“13 Reasons Why” is tough to watch. And yet it’s also compelling and honest. Just the kind of a conversation starting show that opened the door to talks with my teen about suicide, drugs, sexual assault, and bullying. It’s not for everyone. But for me and my daughter, it has been the bridge to open, honest dialogue on tough subjects and a way to keep those lines of communication running. So although it might not be easy, I’d suggest it just may be the most important things parents can do nowadays with their teens.
I stumbled on “13 Reasons Why” on Netflix before my teen daughter did. Once I started watching episode 2, she wanted to join me.
Then I got the bright idea to read what the overall series was about. GULP. It’s no wonder Netflix categorizes this show as “emotional, dark and suspenseful.”
What “13 Reasons Why” Is About
From the outset, I knew the primary plot point was the suicide of 16 year old Hannah. How she got there was less clear. Hence the title “13 Reasons Why.” Hannah leaves behind cassette tapes detailing her reasons for those people whom had a part to play. Clay, the main character who the audience watches as he listens to the tapes, also happened to be Hannah’s crush. The acting and dialogue is really good.
What really bowled me over was how tough the subjects were. I wasn’t quite prepared for all the topics explored.
Bullying. Underage drinking and driving. Sexual assault. Lies. Social media. Slut shaming. Drugs. Popularity. Stalking.
Nevertheless, I am glad to have delved into this thought-provoking series and watched it with my teen. Here are my takeaways after watching and talking with my teenage daughter about “13 Reasons Why.”
1. Talking with My Teen is More Valuable than Not Talking at All
No doubt, this series is heavy stuff. On one hand, I’d love to keep my head in the sand and have a Mary Poppins view of the world. But that kind of attitude is unrealistic and ultimately unhealthy. It denies the hard realities of the world teens operate in. So I made the decision that talking with my teenager is more important than not having open lines of communication.
2. The Show Creates an Opportunity to Talk about Fictional Characters
Launching into a conversation about bullying or rape or suicide probably isn’t going to happen out of the blue. So I am thankful that this series has been a vehicle to talk about these serious topics via the lens of fictional characters.
It gives us a chance to talk about these topics–not in a vacuum or on some theoretical level. Yes, it’s about fictional characters, but it offers the springboard for conversation. Like “what could this character have done differently” or “what would you do if this happened to you?”
I also can say to my teen: See how anguished the parents are that she is gone? They will never be the same. Knowing that I am speaking about her value to our family and how devastating suicide is to everyone who is in that person’s life.
3. The Series Reminds Parents to Be Present and Pay Attention
The hardest scenes for me (besides the obvious ones that I will not describe to avoid spoilers) are ones where the parents don’t have a clue what is going on with their kids. I sat there, horrified. Watching in disbelief. And yet I couldn’t judge it one bit. Because we parents can’t delude themselves into thinking it couldn’t happen to us.
4. The Series May Not Be For Everyone (and That’s OK Too)
I had no clue from the title of the show just how deep it was. Then as it progressed, I started to see viewer discretion warnings at the beginning of 3 of the episodes. Two of the warnings are about rape and sexual assault, and one is about suicide.
So I get it if either adults or teens decide this show is not their cup of tea. It may be too much for your teen.
My advice? Be informed. Be aware what your teens are watching on Netflix. Ask questions.
Read the reviews on Common Sense Media.
Watch “Beyond the Reasons” FIRST to get prepared. It may spoil a few plot points, but it really can prepare you for the series.
Save.org (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education) has an excellent list of Talking Points intended for “parents, teachers, and other gatekeepers in talking to youth about suicide as it relates to the situational drama that unfolds in Thirteen Reasons Why.”