13 Reasons Why is a new Nexflix series based on the 2007 novel Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. The show revolves around a student who kills herself after a series of culminating failures, brought on by select individuals within their school. While it has received some critical acclaim for addressing a difficult topic in a fairly real and unfiltered way, it has also received a great deal of criticism.
The criticism appears to revolve around a few common points that don’t really have a great deal of evidence to back them up.
“It needs a trigger warning”
The series is adapted from a book that tells a story that involves suicide, date rape, and bullying. That is the motif of the story. To be perfectly straightforward, I’m not sure what more of a ‘warning’ is needed. All of the info about the story is freely available on the electric internet machines the kids are using today.
“It simplifies suicide as someone else to blame”
I don’t buy this critique. The story is told, mostly, from Hanna’s perspective. In the minds of many people who struggle with depression or other mental/emotional health challenges, this is a very real belief. 13 Reasons portrays Hanna’s struggle with balancing what happens to her, the financial struggles of her parents, and her inability to get help from those within her school very well. Life is complex and the filmmakers do an excellent job of conveying that.
“13 Reasons glorifies suicide”
There is not a single moment in this series where suicide is glorified as the answer to all of life’s problems. It’s exactly the opposite, the desperate choice of someone who feels they have no other options. Even the scene where Hanna commits suicide is brutal enough where I winced and had to turn away.
“Nobody successfully gets help”
Unfortunately that’s far too true today. In spite of all the prevention and awareness campaigns far too many people, from adolescents on up, don’t have access to the help that they need. Had 13 Reasons portrayed success with getting help I’m pretty convinced that outcome would be met with criticism for being too Pollyanna.
Why 13 Reasons Is Important
It’s dark, gritty, and heavy to watch. The series exposes the ugly underbelly of high school society and of society in general in our ineptitude in dealing with bullying and sexual assault. It shows how even the best intentioned parents can miss the signs that their kids are in trouble.
It’s important to me because as a parent I lived much of this story minus the sexual assault and tragic ending. My middle child struggled with mental and emotional health issues over the last few years, particularly after moving to Florida. The struggle came to a head one Easter weekend where we had to call the police over her threats to hurt herself. Whether or not she would have gone through with it is irrelevant.
As a parent you can never take that chance.
After she was released, I lived on edge. If she was in the bath or shower too long, I’d knock on the door to make sure she was ok. I’d sometimes poke my head into her room unannounced for the same reason. When she was out of the house, I’d look through her room and remove anything that she could hurt herself with.
She saw that as an invasion of her privacy and maybe it was. I saw it as necessary in my role as parent.
In 13 Reasons Hanna’s parents struggle with regret over what they missed or what they could have done. That guilt will eat parents alive all their remaining days.
Even in my position I still struggle over what more I could have done and what more I could have said.
That’s a feeling that will most likely never go away.
Have The Hard Discussion
So, parents, watch 13 Reasons Why with your kids and with an open mind. Take time to talk about the issues in each episode and don’t be satisfied with simple one word answers. Have the difficult discussions with your kids and help build trust during the difficult teen years. Keep the lines of communication open and don’t be afraid to be nosy.
You’re the parent and your job is to ensure they’re safe. Your teen may see you as being intrusive and yell at you but it’s better to be yelled at than experience the tragic alternative.