I just finished 13 Reasons Why and I feel compelled to write my feelings about the show. Watching it was a very intense experience, one that I was slightly reluctant to have after reading some of the negative press about how it glorifies teenage suicide. However, my daughter raced through the series in a matter of days and came out of the experience with only high praise for its storylines and characters. Regardless, every mom under the sun has told me that it’s absolutely necessary to watch it. After all, it tackles some very serious issues other than suicide from slut shaming to drinking & driving to sexual assault to cyberbullying to gun violence.
The book, a New York Times bestseller written by Jay Asher, follows the life of a shy teenage boy named Clay Jensen who comes home from school one day to find a box with his name on it sitting on his porch. The 13 episodes flush out the tale of Hannah Baker as she posthumously narrates the months leading up to her death by suicide. The tapes are for the 13 people in her life that detail how their nefarious actions ultimately led to her decision and her narration vividly depicts the method she used to end her life.
As much as this is a story for teenagers, it really resonated with me. It brought back memories of what it was like being a teenager, as I experienced bouts of depression and performed a suicide attempt at age 16 for attention more than anything, but as a parent, it made me think about my kids and the reality of what they are facing today in the age of social media. In this age of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and so many many other forms of social media there are endless ways a teen or adult can be bullied. Whether you think your child is being bullied, possibly a bully or just standing on the sidelines afraid to speak up it is important that everyone see this series.
Interestingly enough, Netflix just released a study* that reveals that 83% of parents have watched a show their teen watches just to feel closer to them and the real shocker: Teens welcome it. While 62% of parents think it’s tough to talk to teens, nearly all US parents (96%) feel that watching TV shows their kids are obsessing over will give them more to talk about and 81% of teens agree. Not only that, but watching shows teens are watching every now and then can inspire more than just small talk.
The show has gotten a lot of flack for a few extremely disturbing scenes, but I’m going to venture to say that it’s important for our youth to witness the harsh reality of growing up in 2017. The truth is that high school is tough. 13 Reasons Why tackles the concerns of mental health and teenage suicide, and what circumstances can trigger such a tragedy head on. The show depicts the alarming and traumatic impact on the people left behind, particularly Hannah’s parents, and could serve as a lesson to anyone suffering from mental illness. Many suicide prevention groups find the show controversial and say that the story makes it seem like suicide is Hannah’s only option. But I think that you must watch it for yourself to decide. What’s important is that this show has sparked a national discussion about mental health and suicide. Whether positive or negative, people are talking about these delicate, sensitive issues.
As a mom, I also want to touch on Hannah’s parents, so skillfully played by Kate Walsh and Brian d’Arcy James. They portrayed the grief and desperation of losing a child so realistically. When she was alive, they were good parents – wonderful, actually. Her act to me is selfish, as she has left them in such despair. The door was open to Hannah to talk to them about how she was feeling, but she misread their signals and decided that she was a disappointment to them. It made me think about my own parenting style and how important it is to keep the doors wide open. It’s always good to have a reminder.
The Netflix study also says that when it comes to tough conversations (think sex, bullying and stress), parents (92%) and teens(63%) agree that watching the same shows could help start a dialogue. Plus, most teens (67%) even admit that having their parents watch their favorite shows could help them better understand what’s going on in their lives.
There are other reasons to binge. The show is incredibly well-written, and the story, which goes back in time and back to the present, works and is structured thoughtfully. Each episode is an important part of the story, all leading to a final episode that puts many questions to rest. The music is a mix of old and new songs, and the soundtrack really works, as the story is so very intense, so much so that I may be tempted to download the soundtrack.
However, if you have a highly sensitive child and feel that they might be traumatized by the show’s graphic scenes and ultimate death which are pretty devastating, take note and make your own decision. The show is very graphic, leaving nothing to your imagination.
But do watch it for yourself. Make 13 Reasons Why your next binge. Either with or without your kids. If you aren’t sure about the content, as it is graphic, watch it alone and then with (or without them. But like I said, my 14 year-old watched it on her own I think she will ultimately learn from the lessons it teaches. I also plan to read the book, and I will ask her to do so, too.
If you’re thinking of watching 13 Reasons Why with your teen and are looking for additional 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.
What about you – have you watched 13 Reasons Why and what are your thoughts on the show?
Disclosure: I am a member of Netflix’s StreamTeam, but all opinions are my own.
*Zeno Research & Insights surveyed n=1,275 Parents of Teens and n=1,275 Teens aged 13-18, across 7 countries (U.S., Canada, UK, Australia, Mexico, Brazil, Italy), including 375 U.S. parents of teens and 375 U.S. teens (MoE = +/- 5 percentage points for each audience) and 150 parents of teens and 150 teens in each other international country/market (MoE = +/- 8 percentage points foreach audience). This survey was conducted online March 16 – 24, 2017. Data is weighted toensure equal representation of age and gender, in each country. The overall Margin of Error for the overall international data-set is +/- 3 percentage points for each audience.