On Your Mind: Should I let my 12-year-old watch 13 Reasons Why?

on your mind

My 12-year old daughter wants to be watch the show “13 Reasons Why” which is about suicide and other really scary topics. On one hand, I’d like for her to watch it so that we can talk about some important stuff/situations, but I worry that it glamorizes suicide. I haven’t watched it, but from the reviews I’ve read, I’m wondering if it’s just too grown up. Of course, my daughter says that everyone else (at her middle school) gets to watch it, so she should, too. Do you have any advice for whether I should let her or not?

Response by Erica M. Boughfman, PhD, LPC

13 reasons whyAs a parent, one of the toughest roles is to help decide what our children are old enough to participate in. We have to decide when they are ready to spend the night with a friend, stay home by themselves when we need to run out to the store, when they can get a cell phone, and when they can date.

On top of those larger decisions about what they are ready to experience, we make daily decisions about what we allow them watch for television shows/movies. A common response to these decisions is often  “everyone else is watching it.” However, the decision as a parent to allow a young person to watch a show like “13 Reasons Why” needs to be based on much more than if others are allowed to watch it.

“13 Reasons Why” is a show based on the novel of the same name. It tackles real life challenges that teens go through and is produced in a thoughtful way.

The premise of the story is about a teen who has died by suicide and each of the 13 episodes is based around a reason that led to that decision. As a therapist, I really enjoyed this series. Not only is the acting tremendous, but I found so many thought provoking aspects. I certainly felt I learned a lot from it, especially in terms of how there are different perspectives on things and how so many different experiences can build on top of each other and lead to significant struggles for a young person.

The rating given to “13 Reasons Why” is MA, which indicates that it may not be suitable for those under 17. There are graphic depictions in the series of suicide, abuse, and sexual assault. In addition there are scenes about dating, sex, and drug and alcohol use that may not be age appropriate for some young people.

This series would not be appropriate for a 12-year old and you should take caution before allowing your daughter to watch this series.  If you are still considering allowing her to watch it, I would recommend that you first watch the series yourself to determine if you think the show would be beneficial for her or if in fact it is more appropriate for her to wait until she is older.

Interestingly, New Zealand has rated the series in a way that indicates that if someone is 17 or under they can only watch the show with a parent. I would also recommend applying that same rule for anyone who has a teen that is going to watch this show. There are so many talking points* throughout that you want to explore but also need to monitor how much they are watching. The show is intense and is not likely a show many could “binge watch” without having a strong emotional response.

The other challenge of a show that depicts suicide, bullying, sexual assault, and other challenges that teens face, is that this can trigger someone who is current struggling with depression and/or thoughts of suicide. We have heard of many teens and young adults in our own community that have experienced an increase in suicidal thoughts and self-injurious behavior.

There are many people that are choosing not to watch the show because they know the negative impact it could have on their own recovery. If someone is struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, then watching shows that bring up these topics or trigger past abuse should be avoided.

Though I would recommend not allowing your child to watch this show, I also understand her concern about not being able to watch something her friends are able to watch. You can explore this with her and talk through those reasons with her.

If she still is frustrated and even worried about how others will treat her for not watching, I wonder if you could read some information about the show to share with her, that way she may be able to participate in the discussions with her friends.

common sense mediaHowever, I would caution that I would want to know what her friends are talking about with the show, because those at such a young age may be glamorizing behaviors that they are not old enough yet to understand, so proceed with caution.

Another quick resource I want to leave you with is Common Sense Media. This is my go to resource for parents we work with as well as in my own parenting. It helps in guiding decisions when it comes to what shows to let your child watch and even video games or apps they can play.

According to their website, “Common Sense Media improves the lives of kids and families by providing independent reviews, age ratings, & other information about all types of media.” It really helps parents when navigating decisions related to social media and technology. Please visit their website for more information. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/


Go to https://www.jedfoundation.org/13-reasons-why-talking-points/ for a 13 Reason Why Talking Points Handout

Disclaimer: If you are someone you know is at risk for suicide please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).

Therapists at Ozark Guidance would be happy to answer your questions and read what’s on your mind. Click the butterfly icon below to fill out an anonymous submission form with your question or concern. The form contains NO identifying information and is designed to give local women an online place to share concerns with a person qualified to offer feedback.

Disclaimer: This RESPONSE does not provide medical advice It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on nwaMotherlode or Ozark Guidance websites.