Recently on Netflix, there has been an uptick in the number of movies that “focus” on mental health issues. We are talking about “13 reasons why” and “To the bone.” The former movie focuses on the events leading up to a teenage girl’s suicide and the role of her peers in her path. The latter focuses on the journey of a struggling anorexic teenage girl. Most pre-teens and teenagers have access to Netflix today. As parents, we question the safety and appropriateness of movies, but sometimes, we do not consider their (negative) learning value.
In this blog, I have discussed that learning occurs in many forms, one of the main methods being “Modeling.” When we watch our parents yell at traffic, our likelihood of demonstrating the same behavior dramatically increases. If we see a teenager self-regulate her emotions by withholding food or by hurting herself, does that increase the chances we will demonstrate these behaviors?? A short answer to a complex question is…..yes. We are parenting against these models of behavior. Children and teenagers do not intuitively know how to cope with their emotions, particularly the tougher ones like depression and anxiety. Now, we have famous, well-known models demonstrating ineffective and dangerous ways to cope with these emotions.
How we do handle these as parents? Yes, you can block these program under Netflix, as many of our local schools have advised parents. However, how effective is that really? The better action is proaction. In my practice, if a patient is having thoughts of ending their life, we discuss it a lot and do not avoid it. If our kids watch these shows and we don’t proactively address it with them, what are they learning? What are their take away points? Make sure that you address these shows as just pure entertainment. They are there to bring awareness to issues and causes, but not to properly educate you. Education is the job of parents and teachers, not Hollywood.
What are the main educational and preventative points? Encourage identifying and verbalizing how your children are feeling. Provide support and reinforcement for identifying difficult emotions (anxiety and/or depression). Try and identify some proactive solutions and most importantly, know when to seek out professional help.