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.
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.
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.
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.