I’ve seen the blog posts, the angry mothers, and the social media rants. Perhaps you have too. But when I actually looked into why parents were disgruntled over the new Netflix series Thirteen Reasons Why, I was a bit dumbfounded. As you know, I’m not an expert on the issue, but I am an educator with many years of working with children and teens, and an advocate for community awareness. This is where I’m coming from. My views may not be shared, but I’m moved enough to share them, so here it goes.
I saw comments implying it was too much, too real, or, my favorite, “a step by step guide to suicide.” But I also saw the content. A teenage girl commits suicide and leave a set of tapes describing how she came to the decision to kill herself. I had to know more. And, after watching it for myself, this is why I believe Thirteen Reasons Why is a must see for every adult that has children in their lives (and everyone else for that matter).
It is real. This is one of the things addressed by every negative post I’ve seen. It was too real. It was raw, it was graphic, and it was not sugarcoated. Kudos to Netflix for taking a novel and making it something people can actually understand. We, as a society, often like to point out our sensitivities when it comes to reality, but we are daily bombarded by ads on t.v. and movies that show much worse. I saw one blogger complain that the rape scene was disturbing. It was meant to be disturbing. Rape is disturbing! Another mother complained that there was no need to show Hannah slitting her wrists. Really? It made my stomach turn and my heart break. It showed her emotional AND physical pain. It showed her mother’s breakdown upon finding her. No reading at all prepared me to see that scene. Why? Well, because I’ve never seen a teenager kill themselves, or cut themselves, yet it happens every day. And in real life, it isn’t pretty. It is painful and gut wrenching. It is something that is often glamorized in television and movies, but it is not glamorous at all. And for those who think it’s a play by play on how to commit suicide, anyone can Google that, or have we forgotten?
It showcases realities that teenagers, and even younger students, face daily. From bullying, to struggling with grades, being forced to endure hours of school and potential threats daily because that’s what you do as a kid, to sex, drugs, and drinking. It covers insecurity, sexual assault, popularity, alcoholism, and how hard it is to talk to adults about what is going on in your life. It covers domestic violence, single parent families, homelessness, stalking, and the stigmas attached to mental health issues and being LGBT. We, as adults, are often guilty – too guilty I fear – of living in our own little bubbles. Even as adults, it is hard to deal with many of these issues, and yet we expect our children to. But closing our eyes to reality does nothing to help the situation. Being aware so that we can have meaningful conversations, recognize potential signs, and be someone our children are comfortable talking to is a starting point we all should strive for.
Another important thing this series does is it enters the teenage mind, showing thoughts, fears, and sometimes irrational views of the world. I found this concept intriguing. As someone who has attempted to survive as an adult in an adult world, I often forget what it was like to be a teen. And most of us never dealt with the realities teen deal with everyday, where the information of the world is at your fingertips, cyber bullying is ever present, and it’s way too easy to snap a pic and destroy your, or someone else’s, life. We were much more sheltered growing up, allowing us at least, a little more room to just be a kid. Thirteen Reasons takes a great deal of time to break down and show how each of the teens see life. It shows their insecurities, their arrogance, their belief that life is somehow a capsule that circles only them, and their lack of understanding of long-term consequences (on themselves, their families, and each other).
It further shows how each student sees the world through his or her own lenses. There are multiple conversations on topics and events, between two or more teens, that shows how different their views are and how each view is brought on by their experiences in their rather short lives. It shows how much they hold in, how cruel and unsupportive they can be of one another, and how they are capable of acting out without putting much thought into how their actions will affect them and others down the road.
It shows things we would rather not see as a society, yet those things are happening and they do have consequences. This concept hit me especially hard. Throughout the series, you see people learning things about their actions and the actions of others. They are also experiencing their own issues. And even though it is very clear that what they did or said had consequences, it shows how each teen handles the lesson differently. For instance, the most obvious, they all see what they could have done different and how Hannah (the teen who took her life) saw and experienced their actions, ultimately in her mind, leading to her death. For some it was something they did, and for others it was that they simply did nothing. And yet, even with this knowledge, we watch teens ignoring the signs with other people in their lives, repeating history. It even goes as far as showing those watching how easy it is to miss the signs of someone that is hurting…on several occasions.
There are so many great lessons in this series, too many to even cover. Perhaps I will expand on these ideas in future posts. But for now I will leave you with these few things to think on.
- If you have children or not, you should watch this show. We all owe it to those around us to be aware, and this is a great starting point in learning about the realities of being a teen.
- I do believe that this is a show that should be seen by teens, although I say that with some caveats. It is graphic and is full of foul language (reality check to what kids see and hear daily in the world we live in). It is my belief that you either watch the show with your teen or that you discuss it with them after each episode. If you are still uncomfortable allowing your teen to watch it, I suggest you still watch it yourself and discuss the issues with them. If they want to see it, they will, with or without your permission. The same goes for all other things parents wish their children would not do. It’s better to be informed and approachable than oblivious to reality. Even if each teen is not affected by everything this show represents, which they are not, there is nothing wrong with having a grasp on reality and how it affects those around you (your teen’s friends, your co-worker, your friends, etc.).
This post is not about inciting fear, but rather about encouraging society to see what is right in front of them. We are often so fearful of that which is uncomfortable that we ignore it until it slaps us in the face. Don’t let it sneak up on you. Be aware and then you can be there for those who need you most.