Mom Says Teacher Promoting '13 Reasons Why' Made Son Suicidal

13 reasons why
Beth Dubber/Netflix

There's no shortage of controversy surrounding the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, which tells the story of a high school student's suicide (and its aftermath). Experts have warned that the show -- which is based on a bestselling book of the same name -- may glorify suicide, and that its graphic depiction of a teen girl taking her own life may trigger young, impressionable viewers. Now one mom says her son is one of those viewers, and she's blaming one of his teachers for recommending 13 Reasons Why.

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According to the Florida mom (who wishes to remain anonymous), she found out her son was self-harming after his teacher at Clay County High School allegedly recommended the show to his class. As she told news station WJXT, "I was told that one of the teachers was discussing the series in class, and basically said, 'I think it's a pretty good show you guys should check it out.' I would never have let my son watch that, especially alone."

The mom said that after seeing the show, her son started making a list of reasons why he wanted to kill himself (just like the lead character in the show, who leaves behind a series of cassette tapes detailing what drove her to commit suicide). "When I went to talk to the school about it after he was released from the mental health resource center, I had written notes that he had made," said the mom. "He was creating a 13 reasons why list and told us that he, at that point, was having thoughts of suicide -- that he didn't want to live."

More from CafeMom: '13 Reasons Why' Is Actually a Show for Parents -- Yes, Really

So heartbreaking. The boy was committed for a psychiatric evaluation, and his mother says she's not sure yet if he'll be returning to Clay County High. Meanwhile, the school denies that the teacher ever brought up 13 Reasons Why in class.

A Clay County School District spokesperson told News4Jax that the students were the ones who started talking about the show, asking the teacher whether he'd ever seen it. According to school officials, the teacher went home to watch it and the class had a brief discussion about it the next day, but they stressed that the show is not part of the curriculum and that they "don't actively encourage" classroom conversations about this heavy-hitting subject.

Indeed, if there's one lesson to be learned from this, it's that we need to handle conversations about teen suicide with great care. Spreading that message is much more important than pointing fingers. At this point, there's no way of knowing what really happened in that classroom. We don't know whether or not the teacher recommended the show to his class -- we just know that a boy is hurting, and that he seems to have been greatly affected by watching 13 Reasons Why.

More from CafeMom: Why My Kid Won't Be Watching '13 Reasons Why' & Its Dangerous Message

As a mother whose eldest is in high school, I have no trouble believing students started the conversation about the show. The show was a huge topic of discussion at my daughter's school when it debuted. For what it's worth, my daughter -- who is almost 16 -- thought the show was "not well done," and she was disturbed by the fact that it seemed to attract two types of viewers: kids who were already struggling and susceptible to being triggered and kids who identify with the bullies and seem to find the whole thing to be entertaining.

I also have no trouble believing that the teacher might have offered his opinion on the show, even if he didn't directly advise his students to go home and binge-watch it. Of course, that doesn't make this his fault, necessarily -- I would guess that this boy in Florida was struggling before he saw the show, which is probably why it elicited the response it did. Still, this story highlights the extreme sensitivity we all need to exercise when it comes to talking about suicide with kids. 

In a statement, the National Association of School Psychologists issued the following words of caution:

"We do not recommend that vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation, watch this series."

The problem, unfortunately, is that too often parents and teachers aren't aware that kids have "any degree of suicidal ideation" before it's too late. Teens are ridiculously skilled at hiding things from their parents, and that's perhaps especially true of their feelings. Ideally, we would all find ways to facilitate the kinds of conversations that help instead of harm, but it's so hard to know what to say and do -- even for experts. That's why we have to be so careful with how we talk to kids and try our best to monitor the content they're consuming.

When you have a teenager -- and, I would imagine, when you're teaching teens -- they can seem awfully grown up a lot of the time. (Too grown up, in fact.) But they're not. They're kids, and we can't forget that they still might need help processing and dealing with the world around them, from all of the adults in their lives. Our hearts go out to this boy and his family, and we hope he gets the help he needs.

If you or someone you know needs support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 866-488-7386, or text "START" to 741-741.

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