It’s been a while since 13 Reasons Why was released.
Much of the hype and the talk have quieted down.
But it’s still on my mind.
And that’s part of the reason why I’m writing this post… Because it IS still on my mind. Because for some people watching a show as raw and painful as 13 Reasons Why can affect them so deeply that they don’t just get over it and move on to the next show unharmed.
First, I must say… I AM glad I watched this show.
For me, as a mother of two girls who will soon be entering high school, I want to know more about the reality of modern day life as a teenage girl.
I want the brutal reminders of the dangers of not communicating effectively with my daughters. I need every bit of knowledge and help to parent my daughters through the most dangerous stages of life.
But, not everyone should watch 13 Reasons Why.
Who Should NOT Watch 13 Reasons Why
- Teenagers who are already struggling with bullying or depression
For a teen who is already at-risk of depression or suicidal thoughts, watching 13 Reasons Why could be a dangerous trigger.
If a teenager who is a target of bullying watches this series, it is so important he or she has people to talk openly and honestly about it. For some at-risk teens, it might be helpful to watch the show, but only if they have a qualified person to help them work through the issues together. Teens must understand that suicide is not a way to enact revenge.
If you are a preteen or teenager struggling with suicidal thoughts, you should talk to a counsellor or your parents to discuss whether or not you should watch the show.
- Anyone struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts or who had a past experience with severe bullying, mental illness or suicide of a loved one
If you already have suicidal thoughts, then you should NOT watch the show.
13 Reasons Why can trigger dangerous emotions. It is phenomenally well written and acted resulting in a story that makes you feel Hannah’s pain.
The problem is that if you are susceptible or you have upsetting past experiences, it can leave you in a dark emotional place for a very long time.
Who Should Watch 13 Reasons Why
- All teachers and school administrators
Many school administrators, teachers and school counsellors obviously feel insulted and threatened by 13 Reasons Why. They are portrayed as major reasons why the fictional character Hannah committed suicide. So many schools are currently acting defensively and sending letters home to parents to warn about the show.
While, I do think it is good that schools are paying attention and communicating with parents about the potential triggers, I hope that all school administrators, teachers and counsellors let the show remind them of the high costs of mistakes when looking after students.
- Parents with teenagers who have already watched the show
If you’re a parent of a teenager who has independently watched 13 Reasons Why, you should definitely watch it yourself.
You need to know what your teens have seen, so that you can talk to them about it and you can watch for warning signs in their behaviour.
- Parents who aren’t at risk of being personally triggered
I think there are so many important lessons for parents in this series. It is hard to watch… this is not the type of show you binge watch because you’re loving it. You binge watch 13 Reasons Why because you’re in shock and you have to keep watching.
Our kids are living in such a complicated world, that as parents we need to do everything we can to try to empathize with their reality. We don’t want to imagine that our kids could ever be in the situations depicted in the show, but they might be. It’s better that we know the risks.
- Teenagers who aren’t especially sensitive.
I tend to think that the majority of teens in high school should watch this movie so that they are more aware of the consequences of their actions… and hopefully act more kindly to other students.
Teenagers often are not empathetic enough and they don’t think about how much hurt they can cause other people.
This movie hopefully will make many teens take bullying more seriously.
While I do believe that 13 Reasons Why can be a trigger and that not everyone should watch it, my overall opinion is that it is an incredibly well made show that serves an important purpose.
We need to be more aware and proactive about the brutal issues of bullying, depression and suicide. Schools, parents, and teenagers need to understand and talk about these realities that are destroying lives.
I truly hope that every teenage hears the most important message…
Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
Does 13 Reasons Why Glamourize Suicide?
Many people feel that 13 Reasons Why glamourizes suicide. And they may be right.
It is a TV drama. Beautiful actors are enacting a suspenseful story designed to engage audiences.
The Independent reports, “Mental health groups warn Netflix suicide drama may do ‘more harm than good’.” And CBC news states…
The show has also been severely criticized by mental health professionals worldwide for its graphic and potentially irresponsible portrayal of suicide, as well as a lack of proper warnings. Netflix has responded to the criticism by adding more warnings for viewers about graphic content.
An article on The National Post, includes the following quote from Brian Yorkey, a writer on the show, defending its depiction of suicide:
Many people are accusing the show of glamorizing suicide and I feel strongly – and I think everyone who made the show – feel very strongly that we did the exact opposite. What we did was portray suicide and we portrayed it as very ugly and very damaging.
Personally, I do believe that the creators are genuinely trying to spark important conversations and bring to light very serious topics. One of the toughest challenges in parenting is getting your kids to talk to you. Using a TV show to start a conversation can be a big help.
The graphic suicide scene is incredibly real and hopefully serves as a reminder that suicide is not an easy, peaceful solution.
You need to be sure to communicate with your child that they understand 13 Reasons Why is a tragedy. Hannah’s actions are NOT heroic. She is not a hero to be looked up to. She’s a victim who made tragic choices.
The way Hannah is portrayed as leaving messages and communicating with her friends and family from beyond the grave though the tapes can be dangerous. Remind your children that this is Hollywood making a TV series. It is not real life.
Since it’s premiere in March, the series has repeatedly come under fire for its uncensored scenes of rape and suicide, leading many to suggest it is glamorizing suicide, rather than spotlighting mental illness.
I see it as being more about suicide caused by bullying rather than suicide caused by mental illness. I believe both are possible.
How Teen Suicide Is Unique
I am NOT an expert… this is only my personal opinion.
I think that teen suicide brought on suddenly by bullying can be different than suicide brought on by years of battling mental illness.
As it’s shown in 13 Reasons Why, when teenagers are bullied or suffer an incredibly painful experience, sometimes they can’t see a way out of their current problem.
