Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Daughter's Viewing History Sparks Conversation

DEAR HARRIETTE: Against my wishes, my preteen daughter watched an online show that is very graphic in terms of sexual assault, underage drinking and suicide. I only know that she watched it after looking at her online account, and I don’t know if I should punish her or use this as a teachable moment. I’m sure sitting down with her mother to talk about these hard-hitting topics would be enough to make her squirm, but my husband thinks I should just take away access to the streaming service. How should I react to my daughter going behind my back? -- All Topics Welcome, Seattle

DEAR ALL TOPICS WELCOME: As the mother of a 13-year-old, I am well aware of the Netflix series "13 Reasons Why," which has garnered a tremendous amount of attention this year. My daughter told me about it, stating that she and her friends were watching it, and she thought I should, too. At about this same time, the entire school system -- public and private -- in New York City was asked to talk to students about the content of the series and to check in with students on how they were managing.

Without question, the subject matter is disturbing. Through dramatic narrative, suicide and the reasons leading up to it, including virtually every potential area of teenage exploration, are illustrated. Yes, some of the scenes and content are disturbing. I took it as a teachable moment. I watched the entire series, including the synopsis at the end, which is essential. I have since participated in ongoing dialogue with my daughter about it.

Her school had someone come in to talk to the students, which helped to a point. The challenge was that the professional had not yet watched the series when the conversation occurred, so he lost credibility.

For you, as a parent, do not shut the door on this. Watch the series -- every episode. Contemplate what you see and what it means to you as well as what you think it may mean for a preteen girl and her friends. Ask your daughter what she thought about the series. Find out how much she watched. Inquire as to what she and her friends are talking about related to the show. Ask if she knows of any students who use drugs, engage in sexual activity or have considered suicide. Do not press. Build a conversation with her. Do not punish her. Instead, let her know that you want her to check in with you before watching questionable content, meaning anything that isn’t G or PG. The better you are at opening the door to communication, the better your chances are at building a rapport with your daughter that will help her weather the teenage years and its endless conflicts with strength and focus.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)

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