There has been lots of hype and controversy surrounding Netflix’s original series Thirteen Reasons Why. Produced by Selena Gomez, the original series exists now as Netflix’s most-watched series ever and most tweeted about series for 2017. Crazy!!! Given it was released just a month ago (3/31/17) worldwide on Netflix streaming. Even crazier was the decision to release ALL 13 episodes at once thus providing viewers the choice to either slowly watch or binge. Clay Jensen narrates Hannah Baker’s last hours and plays the leading role throughout the series. Jenson took his time to listen to the tapes, unlike his peers who quickly listened and passed it on to the next person. WHY is this series so hugely popular?
The series is rated MA for Mature Audiences ONLY which means the series is designed to be viewed by adults, and therefore may be unsuitable for children younger than 17. It contains all of the following: graphic violence (V), explicit sexual activity (S), and crude indecent language (L). WHY is a show targeted at teenagers depicting sexual abuse and suicide in such graphic detail?
This series will be shaping kids both positively and negatively. What will your response be? Hannah Baker said, “ there’s so much wrong in the world, there is so much hurt. I couldn’t take knowing I’d make it worse nor could I take knowing it would never get any better.” Do you want your child believing this lie? WHY such hopelessness? It helps to remember that our attitudes impact our children. May we actively be empowering our children to be world changers, to know their life can make a difference, and remind them life after high school usually gets better as their brain fully develops around 25. Age matures you. More importantly, God’s plans are to prosper you, not to harm you. He has plans to give you hope and a future.
Personally, I found Thirteen Reasons Why, toward the end of the series, to be disturbing and several episodes were too graphic for me to watch entirely without turning my head. Netflix warns about the disturbing content in episodes (9, 12, & 13) with the following statement, “the following episode contains scenes that some viewers may find disturbing and/or may not be suitable for younger audiences, including a graphic depiction of rape and sexual assault or suicide. Viewer discretion is advised.” Is this warning enough? Many schools are now also warning parents about the show. While experts urge caution in letting teens watch it. New Zealand last week banned teenagers from watching it alone. As parents, we should be asking WHY?
Curiosity got the best of me and I sort of binged watched the series during my mid-April flights to and from Vancouver, BC. I was totally sucked in as I’m fascinated with youth culture. In a nutshell, the series is about a teenage girl (Hannah Baker) who commits suicide and leaves behind audio cassettes detailing the 13 reasons why she ultimately decided to end her life. The series begins with Clay Jensen finding a mysterious box with his name on it and inside are cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, his classmate, friend, and crush. Who two weeks earlier tragically ended her life. My biggest frustration is with the show’s premise that the main character is basically blaming others for her ultimate decision and seeks revenge through the tapes she has left behind. She begins by saying, ‘I hope you’re ready because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended. And if you’re listening to these tapes, you’re one of the reasons why.” This is so messed up and wrong! When is revenge ever an option? God is the ultimate judge.
If you have a middle schooler wanting to watch the series as, “everyone is…” I’d encourage you to be the parent. It’s ok to say no if you feel the content would be triggering or mature for your child. Thirteen Reasons Why is wildly popular among middle school kids (ages 11-14) who are watching it without the knowledge of their parents and often in one sitting. I think many parents are afraid. They really are unaware of what their kids are doing or what goes on with their kids at school. WHY not ask your tween if they have watched it and if it’s being discussed among their friends or at school?
If your teen wants to watch it, I would suggest to view it together with caution. Consider watching beforehand to know when or if to fast forward through troubling parts. Use this opportunity to discuss the hard but real topics teens are likely encountering themselves or those around them. Don’t minimize their experiences.
I feel the series did a great job of realistically conveying some of the difficulties teens face during high school. I can’t pretend to fully understand what today’s youth are experiencing. However, I believe cyber bullying and social media have added to the complexity of teen issues by providing an ease with which peers can rip apart one another.
