Understanding Adolescent, Young Adult, and Parent Responses to ‘Tough Topic’ Media


This project used survey data from four global regions to understand adolescent, young adult, and parent attitudes and behaviors after viewing media that portrayed four “tough topics” (depression, sexual assault, bullying, and suicide). Specifically, it sought to determine whether (i) watching the television program “13 Reasons Why” related to changes in viewers’ empathetic behaviors, (ii) supported adolescents’ conversations with peers, parents, teachers or counselors about the tough topics included in that program, and (iii) whether such associations (between watching a show about “tough topics” and the other behaviors mentioned) differed based on such individual difference variables as social anxiety and age. Globally, results suggested that adolescents tried to act more empathetically after exposure to this content (including reaching out to classmates they thought might be suffering from mental health issues). Adolescents, their parents, and young adults all reported that they felt that this exposure enhanced their understanding of “tough topics”. These relationships were stronger for younger adolescents (ages 13-15) and for those with higher social anxiety. Regional differences in these findings suggest that “tough topic” media can play a particularly important role in adolescents’, young adults’, and parents’ lives in countries with less access to mental health information and care.