Parents of New York City students could soon receive a letter from their schools urging them to “be aware” of what their children are watching, namely the hit Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.”

The show, based on a young adult novel, focuses on 13 audio tapes left behind by a high school student who later commits suicide, each one blaming a person in her life. On Tuesday, the city emailed principals a letter to send home, warning parents that “the series addresses sexual assault, bullying, suicide, and the failure of adults to respond to students’ concerns.”

The series, recently named the “most tweeted about show of 2017,” is wildly popular among teens. But guidance counselors across the country have raised concerns that it could glorify suicide and sends the wrong message to viewers about how to handle emotional pain.

Other school districts have already sent similar letters, as did at least one private school, the Stephen Gaynor School on the Upper West Side. That letter called the series “dangerous” and suggested parents keep their children from watching it, if possible. Netflix, responding to the controversy, recently agreed to update its trigger warnings on the show.

The city’s letter urges parents to talk with their children if they are watching the show, and to “fill in the informational blanks” they may have as a result. It also invites parents to call their school’s guidance counselor or social worker for assistance.

The city also sent a letter to principals on how to handle discussions of the show or mental health issues that crop up at school, along with links to more information. “The emotional and physical safety of our students is our top priority,” it states. “It is important to be prepared for conversations that may occur among our students regarding this show around depression, mental health and suicide.”

Full letter to parents below:

Dear Families,

Our first priority is providing a safe, supportive and inclusive learning environment for all students. As parents and educators, it is important that we be aware of what our young people are watching, reading and talking about. This helps open the door for important conversations centered on topics that interest them. It also provides an opportunity for you to offer support and guidance and be aware of what information they may be getting from the media and their peers.

Many students are watching and talking about the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. Based on a novel by the same name, the main character leaves behind audio recordings for those individuals she feels played a role in her decision to take her life. Over the thirteen episodes, the series addresses sexual assault, bullying, suicide, and the failure of adults to respond to students’ concerns.

When an incident, local or national event, or TV show is in the media and spurs conversation for our young learners, it is important that we be available to fill in the informational blanks. In doing so we can provide support and a variety of resources should they or someone they know ever face the pressures and/or impact of experiences such as those depicted in this show. As family members and educators we can and should partner to participate in these conversations in order to speak thoughtfully and sensitively with students about their views of and reactions to this fictional series.

If your child is talking about this series or you are aware that they are watching it, ask them what they are thinking about it. Remind them that you are there for them and that there are school professionals always available to answer questions, to listen and to connect them with people and places to assist them with anything that challenges them.

Below are a few links that provide information that may assist you in having a conversation about the series with your child. Also, please contact us at school to address any concerns that you may have about your child, and to assist in answering any questions they might have or resources they may need.
Please call our school counselor or social worker at _______________ if you need any assistance and as always, please call me directly at my office number _______________.