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What Teachers Need to Know About "13 Reasons Why"

Address parents' concerns and support students with the return of this popular Netflix series.

Erin Wilkey Oh | May 14, 2018

If you work with middle or high school students, you've no doubt heard about the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. The second season of the show is nearly as packed with controversial content as its popular first season. Based on the best-selling 2007 book, the show revolves around a teen girl who dies by suicide, leaving behind a series of tapes that hold the story of her motives. In Season 2, the characters cope with the suicide from Season 1, a major trial, a potential school shooting, hard-drug abuse, and more blackmail, drama, and mystery.

When the first season premiered in 2017, schools grappled with how to address parents' concerns about the series and how to help students process the show and its themes. The series depicts graphic scenes of sexual assault, rape, and suicide, and many adults -- including mental health practitioners -- worry that teens with mental health issues may conclude that suicide is the only solution to their struggles. In addition, many tweens and young teens watch the series, causing great concern among parents and experts who feel the show's themes are too mature for younger kids.

In 2017, schools and educators responded to these concerns in a variety of ways: sending messages home, hosting parent panels, and even using the series as a springboard for action. One high school in Michigan started a 13 Reasons Why Not campaign to raise awareness and open up a conversations about teen mental health. 

This time around, many schools prepared for the premiere ahead of time, sending notifications home to parents with resources on how to discuss the show with their kids.

Given how TV and movies can facilitate conversations about difficult topics, teachers might consider using the release of 13 Reasons Why's second season as an opportunity to talk with students about suicide, rape, mental health, and how schools can support kids.

If you're looking for ideas on how to respond to the series, a host of organizations have resources to help parents, educators, and students process the show's difficult topics:

In addition, many of Common Sense Education's digital citizenship lessons and resources can be used to start conversations in the classroom on key topics from 13 Reasons Why: