7 Conversation Starters For '13 Reasons Why'

Has anyone heard of or watched the new Netflix series '13 Reasons Why'?

I (Dr. Julie) watched it last week to prepare for anything that may come up for my tween/teen clients.

JoAnne and Cynthia (our other 2 MRC Clinicians) are binge-watching it this week in preparation for supporting their Middle School & High School clients (and their parents) as well.

... and we feel an inspired obligation to our community here about it.

We'd like to put out a request and invitation to parents and adults - let's please join together to help any who watch it (and ideally, let's consider ways to protect especially vulnerable tweens/teens from any confusion that arises from it). IT'S REALLY INTENSE (and in our opinion, also quite well done despite all the controversy emerging from it). Let's try to watch it AHEAD of our tweens/teens so we are poised to be there to help them process it. 

Our '7 Conversation Starters' are below to help you connect about the topics in the show with the tweens/teens in your life.



'13 Reasons Why' is about the worst, painful high school experiences... like some get a stomach ache watching it...  and deserves a TRIGGER WARNING before every episode (which it lacks).

I don't think what I'm about to share is a spoiler alert, but hopefully may help support us parents and adults about the topics in the show:

From my vantage point, as a Child Psychologist (and Mom)... the foundational message about the show has to do with how essential (and strained) the adult-teen relationship is. 

Sure, it's about suicide and pains (which is nothing to take lightly), but unexpectedly for me, the biggest take-away is that teens need skilled adults in their lives. 


And the adults in the show failed them (despite several of the adults being caring and well-intended).

I can't imagine tweens/teens watching this show alone and not having a skilled adult to process it with - seems like that's a parallel to the show's core message in real time.

In other words, how many tweens/teens are watching this and suffering in silence (despite really committed parents)? It's hard to even know they're watching it!

I have a sense that my child clients haven't seen it - innocence is bliss. But, let me share with you something shocking. I brought it up to my tween/teen clients. I got the sense that most tweens/teens 'out there' now know about it, many have watched it AND some are really affected by it. What's astonishing... ??? My sense is that most tweens/teens are not talking with adults about it... many aren't even talking with their friends about it.

There's a 'suffering in silence' epidemic in the series that is being replicated in real life... in real time... even when it comes to having watched this show and having feelings about it. Right under the noses of all of us caring, devoted adults.

Feelings are weird. Psychology is weird. We love it, but it's true! So, it's often easier to stay silent.

So, we'd like to offer some 'conversation starters' that adults can use with the tweens/teens

in their lives about '13 Reasons Why' to communicate that...

- 'suffering in silence' is a choice but not the only choice -

- we adults VALUE feelings, no matter how big or small or weird they are to talk about -

Let's amplify that we all deserve to share our experiences in the spirit of connection and support. 

7 Conversation Starters for '13 Reasons Why':

(1) "Have you heard of that Netflix show that's being talked about?"

When you ask this vague, non-leading question...  expect them to respond with 'You mean 13 Reasons Why?'

I prepared myself because I don't want to promote the show. So I don't 'name' it until they do. IF they said 'what show?' I planned to say 'you may wind up hearing about it so let me know... meanwhile, what are the shows you're watching lately? I like Vampires and Werewolves... the shows where characters do magic and stuff, how about you?' (this is me letting them know I'm interested for when they hear about/watch it, but again, I'm careful not to promote it because that's not my place AND quite frankly, my bias is that I prefer it is considered Rated R For Mature Audiences Only and not watched until young adulthood given the psychological complexity).

Definitely consider sharing your experience... but stop talking when you get ANY communication from the tween/teen to allow room for them. If I get an agreeing head nod or an eye roll or comments, I slow down my talking to a gentle pause and more often than not, they'll fill in that pause with what's coming up for them.

(2) Tell me about your experience of the show? What was it like for you watching it?

When I ask my tweens/teens this, I'll pause and look off to the distance, reflecting on my own experience at the same time. This opens up the conversation about our experiences. Not thoughts, not feelings. But experience. This tends to help tweens/teens go inward and contemplate in a more holistic way.

(3) Were there any characters that especially stood out to you?

Again, pause and allow you and the tween/teen to go inward and reflect. No words need to be rushed. Just BEING together and conjuring up memories and re-experiencing them is a kind of connection that, from an evolutionary attachment perspective, is like kryptonite to suffering alone. 

I told a tween/teen this week about a couple characters that I was moved by, for better and for worse... I shared about my high school experience that I was reminded of... I gave him/her my complete attention as he/she shared their opinions. Some of the views were young, uninformed and I revelled in those views, commending them for their perspective, honoring their opinion as gospel. Why? It is... meaning, it's a HUGE gift for me to get a peek inside their hearts and minds... they're emerging as amazing people and I'm blessed to get a glimpse into this version in route to who they'll eventually become.

(4) What do you think about Netflix for producing it? Some media outlets are shaming them for being so graphic whereas others are complimenting them for being so bold.

I listen. I add in that I'm conflicted... I feel both at the same time and it's hard to feel conflicting feelings at the same time. I ask if they would do anything differently. They share a bit more...

(5) Do you have anyone at your school that you think shouldn't watch it or should watch it? How do you think people at school are experiencing the show?

Be prepared to hear anything. This week, I heard of a student who's worried about watching it because he/she heard that a girl was hospitalized over the holidays for a suicide attempt. Listened and show compassion. A school counselor told me last week of a student who said she had to stop watching the show at Episode 7 because it was too depressing. If this happens in your conversation, commend her for having that self-discipline, that it's to stop watching because Hollywood really designs it to keep the viewer engaged. Talk about how you suspect others are having a hard time stopping themselves and wishing they could.

(6) What was your experience of the mental health counselor in the show?

Most will talk about how they thought he did a poor job. I'll share my pain how media everywhere throughout history never shows people like me, therapists, in a positive light... that in media we are ineffective or have poor boundaries or are messed up etc. Consider asking them if they know of any bad therapists or any good ones... what they think he should have done. What their opinion is about therapists.

(7) Ask what their wishes are in a trusted adult ally FOR SOCIETY... what they think the main character needed in adults to help protect her life.

This gets at the topic of how you may be a resource without 'going there'. It's an invitation for you to hear what they think is needed in adults. Naturally, I suggest at some point before the conversation naturally fizzles, that you be direct and invite the tween/teen to turn to you. And at the same time, I believe the main message should be for them to turn to at least 3 adults as a resource and I explain that's because adults have 'bad hair days' and we may botch it, so go to someone else too. You might consider naming adults you know as suggestions, offer who you'd turn to, and consider telling them about crisis lines, such as our local Marin Crisis Line at 415-499-6666.

I hope this is helpful to those Netflix watchers out there. If anyone would like to hear more about the show, adult-teen relationships, youth well-being, etc from our Child/Teen Psychologist and Psychotherapist perspectives, we're available for parent consultation, we support teens/tweens with individual sessions and Afterschool 'Worry Less, Relax More Clubs'.


PS - if you haven't already and you want to be in the loop, click here to be added to our MRC 'STAY CONNECTED + OFFERINGS + NEWS' list… we promise we won’t spam you! :-)


THE FOLLOWING CAMPS ARE ALMOST FULL, just a couple spots left... 

One of the kids is calling it her 'Mindfulness Camp with Arts & Crafts"... and she's really looking forward to it!

:: MON - WEDS June 19th - 21st 9am - 2pm... High Schoolers

:: MON - WEDS July 10th - 12th 9am - 2pm... Kids entering 3rd, 4th and 5th grades

:: MON - WEDS July 17th - 19th 9am - 2pm... Middle Schoolers

If you're interested or know of anyone who won't want to miss this one-of-a-kind camp experience, click here to CHECK IT OUT SOON before it fills up.

We're currently interviewing for our summer camps and Fall After-school Clubs for elementary, middle and high school students!!

*PS - if you've already reserved other camps for your child/teen and have even an inkling of interest in the possibility of ours, we have good news. One of our camp families shared with us that most camps allow full refunds through end of May, so there's still time to check out our camp to see if it's right for your child/teen.

What parents are saying about our camps:

 "My son will be starting Middle School and we want him to have extra tools to manage the transition... your camp is the only one that is fun and interactive but with an emphasis on learning those tools..."

 "Our daughter liked what you told her at the Camp Fair, especially how your camp is only 6 kids and all about her feeling supported, nurtured and relaxed. Her other camps are huge and busy and she's definitely a kid who likes her downtime. We like that you'll be teaching her relaxation tools because she can get really stressed during the school year."

We'd love to connect with you! Be sure to follow us on Facebook or give us a call at 415-634-3500...

Until next time... CONNECT + BE PART OF THE SOLUTION when it comes to '13 Reasons Why' and let's be adults who come together for our community.

Thanks for your hard work and take good care!

~ Dr. Julie, JoAnne & Cynthia

PS - if you haven't already and you want to be in the loop, click here to be added to our MRC 'STAY CONNECTED + OFFERINGS + NEWS' list… we promise we won’t spam you! :-)

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© 2019 Julie Hartman, PhD. All rights reserved.

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