They cannot see an end to the bullying. They may feel like their reputations have been permanently destroyed by a rumour, photo or video that’s gone viral. Since they can’t see a way out of their current situation, they may consider suicide.
All suicide is utterly tragic. But, the impulsivity of teen suicide brought on because of bullying is an especially difficult problem that appears to be worsening because of the rise of cyber-bullying.
The tragic decision for kids to end their immediate suffering through suicide is completely devastating for everyone around them who are left confused and wishing they could have known and helped.
Why Bullying Is The Most Dangerous Cause
I am not an expert and I am not a trained medical professional, but I tend to think suicidal thoughts brought on by years of struggling with mental illness can be different than an otherwise happy teenager who experiences sudden extreme bullying and commits suicide.
One cause of suicide isn’t worse than the other, but I think they are different and need to be handled differently.
I have struggled with depression since I was about 18 years old. While I battled “suicidal thoughts” and wished for an escape during my early twenties, I was at less risk of actually killing myself because I was talking to counsellors and trying to get medical help for my depression. The people around me knew I was struggling with depression and they were taking action to help me.
Bullying can come on quickly and be incredibly severe. Any teenager is at risk of becoming a victim and turning to suicide for escape.
I say this because there is often so little warning and not much time for parents to even notice a change in a child before the suicide.
Depression can show warning signs that, if you’re watching, can give you time to respond.
I think it’s important for parents and schools to realize that both situations exist and they need to watch for the warning signs of both depression and bullying.
Of course, bullying often leads to depression… but with teenagers, you might not have the time to catch signs of depression before a teenager decides to solve a bullying problem by suicide.
The Most Dangerous Part Of 13 Reasons Why
One of the most dangerous points about the movie 13 Reasons Why is that while Hannah commits suicide to escape her pain, the biggest reason she kills herself is to punish the 13 people she lists in her tapes.
If your child watches this movie or reads the book, you need to watch it too so that you can carefully discuss this critical point.
It’s incredibly important to not blame the victim… you can’t “blame” Hannah for trying to punish the other people by killing herself. But you need to help your children understand the futility in trying to punish or teach someone else a lesson by taking your own life.
Would Hannah have killed herself if she didn’t think of making the tapes to punish her friends?
Possibly. I tend to think that yes, a teenager such as Hannah, who was in such severe emotional pain and not getting help, might have killed herself just to end her own suffering.
But, the movie does make it seem like she used her own death to punish those who hurt her. And that is a tragic trade which reveals how she no longer valued herself at all.
One of the most important messages kids at risk need to learn from Hannah’s story is that you never want to sacrifice your own life to hurt someone else.
Hannah wanted to escape her pain, but she also desperately wanted to hurt those who hurt her. And she succeeded. Clearly the cost was not worth it. Hannah is dead. While the others she aimed to punish are hurt by her actions, they get to go on and live their lives. Hannah is gone.
Hannah using suicide as revenge is one of the most dangerous parts of the movie and why you need to talk about it with your teenager.
Viewers of the show may feel some satisfaction that the bullies were taught a lesson. That all those “responsible” for Hannah’s suicide were punished.
But Hannah’s life was worth more than teaching 13 people a lesson.
Please make sure your teenage children really, truly understand that. The voiceovers make it feel like Hannah transcends her pain and gets the ultimate revenge. She does not. She loses. She is not a hero, but a tragic victim who if she only lived a few days more would have discovered love and gone on to have countless amazing experiences.
You Can’t Ban Books Or Stop Teens From Watching TV
The author of this Huffington Post article attempts to warn parents saying,
Even if you are an open-minded parent, you should seriously think twice about letting your child watch the show.
But you must remember that you ultimately have no control over whether your teenager reads a book or watches a TV show.
Banning a book means more people read it. Telling your child they are NOT ALLOWED to watch the show, might make them more likely to secretly watch it when they’re not with you.
The smarter response is to talk to your child openly about the show. Ask if their friends are talking about it. Ask them if they’ve seen it and whether or not they want to watch it. Offer to watch the show together if they want to see it.
It’s far better for you to know that your child has seen 13 Reasons Why than to try to ban them from watching it and further drive a wall in your relationship.
Season 2 of 13 Reasons Why
It may seem surprising that this show has been renewed for a second season.
And it may feel to some that the show returning for another season is a reminder that ultimately this is a money making venture and not a mental health awareness program.
Yes, I will watch season 2. But I don’t expect it to be as important of a show, and my guess is that we won’t hear the same level of “must-see” type of chatter as we did when the show first released.
The bottom line is always get help.
Sadly, the show depicts Hannah attempting to get help and giving up when she doesn’t get the help she needs.
If you’ve ever been bullied, had a child bullied, or battled depression, you know that “getting help” isn’t easy and is not a one time action.
People who should be able to help, often can’t. There is never an easy solution.
But you need to keep asking for help. If you’re a teenager, I beg you to talk to your parents. They likely can’t solve the problem, but they might be able to join you on the journey to getting help.
In the movie, Clay’s mom pleads with her son saying, “I can’t help you, if you don’t talk to me.”
Clay replies, “You can’t help anyway, mom.”
This is one of the most dangerous thought patterns of teenagers. They believe their parents won’t understand and can’t help.
While parents can’t usually solve their teenagers problems, they can often help at some level.
As parents we need to help our teens feel safe coming to us with their problems and let them know that even if we can’t fix the situation, we can be there to love them and journey alongside them.
This is a helpful article on the Huffington Post with ideas for parents on how to reach out to your teens.
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Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional or any type of expert. This post reflects my personal opinion only.
Images used from 13 Reasons Why IMDB page.
Written by Susan Carraretto, co-founder of 5 Minutes for Mom
Talk with me: @5minutesformom and Facebook.com/5minutesformom
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