A few weeks ago, I began watching 13 Reasons Why. If you haven’t heard about this show, I’m extremely surprised because everyone`s talking about it and the reviews and opinions have been controversial, to say the least!
Below is a little synopsis if you haven`t watched or heard what all the fuss is about.
Clay Jensen, a shy high school student, returns home from school one day to find that he has received a mysterious package in the mail. It contains seven double-sided cassette tapes used by Hannah Baker, a classmate who has recently committed suicide. Each tape details a reason that she killed herself. Each episode switches back and forth from the past & present and is dedicated to a certain person who Hannah blames for her suicide. The show is based on a young adult novel written by Jay Asher.
I was informed by Netflix that they knew the material in this series covered sensitive topics, as the book did when it was published in 2007, and worked with mental health experts to show how these issues impact teens in real and dramatic ways.
The series was given a TV-MA rating, there are added explicit warnings on the three most graphic episodes. Netflix also produced an after show, “Beyond the Reasons,” that delves deeper into some of the tougher topics portrayed, as well as created a global website to help people find local mental health resources.
The show wasn’t the easiest to watch. It triggered me. It brought me back to my high school days when I was insecure, depressed, and searching for a sense of belonging and self. During the show, I had countless flashbacks of things I completely buried deep inside and suppressed. I remember feeling so alone. And although I didn`t know it then, looking back I was severely depressed.
When these feelings came flooding back, I felt anxious. But I wasn`t feeling anxious for myself because this was my past and I worked through it. I was, however, feeling anxious for my own teenage daughter. After the first episode, I jumped on the opportunity to watch this show with my teenager and I had no idea just how addicting, intense and hard to watch it would be.
We all want to shelter our children from anything bad ever happening to them. I’m sure most of us don’t want them to watch explicit scenes on television related to drugs, sex, sexual assault, bullying and especially suicide. In a perfect world, we want them to stay innocent forever.
The reality is our kids are going to face challenging situations, especially as they get older and navigate the teenage years. I’m already watching my 14-year-old and her friends navigate high school in this generation. I can’t even imagine what my high school years would have been like if there were social media!
I know I may be judged for watching the show with my daughter due to some of the dark scenes but frankly, I don’t care. I felt like it was my duty as her mother to sit with her and watch 13 Reasons Why. She did watch ahead a few episodes because she was sick and home from school and couldn’t help herself. All of her friends were watching it and discussing it too. If she’s already going to be having conversations about the characters and story with her friends (because they are, and in fact, they keep sending one another memes from the show) then I wanted to make sure we were having mature conversations related to the content.
The truth is, I also want to feel close to my teen. Don’t we all want to feel close to our children? I want to have hard conversations with her. I want to talk with my teen about mental health issues. I don`t want to be in denial.
I know I didn’t have to watch 13 Reasons Why with her to have these conversations, but it gave us the kickstart to begin to have these discussions based on scenes from the show. It was thought provoking and provided me with some valid talking points to engage in dialogue surrounding suicide and so many other issues teens face today.
Furthermore, I bawled like a baby during the last episode when Hannah Baker commits her act of suicide in the bathtub. I can completely see why mental health advocates and school officials are concerned.
But here’s the thing:
The show got people talking!
And this is what we need more of!
Whether we agree with the content or not, there are SO many layers to the show that should be discussed and pondered especially if you have a teenager!
The show opened up my eyes to the truth. Bullying, sexual assault, suicide, underage partying, drinking, depression, feeling alone, lack of communication between parents and children, all of this stuff happens. I never discussed any of this with my parents when I was in high school. Perhaps if I was discussing these types of things with them it would have prevented me from doing them? Or maybe I would have been able to get the guidance I needed from a professional when I was feeling depressed? There are countless scenes in the show where the characters aren’t opening up to their parents and other adults in their life about what’s really going on. The producers were obviously trying to make that point very clear.
After watching and discussing 13 Reasons Why with my daughter I found out things I’m not sure I may have otherwise. She has given me permission to tell you that she knows some people who have wanted to end their life. She knows people who go to parties and drink. She has gay and bisexual friends. Some are open about it and some aren’t. She has male peers that have worse body image issues than some of the girls she knows.
Mental health issues are prevalent among my daughter’s peers regardless of their background, how many extracurricular activities they’re in or not, and their socioeconomic status.
My daughter’s advice to all parents is to watch the show. If you don’t feel comfortable watching it with your teen then watch it separately and talk about it. She found out some schools are telling her peers they shouldn’t watch it and it sounded like this disappointed her. In her words, It wasn`t the fairytale ending that everyone wanted to see, where Hannah got the help she needed and lived happily ever after but that`s something we should talk about and not avoid.”
I’m grateful I watched 13 Reasons Why with my daughter. It brought me back to how tough these years really can be and reminded me that I need to be more gentle, less ignorant, more supportive, and aware. It helped me better understand what’s going on in her life aside from her school work and dance classes. It brought back those vivid, raw emotions of just how hard it is being a teen, which in turn, makes it easier for me to relate to her.
Needless to say, having these tough conversations brought us closer together. And isn’t this how we connect with others on a deeper level? It’s the vulnerable, raw, uncomfortable conversations where both people are seen and heard that foster connection. Connection makes people feel supported, less lonely, and essentially happier.
13 Reasons Why shook some of us to our core. I believe that was the intention. I don’t think the show was produced to glamorize teen suicide, influence our kids to go out and drink at parties or encourage them to blame other people in their life for their problems.
I do believe it was meant to give us a dose of reality. And whether we agree with the content or not, (because yes, some of it was massively disturbing) it got us talking and in some homes, like ours, it started a dialogue ( a non sugar- coated conversation that should be talked about) that can bring parents and teens closer together.
If you’re thinking of watching 13 Reasons Why with your teen and are looking for more information, here are some resources to help navigate the conversation: 13 Reasons Why Talking Points (created by SAVE.org and the JED Foundation) and the after-show titled 13 Reasons Why: Beyond The Reasons. If you are immediately concerned about a teen in your life, you can find a list of local market resources on this 13 Reasons Why Global Resource Website
*I’m part of the Netflix Stream Team. All opinions expressed are my own.