Ponca City, OK

Letter Sent to Parents Warning Them About Media


News Education Editor

Dr. David Pennington, superintendent for Ponca City Public Schools, has sent a letter to parents in the district warning them of the seriousness of two potentially harmful types of media that are circulating on television and on social networks. The controversy centers around a television series called “13 Reasons Why” and an online game called the “Blue Whale Challenge” or the “Blue Whale Suicide Challenge.”

“This particular television show has created a lot of discussion,” said Pennington. “After some research on the subject I decided to contact the school’s two therapists. We met and discussed what they were seeing. I then decided to write the letter — I thought parents should know that kids are talking about this. Then obviously after that, they [parents] have to make their own decisions.”

In his letter to the parents, Pennington details the controversy behind the television show “13 Reasons Why” and does not recommend adolescents/young adults view the show.

“‘13 Reasons Why’ is a Netflix series that began airing on March 31,” said Pennington. “Since this is a Netflix original series, all 13 episodes are released at once so viewers have the option of watching all episodes at one time or viewing over several days or weeks. The show claims its intent is to increase awareness of the issue of suicide amongst adolescents/young adults, but mental health professionals across the country are in agreement the show does far more than just that. There is a glorification of the act of suicide in addition to the reinforcement of the idea no one is qualified to help and isolation and despair are inevitable.”

According to Slate.com, the TV show risks romanticizing suicide through revenge fantasy. The main carachter, Hannah, who commits sucide lives on through the tapes allowing for the finality of her suicide to be underminded as well as using suicide as as an effective act of vengeance.

Slate.com goes on to say that the show skirts issues like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and instead places the blame for Hannah’s suicide on the actions or inaction of those around her.

“In real life, things are rarely that simple and it’s both damaging to survivors of suicide loss and unrealistic to suggest that love and kindness alone could have prevented a suicidal person from killing themselves,” says Slate.com writers.

“The series also paints the mental health professionals, who are trained to help with the issues young people are facing, as detached and incompetent,” said Pennington. “While it is certainly possible for an adolescent to view the episodes of ‘13 Reasons Why’ and not be moved to any sort of personal action, the emotional challenges that accompany normal adolescence lend themselves to the show being highly disturbing. This is especially true for a child/adolescent with already present mental/emotional health issues.”

The other topic for concern according to Pennington’s letter is the online game the “Blue Whale Challenge”.

“There have been numerous media reports the last several weeks about an online game the ‘Blue Whale Challenge’” said Pennington. “It is reported the game is designed to manipulate vulnerable adolescents and young adults to commit suicide after a series of personal challenges are fulfilled. At this time, there are no confirmed suicides or attempted suicides in the United States that have been linked to the ‘Blue Whale Challenge’.”

Pennington made the decision to send out the letter based on a personal choice to help parents of adolescents in the community.

“I don’t currently have children in school,” said Pennington. “But, I think as a parent, I would want to know and then as a parent I can make an informed decision.”

Whatever decision a parent makes in regard to the TV show and any other type of online challenges, Pennington says that he and other health professionals nation wide agree that these types of media are highly disturbing and that people should be concerned.

“I get a lot of emails from different educational organizations that I belong to and this was generating a lot of concern,” said Pennington.

Pennington feels it is important to keep the lines of communication open with parents in regard to trending media.

“When your dealing with young adolescents, they have so much going on,” said Pennington. “Think about when you were 13, 14, 15 and 16 years old and now you have to add into that mix social media, YouTube and other types of media — it can be a dangerous combination. It’s hard to be a parent these days. We thought this was something the parents of secondary students should be aware of. Our hope was to inform parents so they can make their own informed decision.”

The National Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Children offers advice on how to keep children safe online: 1. Explore the online world together. 2. Talk to your child about staying safe online. 3. Manage the software and tools your family uses. 4. Agree to rules about what’s ok and what’s not.

For questions call Ponca City Schools counseling services department at 580-767-8000.

Ask for either Kirk Hollis or Kathryn Metzger.

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