British Columbia

B.C. schools warn of graphic content in Netflix series '13 Reasons Why'

A new Netflix series aimed at teens 16 and up that deals with bullying, sexual behaviour and suicide in graphic detail is causing concern for teachers and parents worried it romanticizes these heavy topics.

'Use it as an opportunity for dialogue,' says Burnaby school official

Hannah Baker is pictured in "13 Reasons Why," a Netflix series raising controversy over its subject matter. (Netflix)

A new Netflix series aimed at teens 16 and up, which deals with bullying, sexual behaviour, and suicide in graphic detail, is causing concern for teachers and parents who worry it romanticizes these serious topics.

The series, 13 Reasons Why, tells the story of Hannah Baker, a teen who takes her own life and leaves a collection of tapes for the people she felt were responsible for her pain.

The series is popular among school-aged youth, and now, a number of B.C. schools are warning parents about it.

The Vancouver, Burnaby and Sooke school districts have sent letters to parents, urging them to talk to their children about the show, suicide and mental health.

Opportunity for dialogue

"We don't want parents to be caught off guard," said Baljinder Narang, the vice chair of the Burnaby School Board.

"Parents know their child best and they would have a sense of how vulnerable their child is to this information, so use it as an opportunity for dialogue," said Narang.

"We're trying to be proactive and we're definitely not censoring anything ... we're just saying to parents this is out there, talk to your kids."

These topics are extremely real for Carol Todd, the mother of Amanda Todd who took her own life in 2012.

Todd agrees the series can allow youth the opportunity to discuss issues that are otherwise hard to raise, but worries that some might not have the proper support if they find the series affects them emotionally.

"It's a must that we have supports in place," she told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

"Someone who's feeling vulnerable needs to go and talk about it because when teens talk about it within themselves they don't know how to process and they don't know how to get some of the right information."

Access to support

Todd said it's vital that parents, caregivers, educators and mental health professionals provide information about resources to teens.

The issue of glamourizing suicide is a criticism Todd faced when debating if the video her daughter filmed before her death should be shared. The video is set to music as she holds up flashcards explaining her story of relentless bullying.

"I do remember those warnings and I do agree with them because there are really vulnerable children out there," Todd said.

"We have to help each other and support each other and sometimes what's portrayed out there in the series, there's hidden messages that our young kids don't always get."

School counsellors can help

The negative portrayal of school counsellors and teachers is a piece of the series that worries Jim Cambridge, Sooke School District superintendent.

"We want to get the notion out that treatment does work, that when you're having difficult times there are many solutions but you may not see that as a young person yourself," Cambridge said in an interview with Victoria's All Points West host Robyn Burns.

"Adolescence is a difficult time of life … It's no different than it was in the past except life is more complex now and access to information and images is more ready."

The warning sent home to parents aims to alert parents to the media that their children are consuming and prepare them for potential conversations that might be alarming or difficult to have with their teens, according to Narang and Cambridge.

With files from the CBC's On The Coast and All Points West

To hear the full interview with Carol Todd listen to media below:

To hear the full interview with Jim Cambridge listen to media below: