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How Dark Themes In Media Can Be an Important Parenting Tool

Lori Freson

Health, Wellness, & Safety

Lately, there has been a lot of talk about dark and troubling themes in the media. Shows such as 13 Reasons Why are a good example. There is a good chance that your teen is watching. This show in particular is about a teen that ends up taking her own life. While that sounds very disturbing, and it is on many levels, it can be an educational opportunity for you to have with your child if you take the right approach. Art is supposed to make us think and talk about troubling and difficult subjects. And when it does just that, I find that a good thing.

Some would say that such a show glorifies suicide, and makes it more likely that teens will kill themselves. I don’t see any concrete evidence anywhere to back that up. Contrarily, I believe it could actually save lives. By watching shows and movies like this, teens and adults can engage in lifesaving conversations. Parents or friends might discover that someone is feeling depressed and suicidal that they might not have know about if they weren’t talking about what they saw.

Parents should take the lead and know what your kids are watching. And you should bring up the topics in conversation. Here are tips for how to initiate and continue that conversation.

  • Ask if they believe suicide is a legitimate option. You might be surprised by their answer. Ask them why or why not and really listen. Ask a lot of questions, listen to their answers, and offer your insights and opinions.
  • Ask who they think suicide would hurt. Ask who would be hurt if they killed themselves, if a friend did, or even another family member. Discuss how far reaching the effects would be, and how many people it would actually hurt. It wouldn’t be just the immediate family. It would include grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. It would include coaches and teammate, classmates and teachers, rabbis and ministers and neighbors. You could even make a list, which is very effective.
  • Discuss what messages they take away from watching these shows. Do they think it says suicide is okay? Or do they think suicide is a stupid cop-out?
  • Talk about how to reach out for help if they ever feel like this is something they might consider doing.
  • Make sure they know that you won’t judge them for needing help, and there are always other options other than suicide. Individual therapy, inpatient psychiatric programs, addiction treatment, family therapy, and medication are just some of the options.
  • Lastly, but most importantly, make sure you impress upon them the fact that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. It is final.

If you think your teen is truly suicidal, call 911 and get them to an emergency room immediately. If they send you home, until you can get treatment, remove all drugs ( prescriptions and even Tylenol) and weapons, including kitchen knives, from the home. Do not leave your teen alone, not even for a few seconds. Follow them to the bathroom. Sleep with them. It doesn’t matter if they don’t like it. Do whatever you need to do to keep them alive until help is secured. For more information and support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Lori Freson

Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas.