Parents, You MUST Watch 13 Reasons Why

I just finished watching 13 Reasons Why and I’m a mess.

Emotionally gut-wrenching, I am conflicted. Also, grateful, horrified, shocked, challenged.

I presume this was the intended goal for the team that developed the series. Mission accomplished. For that reason alone, it is absolutely brilliant.

Because the show is relatively new, there’s a good chance you haven’t seen it or read the book, so I will avoid spoilers as much as possible. Alternatively, if you have seen it, I welcome your input. I crave it. There’s so much to discuss.

If you aren’t familiar, here is the description of the series, taken from Netflix:

“Newcomer Katherine Langford plays the role of Hannah, a young woman who takes her own life. Two weeks after her tragic death, a classmate named Clay finds a mysterious box on his porch. Inside the box are recordings made by Hannah — on whom Clay had a crush — in which she explains the 13 reasons why she chose to commit suicide. If Clay decides to listen to the recordings, he will find out if and how he made the list. This intricate and heart-wrenching tale is told through Clay and Hannah’s dual narratives.”

You might be wondering if it’s just another young adult heart-string puller like The Fault in Our Stars or Me Before You.

I did.

But there was enough chatter online that I decided I’d give it a try the next time I was looking for something to watch on Netflix. I thought I’d watch one or two episodes and decide if it held my interest.

I wasn’t sure what to think at first.
It was clever, interesting, and a wee bit mysterious.

I couldn’t help noticing the compelling, beautiful, intriguing manner in which the story was being told. The unfolding of the plot provides insight into a myriad of complex situations, providing the viewer with context.

I watched most of the series by myself. After introducing it to my 16 year old daughter, she said, “I don’t think I want to watch anymore. It feels like they are glorifying suicide and it pisses me off. Kids don’t need anymore reasons to be emo and romanticize killing themselves.”

She’s spot on.

In the first several episodes, I wondered the same thing. This beautiful girl is boldly presenting her case for justifying taking her life, loud and proud. It’s uncomfortable to process.

If you only watch the first several episodes of 13 Reasons Why and then quit, you’ll miss out. All you will see is a girl blaming classmates and friends for how they have failed her. You’ll feel a measure of pity for her, a little bit of disgust at the mistreatment, but, overwhelmingly you’ll still be judging her for making her choice… as well as for leaving the most elaborate dramatic suicide note ever.

Keep watching.

The narrative shifts, becoming more and more difficult to identify and compartmentalize your feelings about what has occurred in this young woman’s life.

Initially, the viewers may feel this girl was an attention seeking drama queen who wasn’t capable of handling disappointment. I felt that. I wondered how much damage this series could cause for teenagers who idolize the story, the characters. And to be frank, this still concerns me greatly.

When discussing the series, this has got to be one of the main points of the dialogue.

Are we aware of what message our children are receiving (regardless of what message is intended?)

Unfortunately, there WILL be a percentage of teens who are mesmerized by the sadness, the inherent beauty in the pain, even in the outcome. Sadly, there may be mimics, and at the very least, a large number who will sit in their rooms making lists of specific reasons why they want to die. And now, the bar has been raised for them to be more and more creative with their presentation.

HOWEVER, before you toss the series aside and perhaps even forbid your children from watching it, let me tell you something:

YOU OWE IT TO YOUR CHILDREN TO WATCH IT.

Yes, you.

13 Reasons Why doesn’t sugarcoat what our children experience every day at school. It may be difficult for you to listen to the language, to the topics of conversation. Might be tough to reconcile that “our” kids are facing similar issues, that they’re struggling so much to navigate.

But, they are. And whether you want to admit it or not, even the best kids and students, with the best of intentions can make mistakes. They can falter in a moment of weakness. They can inadvertently cause another pain, or they can be on the receiving end of cruel remarks, unkind actions, and be too embarrassed to ask for help working through it.

YOUR KIDS, TOO.

Get past the first couple of episodes where you question if it’s just another soap opera for angsty teenagers.

An alarming trend starts to reveal itself.

Lack of involved parenting is prevalent. In fact, in my opinion, it’s the root cause of everything in this story.

Hannah’s parents, though they loved her, were busy with their business and financial troubles. They missed the warning signs of her despondency and sadness. I bawled my eyes out during the part where they discover her (yes, it is a graphic, brutal scene and it was excruciating to watch). The shock and horror of losing your child. Ugh. I don’t even want to type that next sentence, so please just follow it to your own conclusion.

Throughout the 13 Reasons Why, we are shown glimpses of other teenager’s lives. Overwhelmingly, involved parenting was absent.

These kids who are growing into their adult bodies, may start to look more mature, but they are still young and inexperienced. They are uncertain and looking around them for signs of approval, for acceptance. They need guidance, unconditional love, and support.

As parents, we need to be aware of our children – who their friends are, where they spend their time, what they struggle with. We need to keep the lines of communication open so they can talk to us about difficult things.

It’s also our job to talk to our children about this series. Left to their own devices, they may only see sensationalized suicide.

There is great value here, for us as parents, to learn and to teach.

13 Reasons Why is loaded with opportunity to talk frankly with our teenagers.

Each episode covers topics that can serve as catalysts, including bullying, betrayal, revenge porn, porn culture, alcohol, drugs, sexual assault, rape, and suicide.

Watch it. Talk to them.

Reiterate that Hannah did NOT have to make the choice to kill herself. She lost hope that it would get better and she wanted to escape her pain. Point out the devastation caused to everyone who loved her. Remind them they would be loved and missed. Take the romantic notion out of it.

Explain what they ought to do if they find themselves in any kind of trouble. Establish a system for you to be able to support them. Do they need a ride home from a party? What if it’s a party they weren’t supposed to be at in the first place? How can you eliminate their fear of disappointing you, of punishment when they’ve made a poor choice? How can they rely on you as an ally? EVEN WHEN THEY MAKE A MISTAKE?

And, let’s not forget the importance of understanding that how we behave affects other people, who also have feelings, who also struggle. Minor things don’t seem so minor to the person who is currently floundering and losing hope. A snarky comment here and there may be acceptable at times, but one day, it just might be the last straw. We owe it to ourselves, to our children, to be more compassionate and careful with our own behavior toward others.

We must watch for the signs of despair, despondency, apathy, listlessness. In our children. In ourselves. In others.

Be proactive. Be aware. Be present.

Love, protect, nurture.

Let’s give them 13 Reasons Why they want to live.

HOPE

[preface: one of my little brother’s closest friends committed suicide a couple of weeks ago. Trying to make sense of it, I wrote what I’m sharing here with you. The names have been changed to protect privacy. When it comes to suicide, it’s a universal experience of horrific loss… it could be any of your friend’s or family member’s names in this post.]

I’ve been trying to comfort Jason tonight. Talking just so he can have something else to focus on for a brief respite from the emotional pain. Reminding him of the truths in the situation, pulling him back out of the abyss that the ego tries to convince is “real”.

He could get lost in his grief and despair.

I really don’t know what else I can do in this moment.

Letting Jason fall to pieces in a safe place (with me) is a gift I can give him. He doesn’t have to be brave or strong for me. He’ll have to do that for everyone else, as he tries to show up for the family, for their circle of friends.

I’m reminding him of the importance of taking care of himself – that he must force himself to eat, to sleep, to do the minimum for his own good – because he cannot show up for everyone else with an empty cup. We nourish from our overflow, and though he has no appetite and sleep is elusive… he has to find a way to fill up his cup.

I’m reminding him that he was Ryan’s closest friend, that he gave him excellent advice, showed up for him, listened to him. I’m reminding him that he knows of despair, darkness, thoughts of self harm. That he knows what it’s like to feel distraught and lose the ability to think clearly.

But, most importantly that Ryan made this choice, and it rests solely on his shoulders.

Jason knew Ryan was troubled. He knew he was struggling to fight off the dark thoughts that were starting to suffocate him. Everyone close to Ryan knew it. They reminded him constantly of their love for him.

This wasn’t about lack of love.

It was lack of HOPE.

Hope.

An ever shining optimistic outlook.

A mindset.

The belief that there is always something on the horizon, that things could change for the better in any given moment, that there is magic afoot.

Hope is a drug. A sensation. A way of life.

It can be contagious.

It can be shared, sprinkled.

But, no one can manufacture it for another.

You have it.

Or.

You don’t.

And when you don’t, life is a much less sparkly place.


I’m awe struck at these realizations regarding hope.

I have hope.

I am hope-full. I am full of hope.

External conditions beyond my control must snuff out all potential for goodness before I will start to lose hope.

That flicker of a candle that burns within me lights the way to see possibility, future outcomes, improvement, growth. To EVERY good thing.

I forget that others don’t have this eternal sunshine within.

Wait, that’s not true.

I didn’t forget.

I didn’t know.

I can barely fathom a life without intrinsic hope.

Imagining it, though, gives me a glimpse into how Ryan must have been feeling when he decided leaving was a better option than what he was presently facing.


I now wonder how you could possibly GIVE hope to someone else.

Is it like a lighthouse?

Is it the overflowing cup?

Is it a pep talk that you deliver with passion and enthusiasm, imbued with good will and the unavoidable attachment to the outcome of your efforts? Your hope that you instilled hope?

Hope is personal.

It’s private.

Sacred.

When you have it, it shines light into the dark corners within where your doubts and fears dwell.

Hope illuminates.

Life without hope is dull. Faded. Empty. Sad.


It’s lonely.

And I can’t help but think of me and Jason.

I have hope.

He does not.

I’ve tried to give him mine, but it doesn’t work.

He’d have to get his own.

I’m now even more curious to discover how you could go about finding someone else’s hope for them.

“Look over here, here it is. It’s your hope, Jason. Yay!”

Nope.

Could you help them find it?

Light the wick for them?

Teach them how to protect the tiny flicker before defaulting to the ingrained habit of immediately blowing it out?

Show them what it looks like when you fan it into a blazing inferno that drives you toward all the best things in life? You know… like success, happiness, love.

I hope I figure it out.