A meeting was held on Wednesday night regarding the impacts of the new Netflix show 13 Reasons Why. A number of people gathered at St. Thomas Aquinas Middle School to dicuss the issue.
According to many people at the public discussion at the school, people shouldn’t be turning to the latest Netflix TV series.
The show is a teenage drama focusing on a 17-year-old girl who decides to take her own life. She made 13 audio tapes for those in her life who she thought contributed to her death, and the show is about each of those tapes.
“I think that it sensationalizes the suicide and that’s my biggest concern. There was no offer of help to her (the girl who suffered from mental health) in the book,” said Jennifer Stepien, a concerned parent of a Grade 6 student at the school.
She said on the other hand it shows children how they should be treating people every day, but she doesn’t think they need a medium like the one presented on Netflix to teach the kids like that.
After finishing the book, she said she doesn’t plan on letting her son watch the TV show.
“I need to screen it first so that we can have a conversation about it after,” she said.
The books were available to students at the library, which is how she found out about it, because her son brought it home.
The books are now removed however.
The night’s discussion was to let parents know about the show and information on the research found around mental health in general.
“We were so excited to put together the evening because at Red Deer Catholic we talk about mental health all the time. We are not whispering about mental health,” said Patricia MacRae-Pasula, division principal of Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools.
Carmen Baumgarten, division mental health consultant for Red Deer Catholic is a psychologist and has been working in the field of child and adolescent mental health for about 17 years.
Part of her role is mental health awareness and to promote positive mental health attitudes and positive mental health behaviours.
“Another thing that is part of my role is to address any issues that might be impacting our youth’s mental health or ultimately their safety,” she said.
One of these issues is the popular show that many kids are exposed to.
She too, like many others is concerned about children watching the show.
“A few weeks ago my 11-year-old daughter came to me and said she wanted to start watching this Netflix series and I didn’t know anything about it at the time but I didn’t want to say yes,” she said, adding that she needed to find out more before she watched it.
Coincidentally the next day, she got a call from one of the school counsellors in the district who were raising red flags about the show, hearing lots about it in their counselling sessions with the students.
And so Baumgarten began to dig, but said one doesn’t have to dig very far to find out information about the show and its content.
“I became more and more concerned for our students.”
Concern led to the school board sending out a letter to families.
“I just want to clarify that the letter was not a personal opinion, it didn’t come from personal opinion, it didn’t come from the media frenzy around this topic, it comes from the research.’”
She said the research says that when kids are exposed to this glamorization of a suicide, it does put them at increased risk.
“That’s why we’re here today and that’s why it’s so important for me just to educate people on the show and what it’s about and the potential triggering factors that might be involved for somebody.”
The show focuses on the main character who narrates the show, talking to these 13 individuals who she feels contributed to her decision to take her own life.
“That’s very alarming to me for a lot of reasons. One of the issues with youth is they don’t always have a concrete idea of what death is,” said Baumgarten.
She said they often times have this romanticized view that they’ll be floating over their funeral and watching everyone’s response to their death.
“This show I think really promotes that view.”
One of the concerns mentioned by MacRae-Pasula whose 18-year-old daughter watched some of the show was the lack of clarity. Her daughter didn’t understand why the main character that was struggling didn’t talk to anyone.
“So she picked up very quickly that there’s no resolution to this and that it just builds and builds and builds,” said MacRae-Pasula.
In the school division, officials have implemented what they call universal strategies or lessons for all the kids from deep breathing to relaxation and different coping methods. They are hoping that if they can build that resilience at a young age, by the time they get to high school they will have those coping skills.
Another parent, Jeanne Gauvin, said her child was dismissed from school because of bullying and it’s been something that’s been going on for over a year, but is luckily over with for now.
“I had to fight. A resolution was fought but when my child went to the counsellors it was, ‘Well we’ll see what we can do’ and the teachers – “’We’ll keep an eye on it,’” she said.
She added she understands that while it’s busy at the start of the school year, it shouldn’t be up to her to fight.
“If a child brings up something, I think they should be heard.”
Dave Khatib, associate superintendent said that it’s important to talk as a community about what’s bothering students and how they can get past it.
He said there is the ability more so than ever before for kids to express themselves if need be.