A popular TV show has teens across the country talking. No, it isn’t Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. This new show is called 13 Reasons Why, a powerful miniseries based on Jay Asher’s book of the same name that deals with the topic of teen suicide and bullying.
One of the components of 13 Reasons Why is the idea of rumors and the damage they can cause. Asher’s book was written prior to the dramatic rise in cyberbullying, which has made the spreading of rumors much easier than before. Recent research shows that the spreading of rumors online is the highest reported method of cyberbullying at 19.4%. Unfortunately, whether it takes place online or in person, bullying can have significant negative effects.
According to research, children whom experience bullying may suffer both short and long term mental and physical health difficulties. And while very few youth have suicidal thoughts or attempt to commit suicide, bullying is one risk factor that could contribute to these thoughts. Because of these consequences and links, all parents need to be ready to for a conversation about bullying and suicide.
Tips for Talking About 13 Reasons Why
We know these topics can be difficult to discuss with your teens. And while shows like 13 Reasons can get teens thinking about these issues, parents need to be prepared for when your teens start asking questions. Here are some tips that can be useful when discussing bullying and suicide with children and teens.
- Ask if they have seen or heard about 13 Reasons Why. It’s possible that your teen has already heard of 13 Reasons Why, and with shows now being watchable on phones and computers, it’s possible they have even seen it. Ask your children if they have heard of or seen the show before beginning the conversation out of the blue.
- Be ready for a difficult conversation. Topics like teen suicide are challenging to discuss at the best of times. It can be frightening to hear your child talk about their own thoughts and sometimes struggles, but it’s better to talk about these things in the open than have your child worrying or feeling alone. Before you talk about these subjects, be sure you are in a calm and collected mood, and ready to listen without judgment.
- Ask about their experiences. Do they know a friend who is being bullied or dealing with suicidal thoughts? Are they themselves struggling with these issues? Let them talk, and make sure they feel heard.
- Remind them that you’re there to help. Instead of offering advice or action items, gently remind your child that you’re there to help in any way they need. Let them determine for themselves what that means.
It can be overwhelming to talk about action steps when having a heart to heart with your child, but it can also be the right time to talk about how to help others who they think are being bullied or at risk of suicide. You will have to gauge your conversation with your child and decide for yourself when is the right time to talk about next steps.
If your teen or child has told you about bullying they have witnessed, there are several steps they can take. Some suggestions include:
- Confront the instigator in action. If they feel safe, children can say something like “hey, that’s not cool, why are you doing that?” If children are friends with the instigator, they can talk to them later and ask why they were they were doing that. Saying something like “did you know that you were being hurtful?” can help prevent similar behavior in the future.
- Walk away from the incident and encourage others who are watching to walk away. If there is no audience for the bullying, the incident is likely to stop. Students can tell others who are watching to stop and encouraging everyone to walk away. If they feel safe, children can help the target themselves get away.
- Reach out and talk to the target in private. The impact of bullying won’t last as long if the target feels they have support from their peers. Encourage your child to talk to the target of bullying and let them know it wasn’t their fault. Being present and supportive can make a big difference.
- Get help from a trusted adult. If children don’t know what to do, they should talk to a trusted adult. Encourage them to tell you or a teacher or counselor if they see anything that makes them uncomfortable.
If your teen or child has told you that they think a fellow student may be contemplating suicide, make sure you express the importance of seeking help. There are professionals at school such as counselors who are trained to handle situations like these, and you can encourage your child to speak to the counselor about their concerns.
For more information on these kind of conversations and what you can do to help, check out these resources:
- Suicide Factsheet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Facts and Stats on Youth Suicide from the National Association of School Psychologists
- Tips for Parents and Educators to Prevent Youth Suicide from NASP
- Tips for Talking to Your Teens about 13 Reasons Why from Erika’s Lighthouse
- Prevent Cyberbullying and Promote Digital Citizenship from PCA America
- Teens, Kindness and Cruelty on Social Network Sites from Pew Research Center