How to Talk to Kids about Suicide, Sexual Assault & 13 Reasons Why

This podcast will focus on the Netflix show, 13 Reasons Why, as well as the “taboo” topics it covers, including suicide and sexual assault. How do we talk about these challenging topics with our kids? Should we allow our children to watch this show that highlights such sensitive topics and if we do, what should we keep in mind to ensure that our children feel supported and the subject matter is discussed in an age-appropriate and thorough manner?

Special Guest: Dr. Dae Sheridan

The topic of sexual assault, suicide and cyber-bullying are certainly topics that are well covered in the news but not topics that parents and educators often love to cover with kids. But today’s topic has, of late, been the recipient of a great deal of media coverage and concern among parents and educators. Why?

The Netflix show, 13 Reasons Why, based on a book of the same name, has brought these topics to the forefront. The show, which is now available for binge-watching, appeals to teenagers and brings up some very complex, emotional and sometimes “close-to-home” issues from suicide, to cyber-bullying to sexual assault in adolescence.  Can the show provide some key teaching moments or should we be banning it in our home? Some critics say that this show glorifies suicide and should not be taken lightly as they fear an uptick in copy-cat suicide attempts after watching the show. And what about the topics the show brings up itself—should we be talking to kids about such taboo-seeming topics like suicide and sexual assault—you probably know my answer about that- and if we talk about these issues, how do we do it in a sensitive, age-appropriate way?

This podcast provides:

  • Tips: What you should do before, during and after your child watches 13 Reasons Why.
  • What to say when watching the show together, using your own perspective, asking questions and inviting their perspective with an open door policy.
  • How we help our children question decipher between reality and fantasy when dealing with media and how certain experiences are portrayed on TV or movies.
  • Specific information about the risk of suicide among teens.
  • What to do and say when you detect that your child may be at risk for suicide.
  • How to extend the sex ed conversation to beyond talking just about sex—but to include decision-making, consent and character.
  • Scripting to talk to both our daughters and sons about sexual assault, bullying and suicide.

Important Messages:

  • Send the message that you are open and available to talk about any of these conversations. When we neglect to talk about it, we send the message that ‘you are on your own’ and the topic, whether sex, drugs, alcohol, porn or money, that they aren’t really important to you.
  • The tougher conversations are gateways to other more everyday conversations.
  • Children are more confortable with limits and with expectations- provide them so that they are clear about what is right or wrong in your book.
  • We must co-watch sensitive media with our child so that we are available for conversation and can be knowledgeable about the subject matter that may be sensitive or triggering for our children.
  • Sex ed is not a one-time talk.
  • We need to talk about consent, respect, and honor and communication, loyalty- the things that would keep people from resending that picture or keep going when someone is too intoxicated to consent.
  • We need our girls to know that they are going to be in situations where they are going to need to make important decisions about their bodies- that their body is their own and they are in charge. They also need to know that anyone who forces them to do something with their body that they don’t want to do are wrong to do so and that if something like that happens, they can come to you and you will believe them.
  • We need to talk to our boys about what they see in terms of misogyny is not OK- and not to echo it, laugh at it or do anything that is counter to your character. Also, we must teach our boys to stand up when they see someone is treated poorly or inhumanely. We must talk about consent, what’s wrong and what’s right and what it means to be a “real man.”

Notable Quotables:

  • I feel like we turn our kids off when we are that ‘sage on the stage’ and say things like ‘back in my day”. I think the best thing we can do is to be askable.”
  • With these difficult topics, whether its money, sex, drugs, alcohol (these issues that are more taboo), we have this erroneous fear that if we talk about it, we are giving our children permission to do it. But if we ask them to put on their bike helmet or put on their seat belt, we aren’t giving them permission to get in a crash!
  • The research shows that when our kids know that they can talk to us about the more difficult topics like drugs, alcohol or sexuality, they are much more likely to talk to us about anything else.
  • Children are more comfortable with limits and with expectations and when they’re flopping around in the wind, they are more likely to make bad decisions. We can’t be afraid to be the ones to provide information to them even when we are not experts in the field.
  • “We want to make sure we have our kids viewing media, especially that deal with difficult topics, with a lens which is questioning and challenging the content.”
  • “Our families are not talking about sexual assault because we’re not talking to our kids about the basics of human sexuality. It’s hard to have a conversation about assault, or rape or consent if we have never even talked to our kids about basic sex education.”
  • It’s funny because when it comes to sex ed, especially with girls, we talk about it from the inside out which doesn’t make a lot of sense. We wouldn’t teach a child about her tympanic membrane and the cochlea before we said ‘hey that’s your ear!’”
  • “We have to talk to our girls about their bodies and about consent and about how they are more than a body to be looked at and desired.”
  • “We must teach our boys that there are all different ways to ‘be a man’ other than the ways that media portrays them.”
  • “If we can reduce the stigma and taboo about matters that are difficult to talk about we can help make things better in our world. I hope that someday we can arrive at the space where we can push through the difficulties and lack of comfort and realize that we can be saving lives by opening up these conversations.”