DOE letter warns parents about Netflix show

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Hawaii’s public schools chief told parents in a letter Tuesday the state has “serious concerns” about a popular new Netflix series called “13 Reasons Why.”

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Hawaii’s public schools chief told parents in a letter Tuesday the state has “serious concerns” about a popular new Netflix series called “13 Reasons Why.”

Kathryn Matayoshi, superintendent of the state Department of Education, said the show contains “graphic elements” that are “inconsistent with messages that protect mental and emotional well-being” and contains content that is “for mature audiences.”

The DOE sent the letter home Tuesday with all students.

The show tells the fictional story of Hannah Baker, a high school student who committed suicide. Baker leaves behind a series of cassette tapes for people in her life she thinks are responsible for her death. Each episode focuses on a different tape.

The show, released in March, has received “high interest from teenage audiences,” Matayoshi said in the letter, and thus the DOE wants parents “to be aware of (the) show because of its graphic nature.”

Critics of “13 Reasons Why” say it glorifies suicide and could prompt at-risk teens to commit copycat acts.

“You may want to discuss this show with your teenage children,” Matayoshi’s letter advises parents. “… Children and youth who watch this series will need supportive adults to process it.”

In 2015, nearly 15 percent of Big Island high school students said they tried to kill themselves within the past year, according to the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is higher than in any of the state’s other counties. Statewide, about 10.5 percent of high school students said they attempted suicide in that time frame and about 8.6 percent nationally.

In that same survey, about 16 percent of Hawaii’s high school students reported having suicidal thoughts and nearly 30 percent said they felt depressed — defined as feeling “so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that they stopped doing some usual activities.”

Matayoshi said in her letter that the National Association of School Psychologists recommends vulnerable youth, “especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation,” to avoid watching “13 Reasons Why” altogether. The letter was not triggered by a particular incident, a DOE spokeswoman said.

Hilo High School freshman Jasmine Maldoza, 15, told the Tribune-Herald she received Matayoshi’s letter at the end of school Tuesday and discussed the show with her mom. Maldoza said she and many of her friends already saw the show.

Maldoza said she thinks the show is popular because it discusses “things teens are interested in nowadays,” but she can “understand why some parents wouldn’t want us watching it.”

“I’d say it has a good point of view of what it’s like for a victim being bullied,” Maldoza said. “I don’t know if it would influence anyone (to commit suicide), but if someone has too much in their head, or if they are thinking too much about it, it might. If I noticed anybody like that, I’d probably try to help them. I wouldn’t want that happening in our schools.”

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The show is rated TV-MA for “mature audience only,” meaning it “may be unsuitable for children younger than 17.”

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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