My husband and I are extremely anxious about a situation that has exploded into our lives this past year. We are the parents of a 15-year-old daughter who is being exposed to troubling internet material. We know she watched a series (“13 Reasons Why”) that showed the suicide of a high school girl and the tapes she left behind for people who harmed her. This was the latest in a number of things we’ve learned our daughter has encountered on the internet and through social media.
We try not to intrude in her life, but we are struggling daily to control our strong impulse to protect her. We want to talk with her about what she is watching and reading, but we don’t know how to approach her. She balks at our efforts to communicate about anything she views as private. We feel helpless to do anything.
We have asked many of our friends how they are handling this situation. Most have said they are ignoring it, but that is not our style. We believe our daughter is too young to learn about such things, and we believe we have a responsibility to do something. We understand that we can’t control everything in her life, but how do we cope with this ourselves and also be helpful to her?
Many parents have expressed great concern about the TV series (to which Netflix has added a warning), and are trying to learn how to be helpful to their child while managing their own anxiety about the material. I am pleased you recognize that you have a responsibility to talk with your child about what she has seen. I recommend you watch the series in order to have a full understanding of the issues raised. By knowing you’ve watched it, your daughter is likely to feel comforted and respected because you’ve taken the time to help her sort through this experience and her feelings about it.
Initially, she may avoid any conversation with you because she feels awkward, but over time you may find her willing to share her reactions with you, particularly when you don’t push her to talk. Much of what is portrayed in the series is embarrassing for a teenager to address with her parents, but she may share some of her own troubling experiences or those of her friends.
Do not expect much openness. The point of your conversations is to let her know you will always be available to her, you will never dismiss her concerns, and you will get her help if she needs it. Review with her who else among your family or friends, her school, a religious institution, can be counted on to be supportive if she is having difficulty. If she opens up to you about anything, you can help her problem-solve as well. Remind her how she has handled other difficulties in her life.
Many experts have faulted “13 Reasons Why” for romanticizing suicide. Emphasize that suicide is never a solution. Ask her whether she agrees with this criticism. Listen carefully and respectfully to anything she says. If she is receptive, tell her what you have observed about the series that concerns you. You might ask her to imagine another ending that saves the girl. A website, www.jedfoundation.org, has talking points that may be particularly helpful to you in this process.
Raising children today brings great challenges. Try to look at this situation as an opportunity to develop a closer relationship with your daughter. Decades ago, most parents did not know how to have these conversations.
Although children are exposed to things that were generally unheard of in the past, there is now more information and research on how to parent effectively, how to treat depression, how to build resilience in children, and the impact of sexual assault, drug use, and bullying. See yourselves as partnering with your child in managing all the stress that growing up entails.