Schools respond to TV series on suicide

WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) – Last week, Westfield Public Schools sent home a letter to parents of upper grade students concerning the Netflix original series, “13 Reasons Why.” The week before Southwick Regional High School also sent home a letter referring to the series. The letters were in response to students talking about it in school.

Based on a young adult novel of the same name, the series revolves around 17-year-old Hannah Baker, who takes her own life and leaves behind audio recordings for 13 people who she says in some way were part of why she killed herself. Each tape recounts painful events in which one or more of the 13 individuals played a role.

Westfield Schools Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski (WNG file photo)

According to the National Association of School Psychologists (nasponline.org) “many teenagers are binge watching the series without adult guidance and support, which is raising concerns from suicide prevention experts about the potential risks posed by the sensationalized treatment of youth suicide. The series graphically depicts a suicide death and addresses in wrenching detail a number of difficult topics, such a bullying, rape, drunk driving, and slut shaming. The series also highlights the consequences of teenagers witnessing assaults and bullying (i.e., bystanders) and not taking action to address the situation (e.g., not speaking out against the incident, not telling an adult about the incident).”

Westfield Public Schools superintendent Stefan Czaporowski said that in Westfield a student did a report on teen suicide and referred to the series. In Southwick, Superintendent Jennifer Willard said that there was a lot of conversation about the show following April vacation, but that it seemed to have quieted down since then.

The intent of both letters home was to make parents aware of the show, that students were talking about it, and also to offer guidance if any issues do arise.

Westfield’s letter stated the following:

Teenage suicide is an extremely sensitive topic that both children and adults struggle to understand. If the topic of 13 Reasons Why or suicide is brought up by your child, we encourage you to:

  • Ask your child if they have watched the show or discussed it with friends who have seen it.
  • If your child has already watched or discussed the show, we encourage you to discuss it with them. Let them know it’s okay to talk about these issues. Make them feel comfortable talking to adults about it. Remind your child that the show was based on fiction, and that that’s not the norm.
  • If your child has not yet watched the show but asks to view it, we encourage you to watch it with them or preview it prior to their watching.
  • Remind your child that you are there to help them. If you are concerned for your child’s safety or the safety of one of their peers, please contact your child’s school counselor or a community-based mental health professional.

Our school counselors and staff have been made aware of the impact of this show and are prepared to provide you any supports you may need.

“I thought it would be a good thing to do to make parents aware. Superintendents across the state have sent something home,” said Czaporowski. He also said that the morning after the letter was sent home, Joseph Langone, principal of the Westfield Technical Academy, received several positive comments from parents thanking him for the information.

Southwick’s letter, sent from Joseph Turmel, principal of Southwick Regional School had a similar message, to start a dialogue with parents and students about some of the issues the program may have raised with young people.

Southwick-Tolland-Granville Regional Schools Superintendent Jen Willard. (WNG File Photo)

In addition, Southwick’s school adjustment counselors, Stephanie Lecrenski and Shannon Dion are hosting parents tonight (May 22) at 6:00 p.m. in the auditorium to provide strategies, at risk signs, talking points, and resources.

Both schools stated that they are not recommending viewing the series. Westfield’s letter observed that the series is rated for Mature Audiences and contains graphic scenes.

Willard, who watched the series because her son watched it, said the show also brought awareness of social media posts, and the impacts on other people. “It was very difficult to watch,” Willard said.

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