Mental health

Why Schools Are Warning Parents About Netflix’s Series 13 Reasons Why

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Schools across the country are issuing warnings to parents about Netflix’s latest original series, 13 Reasons Why, over concern that the breakout teen drama could glamorize teen suicide.

So where does the concern lie with the critically well-received show – and why are schools getting involved?

What is the show?

13 Reasons Why – which hit the popular streaming platform on March 31 – draws its plot from Jay Asher’s 2007 young adult novel of the same. The show’s episode count matches its title, with each installment following a series of audio recordings a teen leaves behind for her classmates and peers explaining why she decided to kill herself.

Every episode jumps between the past and present, profiling how each tape subject impacted Hannah’s (Katherine Langford) decision to take her life.

13 Reasons Why was executive produced by Selena Gomez, and originally intended to be a mini-series, though there are rumors of a second season.

Why is it controversial?

Throughout the series, there are instances of sexual assault, rape, underage drinking, driving under the influence, body shaming and, ultimately, a graphic scene depicting Hannah’s suicide.

What are schools and mental health experts saying?

In a public statement, the National Association of School Psychologists issued a warning against viewing the series to parents of “vulnerable youth.”

“Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters…

Legalizing pot may confuse teens into thinking it’s safe

marijuana leaf and cannabis plants
marijuana leaf and cannabis plants

A growing number of teens think marijuana is no big deal, a new study finds. And that may encourage many to experiment with its use.

A high school English teacher in New York — let’s call her Ms. McDonald — has lately noticed more kids coming to class high on marijuana. She can tell. When they’re high, they’re spacey and unfocused, she says. Plus, she adds, “They talk pretty openly about it. It’s considered very normal.”

Normal? What gives teens that idea, asks Magdalena Cerdá. She works at the University of California, Davis School of Medicine, in Sacramento. As an epidemiologist, she tracks down causes of disease or unhealthy trends.

Marijuana use by kids certainly is not healthy, notes Stephen Wallace. He directs the Center for Adolescent Research and Education in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Some teens who regularly use pot develop mental-health problems, Wallace notes. These could include anxiety, depression and even psychosis (Sy-KOH-sis). That last condition is where people can’t tell what is real and what they are imagining.

Other problems linked to using pot include making working memory worse, he points out. Working memory is a brain function we need to understand language. It also helps us remember — for example — a math formula long enough to use it to do homework. Bad working memory can therefore lead to bad grades.

Yet if adolescents think pot is “no big deal,” Cerda wondered, might they become more likely to use it? In search of answers, she started reading research studies. They showed that compared to 25 years ago, fewer adolescents now think marijuana use is risky.

Cerdá knew that some states were making marijuana legal. Nineteen states allow adults to buy pot with a doctor’s prescription. Seven states have made non-medical use legal. That means adults can buy it as they would alcohol.

These laws only apply to adults. Buying and using pot is still illegal for minors. But Cerdá wondered how the new laws might be affecting teen attitudes and use of the drug. To find out, her team started its own study.

Based on a quarter-million U.S. teens

Her team used a survey called Monitoring the Future. Researchers collect data for it every year. They ask eighth, tenth and twelfth graders in U.S. schools about their use of, and attitudes about, alcohol and other drugs. Cerdá’s team focused on data from 253,902 students in the states of Washington and Colorado. Both of these states legalized non-medical use of marijuana in 2012. The team looked at the years 2010 through 2015. This let them concentrate on use and attitudes before and after pot became legal.

First, Washington: After 2012, a sense that this drug was risky went down among eighth and tenth graders. It fell by an average of 15 percent. In states where pot stayed illegal, the sense that it was risky went down by an average of only 6 percent among students in those grades. After the Washington law changed, the number of teens who used pot in the month before they had been surveyed increased 2 percent among eighth graders. It increased 4.1 percent among tenth graders.

This pattern bucked a trend seen in states where the drug stayed illegal. There, pot use dropped by 1.3 percent among eighth graders. It dropped by almost 1 percent among tenth graders.

There was no change in the drug’s use or attitudes among high-school seniors in Washington. The researchers have a theory about why. Maybe these older teens had already made up their minds about pot.

Cerdá’s team also saw no real change in attitudes on pot among students of any age in Colorado. This could have to do with how Colorado legalized the use of medical marijuana in 2000, Cerdá says. Kids saw posters and TV ads about the issue. This may have given them the idea that pot was normal and beneficial. By the time the drug’s non-medical use was legalized, the kids’ attitudes may already have been shaped by its legal medical use.

