject in multiple ways. How mass media portrays and covers the subject is also an area of disagreement. And Netflix's "13 Reasons Why," based on the young adult novel, has hit that point of controversy given its popularity among teens and worry among adults that it's glamorizing suicide in a way that could create copycats.

Marietta Schools superintendent Grant Rivera (husband of Star 94.1's Jenn Hobby) waded into this minefield with the following e-mail to parents Wednesday afternoon:

Dear MCS Family:

I feel compelled to reach out to each of you regarding the recent Netflix series, “13 Reasons Why.”

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.

Other school systems have weighed in on the series as well, including those in  New York City, LeHigh Valley, Penn., West Chester, Penn., Edmonton, Canada, Montclair, N.J. , and Fairfax County, Va ., to name a few.

The premise of the series, which came out a month ago, is simple but the execution is graphic and complex.

Hannah (Katherine Langford) plays a teen who kills herself, but creates 13 audiocassette tapes explaining to classmates and friends why she did what she did and what role each person played in her eventual death. (It's set in present day. The fact she used the very dated technology of cassettes is explained.)

The series jumps between present day and the past as the series covers sexual assault and rape, underage drinking, body shaming and Hannah’s suicide itself in harsh detail.

Netflix defended the series' depiction of suicide, providing this statement: “We support the unflinching vision of the show’s creators, who engaged the careful advice of medical professionals in the script-writing process.”

Selena Gomez, who was an executive producer, told the Associated Press the series "stayed very true to the book and that’s initially what [author] Jay Asher created was a beautifully tragic, complicated yet suspenseful story and I think that’s what we wanted to do... We wanted to do it justice and, yeah, [the backlash is] gonna come no matter what. It’s not an easy subject to talk about, but I’m very fortunate with how it’s doing."


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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.