Editorial: An important reminder for parents of teenagers

In the debate about the Netflix television series “13 Reasons Why,” reasonable arguments are being made on all sides.

It’s easy to understand why parents might not want their teenage children to consume programming that presents sensitive material they may be unable to process emotionally.

It’s also correct for the filmmakers and fans of the show to point out that these topics should be discussed by families. In a sense, whether it was the intention or not, the show is providing a public service by provoking conversations in living rooms everywhere about teen suicide, drug use and sexual assault. In response to criticism from experts who feel the show glamorizes suicide, Netflix announced this week that it would add a viewer warning screen to the series’ first episode. The episodes depicting suicide and sexual assault already had viewer warnings.

Administrators at each of the local school districts that sent letters home to parents warning them about the sensitive nature of the show and encouraging them to talk to their children about it should be commended. That not only helps assure that the events depicted on screen are processed in a serious way, but it also raises these important topics for parents and students who may not be watching the series.

As reported in the April 6 edition of the Riverhead News-Review, at least three suicides have occurred in area districts this school year. If we’re not going to talk about this topic now, when will there ever be a better time? Let’s burst those bubbles.

We can’t continue to treat mental illness as something that is taboo. It affects every one of us on some level and teens need to know that it’s OK to feel something less than happy.

In a world where we can send just about anyone we know a written message at any time, it can be a challenge to sit down and have a real conversation — even with members of our own families.

We hope that parents will heed the advice shared by local school districts in response to the series. We hope they’re speaking to their kids without judging and are looking for signs of isolation, hopelessness, anxiety and depression.

We shouldn’t fear finding these characteristics in our children. What’s much more frightening are the potentially tragic consequences of never taking the time to look for them in the first place.