The results of Cerdá’s study appear in the February JAMA Pediatrics.

What’s good for adults may not be good for teens

Cerdá hopes states will try not to make pot seem glamorous. “Research shows that non-attractive labels around tobacco were important” to keep kids off cigarettes, she says. “Maybe some of these same lessons should be applied to marijuana.”

Christopher Hammond agrees. He’s a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md. “When Colorado legalized medical marijuana use, they allowed for advertising,” he notes. He now thinks that may have made teens open to trying it. That could have led to them use pot regularly.

Legalizing pot may confuse teens into thinking it’s safe

marijuana leaf and cannabis plants
marijuana leaf and cannabis plants

A growing number of teens think marijuana is no big deal, a new study finds. And that may encourage many to experiment with its use.

A high school English teacher in New York — let’s call her Ms. McDonald — has lately noticed more kids coming to class high on marijuana. She can tell. When they’re high, they’re spacey and unfocused, she says. Plus, she adds, “They talk pretty openly about it. It’s considered very normal.”

Normal? What gives teens that idea, asks Magdalena Cerdá. She works at the University of California, Davis School of Medicine, in Sacramento. As an epidemiologist, she tracks down causes of disease or unhealthy trends.

Marijuana use by kids certainly is not healthy, notes Stephen Wallace. He directs the Center for Adolescent Research and Education in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Some teens who regularly use pot develop mental-health problems, Wallace notes. These could include anxiety, depression and even psychosis (Sy-KOH-sis). That last condition is where people can’t tell what is real and what they are imagining.

Other problems linked to using pot include making working memory worse, he points out. Working memory is a brain function we need to understand language. It also helps us remember — for example — a math formula long enough to use it to do homework. Bad working memory can therefore lead to bad grades.

Yet if adolescents think pot is “no big deal,” Cerda wondered, might they become more likely to use it? In search of answers, she started reading research studies. They showed that compared to 25 years ago, fewer adolescents now think marijuana use is risky.

Cerdá knew that some states were making marijuana legal. Nineteen states allow adults to buy pot with a doctor’s prescription. Seven states have made non-medical use legal. That means adults can buy it as they would alcohol.

These laws only apply to adults. Buying and using pot is still illegal for minors. But Cerdá wondered how the new laws might be affecting teen attitudes and use of the drug. To find out, her team started its own study.

Based on a quarter-million U.S. teens

Her team used a survey called Monitoring the Future. Researchers collect data for it every year. They ask eighth, tenth and twelfth graders in U.S. schools about their use of, and attitudes about, alcohol and other drugs. Cerdá’s team focused on data from 253,902 students in the states of Washington and Colorado. Both of these states legalized non-medical use of marijuana in 2012. The team looked at the years 2010 through 2015. This let them concentrate on use and attitudes before and after pot became legal.

First, Washington: After 2012, a sense that this drug was risky went down among eighth and tenth graders. It fell by an average of 15 percent. In states where pot stayed illegal, the sense that it was risky went down by an average of only 6 percent among students in those grades. After the Washington law changed, the number of teens who used pot in the month before they had been surveyed increased 2 percent among eighth graders. It increased 4.1 percent among tenth graders.

This pattern bucked a trend seen in states where the drug stayed illegal. There, pot use dropped by 1.3 percent among eighth graders. It dropped by almost 1 percent among tenth graders.

There was no change in the drug’s use or attitudes among high-school seniors in Washington. The researchers have a theory about why. Maybe these older teens had already made up their minds about pot.

Cerdá’s team also saw no real change in attitudes on pot among students of any age in Colorado. This could have to do with how Colorado legalized the use of medical marijuana in 2000, Cerdá says. Kids saw posters and TV ads about the issue. This may have given them the idea that pot was normal and beneficial. By the time the drug’s non-medical use was legalized, the kids’ attitudes may already have been shaped by its legal medical use.

The results of Cerdá’s study appear in the February JAMA Pediatrics.

What’s good for adults may not be good for teens

Cerdá hopes states will try not to make pot seem glamorous. “Research shows that non-attractive labels around tobacco were important” to keep kids off cigarettes, she says. “Maybe some of these same lessons should be applied to marijuana.”

Christopher Hammond agrees. He’s a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md. “When Colorado legalized medical marijuana use, they allowed for advertising,” he notes. He now thinks that may have made teens open to trying it. That could have led to them use pot regularly.