I was extremely frustrated by the parental and adult authority portrayal. All of the characters other than Clays’ are seen as independent of their parents. The parents were “depicted” as absent, uninvolved, and clueless to their teens’ struggles. WHY dismiss the importance of parents in a teen’s life? Then there’s Mr. Porter, the school guidance counselor, who did not adequately address Hannah’s plea for help. Mr. Porter provided Hannah with no help and even insinuated she might have contributed to her sexual assault and should move on thereby adding to her isolation, shame, and hurt. He shut her down by minimizing her complaints which were the last straw for Hannah. I hope teachers and counselors are not all viewed as untrustworthy and incapable of helping when needs are expressed.
Below are a few issues covered in the series that parents could discuss with their child even if you or they haven’t seen the series. I think the best practice is to be proactive versus reactive. Let’s be honest many of these are sin issues. We all have the propensity towards sin, however because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice we have no condemnation in our shortcomings and inclinations.
- Deceit and lying
- Body Shaming
- Choices (good and bad)
- Cyber bullying
- Alcoholism and drug use and abuse
- The consequences of driving while under the influence
- Being responsible for your actions
- Being willing to face the consequences of our actions
- Disrespect of parents
- Worship of athletes
- Social Pressures
- Sex before marriage
- Same-sex attraction
Suicide is sadly nothing new. The tragedy of a young person dying because of overwhelming hopelessness or frustration remains devastating. Parents, siblings, classmates, teachers, and neighbors are often left wondering if they could have prevented such terrible actions taken in a young person turning to suicide. This was true of fictional character Hannah Baker, in the series Thirteen Reasons Why which shows Hannah’s suicide in great detail. I was stunned and horrified at what I did see and sadly, I can never erase those images. WHY did the producers choose to not follow the book where the character ends her life by taking pills? Remember, that no one thing leads to suicide, and many people who experience bullying or the array of issues Hannah experienced do not go on to attempt suicide. I felt like the series implied that there was no other option. However, there are resources for our young people to connect and be guided by in their times of need.
It was reported that Netflix did seek professional insight from psychologist Dan Reidenberg who is the executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education regarding the series and Netflix’s was advised to NOT go ahead with the project. Reporting on suicide indicated that research studies have found that news coverage of suicide can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals. So, WHY not heed the expert’s opinion? Was this series made responsibly?
Below are other helpful resources.
- 13 Reasons Why … Looking for True North. Walt Muller is the director of Center for Parent Youth Understanding (CPYU) said, “The life-giving narrative of the Gospel isn’t there. In fact, in its’ place is a huge void. . . which is exactly what happens in lives young and old alike when the narrative one lives (or dies) by lacks hope.”
- Parents Guide to Cyberbullying
- What is Social Networking?
- Common Sense Media offers unbiased media and technology information to help families decide what media is right for them. This is their insight on 13 Reasons Why.
- Wikipedia provides a synopsis of each episode and characters involved.
- Thirteen Reasons Why Suicide is the Worse Option
- 13 Reasons Why NOT is a faith-based response by high schooler Laren Faith.
- Kathy Strong a fellow blogger, acquaintance, and concerned mom from New Zealand had great insight.
- The Gospel Coalition wrote 13 Reasons Why is Deceptive and Destructive.
- Paris Jackson on 4/27/17 said, “the show is an extremely triggering thing to watch.”
- Sam Luce wrote How to Help Kids Engage Culture, providing questions to ask when deciding whether to see, read, attend, etc. anything.
- Brooke Fox, LCSW is a mom and counselors who share her thoughts. 13 Reasons Why, and Its Unintended Consequences.
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline
- Next Generation Pastor, Jason Curry responds to The most watched series in Student Culture.
I struggled with how to end this post. Watching this series has haunted me as it triggered a few personal issues from my past prompting me to want to speak out. During my Sophomore year of high school, the homecoming queen tragically ended her life. She was beautiful, liked by everyone but I was left with the question WHY? Sadly, there are several others I know who have ended their life leaving behind loved ones with guilt, shame, hurt and questioning WHY?
Let’s each do our part by connecting, being available, knowing the signs of depression, being kind, basically, do whatever you can do to make this world a better place.