Dear Rockford Families:
As you may be aware, there has been recent media coverage regarding 13 Reasons Why, the recent Netflix series based on the novel by Jay Asher. This story has generated controversy due to the intense content regarding a teen who commits suicide. The Netflix series is rated MA (Mature Audiences Only) and is not suitable for children under 17. In the spirit of the Developing Healthy Kids mission at Rockford Public Schools, we feel compelled to bring this to your attention due to its popularity among middle and high school students and our concern for adolescents viewing this emotionally-charged content without support to discuss and understand the critical issues presented.
In the miniseries, high school student Hannah Baker leaves behind 13 tape recordings detailing the reasons she took her own life. While there are aspects of the book and miniseries that highlight realistic topics experienced by teenagers, the series has many shortcomings. Most importantly, viewers could be left with the message that suicide is a viable option. Additionally, the graphic depictions of bullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, and suicide can be very triggering, especially for anyone who has had personal experiences with any of these issues. Furthermore, while the series is fictional, students may relate to the main character or other characters without separating fiction from reality. And finally, there is no mention of the underlying mental health issues or options for the young girl to receive treatment.
We encourage you to speak with your child to determine whether he/she has read the book or viewed the series. If so, we urge you to research this to understand exactly what your teen has been exposed to and to use this as an opportunity to have an open, honest, and safe conversation to discuss some of the more complicated and graphic issues in the story. Attached are several talking points made available by the Jed Foundation and SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education) to help facilitate the conversation.
Please know that there are resources, support, and assistance available to you through the district crisis team and school guidance counselors, social workers, school psychologists, and building administrators if you would like additional assistance. Do not hesitate to reach out to us.
Thank you for your attention to this very important matter.
Michael S. Shibler, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.