The Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, based on a book of the same title, has brought the topic of teen suicide front and center. You may not know about the show, but your teen likely does. While many parents, educators and health professionals have concerns about the show’s graphic nature and portrayal of suicide, teenage depression is an important topic that should be discussed in the open.
The Netflix series covers some of the very intense issues of bullying, teenage sex, alcohol and drug use that are part of the complicated equation of teenage depression. Your teen needs your help in learning how to navigate these topics, hopefully way before they ever happen.
Follow these 13 suggestions to help navigate this issue:
1 If you have concerns, call your pediatrician for a consult, which can often be initiated with or without the child present. The normal ups and downs of teenage emotions can make it difficult to determine when depression should be addressed. All pediatricians will be a resource to parents on teenage depression. Many pediatricians are comfortable initiating a work up for depression/anxiety, and some will prescribe treatment medication.
2 Make sure your teen has a yearly well care visit. Well care is a time to mature and strengthen the relationship between your teen and his/her pediatrician. It also serves to model for your teen that you trust and value the pediatrician’s input.
3 During the well care visits give your teen the privacy to fill out any written questionnaires, and encourage your teen to be honest. Most doctors use a “Teen screen” to identify teens at risk for depression, among other things. In addition to being a validated way to determine depression risk, these screening devices show your teen that the doctor is interested in their mental as well as their physical health. They set the stage for further conversations. These screens are usually covered by insurance, but sometimes engender a small co-pay or co-insurance.
4 Ask your teen his/her understanding of the show and ask to watch it together. If your teen doesn’t feel comfortable watching with you, watch it alone and use each episode as an opportunity for discussion. Be open, non-judgmental and do more listening than talking.
5 Go beyond the standard sex talk and discuss issues of consent with your teen, including that consent can change within a sexual encounter. Respect and communication are key between partners.
6 Remind your teen that sex and alcohol don’t mix and that a person under the influence of drugs or alcohol cannot give consent.
7 Talk with your teens (and younger kids) about bullying in all its forms. Teens need to be reminded that gossip is hurtful – in person or on-line. Ask your child to share examples of bullying and discuss options for dealing with it.
8 Give your teen suggestions and use role play to prepare them to handle difficult situations related to sex, drugs, alcohol and bullying.
9 Encourage your teen to look out for friends. Watching out for others is being a good friend, and a quality to encourage in our kids.
10 Remember that you are a great influence on your teen. Share your views on difficult matters while recognizing that teens are forming their own views. Remind your teens that they can tell you anything and you will not judge.
11 Be available for picks up – no questions asked
12 If your child thinks a friend or acquaintance may be depressed, encourage them to notify a teacher or school counselor. These people can then evaluate the person your child is concerned about without revealing who tipped them off.
13 Keep the lines of communication open. Just by having this kind of conversation you are letting your teen know that you are open to discussing difficult topics and willing to help.
Links for information on Teen suicide
Warning Signs of Suicide – afsp.org
Talking Points for Families – SAVE.org
Talking Points for Families – commonsensemedia.org
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