upper school studentsby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

A little over a year ago, I wrote to you about the concerns that educators and mental health professionals had with the Netflix series, “13 Reasons Why.” The series told the story of a high school student who died by suicide, leaving behind 13 reasons that the actions (or lack of actions) negatively affected her life and led to her suicide. My concerns included romanticizing suicide, minimizing the mental health that lies beneath suicidal ideation, and portrays adults as inept and uninterested in supporting children in distress. Around the same time, MPA instituted a comprehensive suicide awareness and prevention program called SOS. We also provided tips and resources to parents to engage in constructive and meaningful conversations with their children.

Season two of “13 Reasons Why” is set to debut tomorrow. Once again, educators and mental health professionals have serious concerns about the series. While the topics and plotlines are still unknown, it appears that it will dramatize several sensitive topics. For instance, there is reason to believe that rape and sexual assault will be a major theme of the series. Such an issue is important to address within a proper context, with conversation about what is and is not consent, how it can be prevented, and how to support students who have experienced sexual assault.

We also have reason to believe that there will be an act of extreme school violence, most likely a school shooting that is described as very graphic. In the wake of the horrific shootings in Parkland, considerable anxiety and fear exist among students, educators, and families.  A dramatization of such a serious issue is not needed or helpful as schools around the country work to insure the physical and emotional safety of students. However, it does present an opportunity to become aware of the early warning signs mental health issues in students as well as threat assessment protocols.

As in season one, parents, teachers, counselors and administrators are again presented as disinterested in the struggles a young person is experiencing and incompetent to support them. Together with parents, we want to actively counter these negative messages. We must emphasize that adults do care and are there to help.

Due to the timing of its release, it is likely that many teens will be (binge) watching this after school lets out. Students may also be re-watching season one in anticipation of the new season.  This is concerning due to the inability to have a trusted adult present to assist young people to process their thoughts and feelings. Apart from a supportive community, students may experience increased isolation and vulnerable youth may be triggered.

MPA strongly recommends parents limit binge-watching and, if you allow your children to watch the series, be present and watch it with them. Although I am far from perfect, I like to encourage parents to engage in active listening and to ask open-ended questions that lead to a healthy dialogue and constructive discussion. By watching alongside your child, you can help them identify the differences between real life and television. I find it helpful to distinguish between what is possible versus what is probable. For example, school violence is always a possibility, although it isn’t likely.

Focusing on the “what is real” and “what is fictional” can overcome whatever fear and anxiety may arise from the series. Mounds Park Academy is a safe, nurturing community. I must reiterate my professional assessment and confidence in our physical security measures and great faith in our school community culture. We can never, and should not ever, take anything for granted or let down our guard. There is always room for growth and we are committed to continuous review and improvement. In fact, a number of new measures were instituted in the wake of the shooting at Parkland High School and more will be implemented over the course of the next few months.

Conflict resolution, character education, and positive interpersonal relationship skills are all important factors that contribute to a positive school culture and climate in order to prevent school violence. In recent years, we have increased staffing and resources for counseling and guidance services that address mental health and promote social and emotional growth. Clear behavioral expectations help students understand expectations and promote a school and classroom climate of respect. Character education and ethical development at each grade level and division contributes to the overall positive school culture.

You are encouraged to follow the link here to access more information regarding the series as well as other mental health resources you may find helpful. I am grateful you have entrusted your child to MPA and for the strong partnership between home and school. By working together, we can ensure they thrive in all aspects of their life.

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