13 Reasons Why. There's been a lot of debate on social media and in the popular press about the Netflix series based on the popular book by Jay Asher. Some of it, I wholeheartedly agree. If you have a middle school child, the series is too graphic for them to watch. There are intense bullying, sex and substance abuse scenes that are only for a mature audience (which is why the show is tagged as MA). However, if you have a high school age teen, watching 13 Reasons Why is so important.
First, I'm going to get a few things out-of-the-way. When the book first came out and my teen told me what she was reading, I hid it and here's why. She was battling depression from a medication and I wasn't sure that the content she'd read would be appropriate for her. However, once reading the book I realized that it could start a conversation about some of the things she might be feeling that she wouldn't tell me. Now, I realize that the Netflix series is more graphic and more intense and if I had a clearly suicidal teen, I probably would suggest that it's not a great show to watch right now. However, I've seen mental health professionals state on Facebook that teenagers are unable to process some of what they are seeing and that makes it a bad show period. I disagree. It's up to us as parents to help our teenagers understand and talk about these emotions.
Second, I've read that people feel the series is about revenge. That's why Hannah left the tapes. The author, Jay Asher, clearly addresses that this book is not about revenge and sadly that goes missing in the series. 13 Reasons Why came about because he had a teenage friend who attempted to commit suicide and lived. He had ample time to ask her why and the emotions surrounding her decision. When he wrote the book, he interviewed lots of women about their high school experience. The tapes are not revenge. They are Hannah's story and a poetic device to cleverly relay high school experiences.
Third, there has been much criticism about the end. Why did Hannah have to die by slitting her wrists instead of pills? Let's face it. Pills aren't scary (and they are the #1 way that teenagers commit suicide). Blood is. It just made for good TV and for me it's more of a deterrent than an invitation to make suicide look easy.
Now that I've gotten that out-of-the-way, here's why I think 13 Reasons Why is so important listed by topic
Poor parenting– I watched parents check out in middle school thinking their kids were old enough to fend for themselves. They're not. They make bad decisions every single day and it's up to us to guide them to good ones. What does that mean? We have to be present. If we aren't sure what's going on with our kids, we have to discuss it. If you're not taking the time to discuss the topics below with your teen, they need to watch the show. And, guess what? They're going to anyway so you might as well step up to the plate.
Bullying-Both my daughter and I thought the series portrayed bullying quite accurately and we had a high school experience 29 years apart. Many of these kids think they're alone. The movie shows that kids from different levels of popularity are made to feel like they don't belong or are lesser than others. Hopefully, there are teens out there that will see it and understand they are not alone.
Peer pressure– The desire to “belong” in high school is not new. Teens have succumbed to peer pressure to fit in for decades. Sadly, the stakes are higher now. There's social media. It's easier than ever to get drugs. Sexting is common. We need to tackle all these topics with our teens.
Sex– Teenagers are having sex earlier than ever and even worse? Many are having oral sex and don't consider it to be “real” sex. The show illustrates the fact that many high school students feel that they need to be sexually active to fit in or to secure a relationship. Another discussion we need to have with our kids.
Sexual assault– While we'd like to think that sexual assault is rare, sadly it's probably under-reported. If you haven't seen the Netflix documentary, Audrie and Daisy and you have a high school aged child, you need to. Boys need to understand that no, means no. Girls need to know the possibilities of what can happen if you get wasted at a party. 13 Reasons Why gives us another glimpse into a topic that we need to be discussing with both genders.
Depression– According to suicide.org, 20% of teens experience depression before adulthood and one commits suicide every 100 minutes. It's significant. Parents need to know the warning signs and start an open dialogue with their kids. In the series, the parent's ignore all of the behavior that screams depression. The show does a good job of illustrating that you can think your kid is totally fine but once you pay attention, you see they're not.
Suicide Prevention– A couple of years ago, two teens in our town committed suicide a few days apart. One used a gun that was not locked up. Her friends all knew she was depressed and said the parents did too. If you have a depressed child, take away all the opportunity in your home. Lock up knives, guns and pills.
Ignoring the cry for help– Hannah clearly reaches out for help in school, yet the teacher dismisses her. As a society, we have to pay attention to what our kids say and sometimes take it literally. There's too much at stake.
The “not my kid” syndrome– You know the parents that think their kid would never bully or be depressed or do anything wrong? They have their heads in the sand.
13 Reasons Why is an important series because it gives us as parents the chance to discuss all these things in our teenager's world that they may not or will not discuss with us. I watched the show with my teen. Both of us agreed that it was painful. But, both of us agreed that it was real and that's why it's so important. Our teenagers are living this every single day.