Thirteen Reasons Why, Has Me Asking WHY?

 

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)
  • Depression
  • Death
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Gossiping
  • Cyber bullying
  • Rape
  • 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
  • Reputation
  • Worship of athletes
  • Social Pressures
  • Sex before marriage
  • Same-sex attraction
  • Homosexuality
  • Voyeurism
  • Stalking
  • Etc.

 

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.

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.

 

Are You Weary?

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

As a mom journeying ahead of you but yet still in the game, I know the reality of discouragement right after the hubbub of the frantic holiday season.  Life can begin to feel mundane especially after all of this recent dreary weather and world news. So plan to get away, get together, and be renewed with other moms.  There are many possibilities, but I will share about one near and dear to my heart.

Galatians 6:9 encourages us to not become weary in doing good for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. What is good? Good is having the qualities required for a particular role, be it wife, mother, employee, etc. and doing that which is morally right.  Isn’t this a great verse full of hope? 

I realized early during my motherhood journey that sometimes the simple act of getting away to be renewed, inspired, and encouraged positively helped me to continue going when I wanted to give up.  I jokingly dubbed the mom get away as my vitamin B12 shot as it was the jolt I needed to deal with my stinky thinking that had crept in.  You know, those lies we believe.  We live in an imperfect world with imperfect children, and we are imperfect, but thankfully there is hope, grace, and those women who have walked ahead of us willing to cheer us on.  Sally Clarkson has been that impactful voice to so many women including myself.

I jokingly dubbed the mom get away as my vitamin B12 shot as it was the jolt I needed to deal with my stinky thinking that had crept in.  We live in an imperfect world with imperfect children, and we are imperfect, but thankfully there is hope, grace, and those women who have walked ahead of us willing to cheer us on.  Sally Clarkson has been that supportive voice to so many women including myself.

This year’s Renew My Heart Conference message, given alongside her son Nathan, will be especially impactful if you have a child or know of others families with kiddos who are somewhat different whether they are strong willed, fidgety, high-strung, or have learning disabilities.  Sally has often referred to her Nathan as, “my OCD, ADHD, ODD, Oh my child.”  Having known her for many years and been privileged to read an advance reader of Different I know this year’s message will be especially impactful. Together they will share various stories of their journey. Discover what it looks like to love and work with a child who has differences. Learn why and how to never give up on your outside-the-box child.  A Mothers words, love, and nurturing matters.  I’m sure Sally never imagined while parenting Nathan that one day they would be publicly sharing their journey. Sally never gave up, and I do believe she is reaping the harvest of what she faithfully planted into each of her children.   That is the same hope we have to look forward to as mothers but in Gods timing 😉

God is so good to use those who have walked ahead of us to pour richly into our lives.  If you are unsure if this is the right investment or season for you to attend may I encourage you to watch them on The Today Show with Kathie Lee and Hoda on Tuesday, January 24, at 10:00 AM EST. Get a taste of what a weekend away with them could be.  

Their book will be available on the 24th, but you can preorder it now for $10.14 on Amazon. Want a sneak peek?  You can download the first chapter for free or learn more by visiting Sally’s Blog.

Please let me know if you decide to attend the Dallas conference as I will be there serving and would love to grab a hug. 

If you are interested in participating in a book study using the book, message me for details.  We will begin the study after the Dallas conference allowing you time to read the book.