This is a rough week for UK teens. The GCSE exam season officially kicked off on Monday 14th May. With summer blooming there are already more than enough distractions for teenagers if they don’t want to revise, but this Friday it could get even harder.
The timing has already caused concern among some adults and professionals.
Helen Rayner of the Royal College of Psychiatrists told the Guardian, “It’s well known within children’s services that there’s an increase in completed suicides and suicide attempts during the exam season. This could cause an increase in suicide rates.”
Following last year’s backlash over 13 Reasons Why’s perceived glorification of the suicide at the heart of the show, Netflix has been at pains to approach the subject matter responsibly, and warn viewers about issues including teenage suicide, anxiety, bullying and sexual assault. Resources for both teenagers and parents are readily available, warning messages play at the start and end of episodes, and Netflix’s vice president Brian Wright has reminded parents that they can add a PIN number to specific shows like 13 Reasons if they are worried about children watching.
All of these precautions suggest that the subject matter is being sensitively handled. However, the timing, at least for UK viewers, could still prove problematic. Is it fair to be releasing 13 hours of teen drama in one go during exams?
There are always distractions for people studying for exams: movie blockbusters, World Cups, TV shows. Game of Thrones for many years aired during May and June, but even Homes Under the Hammer can feel like addictive viewing when the alternative is Geography revision.
13 reasons why and love island starting during my exams is basically setting me up to fail????
A 2015 Cambridge University study looking at distractions during revision periods found that while numerous activities could affect exam performance, television was “the most detrimental”, according to The Telegraph.
The potential distractions are magnified when it comes to streaming TV. People know they can work around, say, Love Island at 9pm, revising for an exam before taking a break in the evening. But with Netflix there is no fixed schedule: one episode becomes two; one 50-minute break becomes a whole night lost.
Video games are similar – it’s easy to lose hours gaming – but it’s a more solo experience. Friends are less likely to want to talk spoilers or discuss the ending. 13 Reasons Why is, as Netflix has repeatedly said, about encouraging a “global conversation” around teenage issues.
Part of the justification for the show’s difficult subject matter is its ability to help people discuss their issues openly. If people save the show until after GCSEs, are they missing out?
US teens have exams too, of course, but the way they work is different: there’s less of an end of year rush, more of a continuous assessment. For British teenagers, however, it’s a different story: GCSE exam season begins on Monday 14th May and continues until Friday 22nd June.
Every pupil is different: some will save the whole series for later, others will keep to one episode to help switch off from constant cramming.
UK charity Childline recommends revising pupils should “give yourself time each day to relax, taking breaks to do something you enjoy – watch TV, listen to music, read a book or go out for a walk.”
But at a time when stress levels are already running high, an intense high school drama might not necessarily be the ideal chill-out show.
Netflix is in a difficult situation: by releasing its shows globally at the same time, finding an appropriate slot for every country in the world is almost impossible. The company can’t delay broadcasts in particular countries either, as that would feel like favouring some subscribers over others.
When RadioTimes.com contacted Netflix about the timing of the series, a spokesperson said, “As 13 Reasons Why is a global show, season two will launch at the same time on the same day in all our 190 markets. In the UK, it coincidentally coincides with exam period, but within regular school term in other countries.”
Netflix added that the PIN controls mentioned above could also be turned on to restrict access: “Doing this will not only protect students from potentially sensitive content, but also ensure they are not distracted during this key revision period in the UK, if their parents so wish.”
Netflix’s global, simultaneous release policy means this is unlikely to be the last time a show lands awkwardly – so, in the spirit of the show, this is probably a good time to talk about exactly how to balance TV bingeing and exam revision.
Meanwhile, if you want advice on any of the issues raised in 13 Reasons Why, or just want help dealing with exam stress, then organisations such as the Samaritans and Childline are available online or by phone.