Netflix’s original series 13 Reasons Why deals with sensitive issues, such as sexual assault, underage drinking, driving under the influence, body shaming and, ultimately, a graphic suicide scene.
Co-executive produced by Selena Gomez, the show has brought the sensitive topic of teen suicide to the forefront, with experts coming forward to say that after watching 13 Reasons Why — which debuted March 31 and is based on Jay Asher’s 2007 book of the same name — parents should have a conversation with their children.
Netflix says that’s the reason they ultimately created the show, to “[open] up a dialogue among parents, teens, schools and mental health advocates around the intense themes and difficult topics depicted in the show.”
“We knew the material covered sensitive topics, as the book did when it was published in 2007, and we worked with mental health experts to show how these issues impact teens in real and dramatic ways,” Netflix tells PEOPLE in a statement. “With this in mind, we gave the series a TV-MA rating, added explicit warnings on the three most graphic episodes, produced an after show, ‘Beyond the Reasons,’ that delves deeper into some of the tougher topics portrayed, as well as created a global website to help people find local mental health resources.
“Entertainment has always been the ultimate connector and we hope that 13 Reasons Why can serve as a catalyst for conversation.”
Here’s how leading experts say parents should talk to their kids about the controversial series.
Educate Yourself First
“Make it okay to talk about these issues,” Phyllis Alongi, clinical director of The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, tells PEOPLE. “Be confident and competent. It makes them feel comfortable talking to us about it. Remind your kids that the show was based on fiction, and that that’s not the norm. Her behavior was not the norm.”
She adds: “A parent has to be able to look at themselves, and they need to be aware of their own feelings about the topic. They need to put those feelings aside and talk to their teens. Be direct, but have the information. By talking to your kids about suicide, you are not putting the idea in their head. You need to let your teen know it is okay to talk about these issues.”
Know Your Resources:
• The JED Foundation, a non-profit that aims to prevent suicide in teens and young adults, has developed a series of talking points for children and adults here and has a hotline number 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
• The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention developed a video for parents found here. Their hotline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or you may contact their Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741-741.
• The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide also offers helpful information on how to know if suicide is a risk for your family here.
Watch With Your Kids
“The thing to do is make parents aware of [the show] and urge them to watch with them to get a sense of what is at hand,” Dr. Victor Schwartz, the chief medical officer for the JED Foundation, which focuses on preventing suicide in teenagers and young adults, tells PEOPLE. “Parents and families should try to watch the show with their kids, explaining it as a cautionary tale.
“Explain that this is a story that was produced as a way to get kids to think about consequences of behavior and choices.”
Don’t Binge-Watch the Series
“These are dense, dark themes,” Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, tells PEOPLE. “Spacing episodes out provides the opportunity to have a healthy conversation and gives the child time to process the information in a helpful way.”
Is Your Child Feeling Anxious After Watching?
“Then they should immediately stop,” says Dr. Victor Schwartz. “The concern is with some small groups of young people who are vulnerable — they are really at risk and impressionable kids may not get the fictional element of this. There is potential for kids to become so distraught by it that they see this is an appealing thing, to end your life.
He adds: “There is an undercurrent that this is what happens when people wrong you. A lot of kids out there who feel their friends, families have mistreated them might see this as an outlet.”
If you or someone you know needs support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.