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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.

 

What Advice Would You Share With Today’s Sixteen Year Old?

Advice to my 16-year-old daughter

Today, our third daughter, the “baby” of the family, turned sweet sixteen.  Birthdays are a BIG deal in our home and sixteen is no exception.  However, the reality is that every day should be celebrated as it is a unique gift given to us to be performed on the “stage” of life as we choose.

In my musing of late, I have decided that the next few years of my supporting role should be more intentional and loving.  My heart aches for today’s youth as they seem to be growing up much faster than those who came before them.  Maybe it’s my unique perspective of having a decade between Cayley and her older sisters but I feel today’s teens face choices, stress, and problems that are unique to their generation.  

Cayley enjoys singing and acting.  She is part of the musical theatre program at her high school allowing me to observe and learn a few lessons that I feel might benefit others.  Life is an ongoing drama we all get to participate in. The life stage that we perform on is not a one-person show.  We all have parts to play and every role is essential for the overall performance.  The more we support each other, the better life will be for everyone.  

As your mom, Cayley, I will always be here to support and cheer you on.   Below are sixteen things I hope you always remember.

  1. Savor this moment in time.  You are only sixteen once. One day you will wish you were sixteen again as life is so much easier looking backwards. Ask your sisters as adulting is hard stuff.  
  2. Play your given role and have fun.  Always be yourself.  There are so many wonderful things about your life. You are unique. One of a kind! Discover and lean into your strengths and embrace your differences.  Also, appreciate your height. It is a good thing.
  3. Perform for an audience of One.  Spend more time cultivating your relationship with God; the more time you spend in that relationship, the better your relationships will be with others and you will have more peace.
  4. Support others. Look for ways to make others shine.  When you give 110% you make not only yourself look good but the entire cast. Don’t waste your time on people who make you feel worse after you spend time with them. Just don’t!!!
  5. Eliminate comparisons. Nothing good comes from comparing ourselves to others. We either feel better or worse than the person we are comparing ourselves to, thus leading to pride or low self-esteem. Thereby regretting what you aren’t, rather than allowing you to appreciate who God made you to be.    
    1. Social Media is comparison on steroids. Don’t be fooled by what you see on Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat, or Instagram as I guarantee you that those people aren’t always happy. It’s human nature to share mostly the good things. Rarely will you find people posting about family drama, being rejected, insecurities, or the hard stuff ?  Limit social media and increase your joy while eliminating a lot of stress.  
  6. It’s OK to say NO!!!  Every yes is a no to something else. If you try to do everything you will wear yourself out.  Choose wisely. Go deep rather than wide.  
  7. Set achievable goals. When your goals are specific and reachable you are more likely to meet them and feel good about yourself.  Write out your goals and share them with someone to hold you accountable.  Keep them visible to you can remind yourself daily of what truly is important to you.  
  8. Eliminate chaos, establish routines.  Eliminate things that stress you out and slow you down (screen time). Try to be one step ahead instead of one step behind.  Being prepared will help you feel less stressed and overwhelmed. Create routines for yourself that promote success. Seek the guidance of parents, teachers, counselors, organizers, list, and family members.
  9. Stop procrastinating. Get your work done ahead of time before any deadlines.  Guess what?  You will eliminate anxiety and feel good about yourself.   
  10. Give second chances.  Forgive people’s mistakes or oversights.  Forgive yourself when you mess us because we do 😉 We all blow it…almost every day.  Each day is a new beginning. We get to start over and make better choices. Every. Single. Day.  Cherish the fresh start, the blank page and the new chapter.
  11. Be a lifelong learner. Read. Write. Listen to the wisdom of others.  Listen to podcasts. Talk to people wherever you go. Ask lots of questions. Just don’t stop learning. Ever.
  12. Take care of yourself.  The number on the scale is not you.  What is important is that you tend to your health and wellness and be the best version of you.  Take your vitamins, understand your differences, exercise daily, meditate (be still) and get 8+ hours of sleep. Heed the wisdom of those older than yourself.
  13. Learn patience and persistence.  Be ambitious and never give up.  Rejection is inevitable but remain resilient. Persistence is the key to success. There are many innovative and successful individuals such as your dad, who faces great obstacles, including unemployment, before they achieved their success.  This is why having a clear goal in mind is important. When you fail, it’s not the end of the world. When you succeed, it’s not the pinnacle of life either.
  14. Nobody is perfect. Society often glamorizes perfection via magazine covers that sell, spotlighted celebrities, and models. However, one really doesn’t know what it’s like to walk in their shoes. They too have insecurities and failures.
  15. Use your voice, project. What you have to say is important. Don’t hold it in because you are afraid of what other people will think of you. Be the outgoing person you want to be. The only thing your shyness is doing is holding you back.
  16. Show up. On time. Listen more than you talk. And work hard. Remember: all that separates successful people from those who are not is that successful people do what unsuccessful people won’t do.

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