York County educators warn about '13 Reasons Why'

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch
The cast of "13 Reasons Why" poses in the press room at the MTV Movie and TV Awards at the Shrine Auditorium on Sunday, May 7, 2017, in Los Angeles. Several local school districts have reached out to parents about the show.

There are many provocative shows on television that get students talking, but one recent program is causing concern among some local educators.

Southern York School District Superintendent Sandra Lemmon reached out to parents via email last month to warn them of a new Netflix series that focuses on bullying and suicide.

The show “13 Reasons Why,” based on a teen novel of the same name by author Jay Asher, is about several students who try to solve a puzzle left by a classmate who died by suicide. The show has graphic depictions of self-harm and bullying, and, after outrage from advocates, Netflix recently added warning messages at the beginning of each episode.

In her email, Lemmon quoted part of a resource document from the National Association of School Psychologists.

“We do not recommend that vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation, watch this series,” the release from the organization stated in part. “Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies.”

Lemmon wrote that the show has been a “popular topic” in social media and with students in the district. She did not respond to requests for comment.

Dover Area School District counselors Alyssa Elliott and Margaret Mayberry also sent emails to parents regarding the series. In the email, they recommended parents view the episodes before their children to “decide as a family if you feel your child should watch the series.” They also included a document listing talking points for parents to use with their children regarding the show’s subject matter.

In the Dallastown Area School District, a message sent to parents by school administrators used more explicit language against letting students watch the controversial show. In the email, Dallastown Assistant Superintendent Joshua Doll called the series “counteractive” to the district’s message regarding suicide.

“We continue to send to our students that suicide is never the answer and that there are healthy ways to cope with having suicidal thoughts,” the message stated. The message also included a link to talking points parents could use with their children.

When reached for comment, Dallastown Superintendent Ronald Dyer said via email that several school districts sent messages to parents and guardians about the series.

"Suicide prevention is a major initiative in this county," he stated. "We support the initiative."

Reaction: Carla Christopher, equity coordinator at York County School of Technology, said students might take the series in the wrong way as a glamorization of suicide.

“They’re trying to make suicide sexy,” she said, adding the show could have ended with a 14th episode giving resources to those who may have watched the series.

“On Netflix, it just ends,” she said. “It has nothing on resources or discussions.”

She said she felt Netflix was “opening a can of worms without any responsibility.”

Some students, especially those who are more emotionally vulnerable, may “obsess” about things they watch to the point of trying it, Christopher said. “Like cigarettes and drugs. Then suicide.”

Gage Denny and his father, Charles Denny Jr., talk about Gage's suicide attempt, Sunday, June 18, 2017. John A. Pavoncello photo


Gage Denny, a York County School of Technology student who attempted suicide in 2015, said he sees the show as a good thing.

"I don't see an issue with it," he said.

Denny, 16, spoke about his ordeal to the entire student body at York Tech this spring as part of a diversity celebration.

More:York Tech: 'We've come a long way'

He said his suicide attempt was difficult to keep from his classmates upon returning to class. "You could still see the belt mark around my neck," he said.

While Denny said "13 Reasons Why" is "propaganda for money," he said the show has brought the issue to many who would otherwise not know about it or discuss it.

"It's actually been opened to people's attention," he said.

'13 Reasons Why Not': While television shows and social media can be consumed in positive ways, many depressed students use them in negative ways, according to Danielle Dennis, program specialist for the National Alliance on Mental Illness office in York County.

Dennis said she has heard about "13 Reasons Why" and the reaction has been mostly negative on her end from social media.

“I saw a group (online) that rose up against it,” Dennis said. “It’s called '13 Reasons Why Not.'”

“If you’re already down in the dumps, that just might take you a little tiny bit further,” she said.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The NAMI York offices do not have classes specifically for young people, but students and family members can take part in a 12-week family education course offered by the organization.

For more information on NAMI’s courses and upcoming events, call 717-848-3784 or visit its website at www.namiyork.org.