Unless you've been living under a rock recently, you're probably, at least somewhat, aware of the Netflix series entitled 13 REASONS WHY. It's the story of a teenager who undergoes bullying to extremes and, ultimately, takes her own life. Before she does so, however, she records a series of tapes, each one aimed at a different person, who make up the "13 Reasons Why" she commits suicide.
I believe the producers of this series made it with the hope that it would shed light on the problems faced by today's teenagers and to open up discourse regarding the epidemic of teen suicides that has swept over almost every community in our country.
Much has been written and much has been said about "13 Reasons". Some by the public school systems. Much by psychologists. And much by parents...many of which do so with little idea of what "13 Reasons" is really all about.
Therefore, I decided to "take one for the team" and invest 13 hours of my life in watching every minute of every episode. So, what I write is not written from the point of view of a professional in the Mental Health industry, but from the standpoint of one who has actually watched and knows that of which he speaks, one of a father who has raised four teenagers, one of a grandfather of eight would-be teenagers and one of a former Student Pastor and current Lead Pastor who cares much for his flock ...parents, grandparents and kids.
Having said all that, I'll try to answer some of the questions that are being asked:
Would you allow your teenager to watch "13 REASONS WHY"?
I definitely would not. The reasons that I say this is multifaceted. I believe "13 REASONS fails at a number of places. Here's a list of a few of the failures I see:
*I do believe suicide is sensationalized in this series. The young woman is seen as the victim, which she is, indeed. However, being the victim does now absolve her of any responsibility for any and all of the things that befall her.
*There's really not a moral absolute to be found in this series. Did she do the right thing? Did she do the wrong thing? There's no answer given to that question. You're left to decide on your own. She is definitely cast as the heroine of this series, so that may leave some to infer that her decision to take her life was the correct decision. I would never want my teenager to watch something that leaves suicide in somewhat of a moral morass as to whether it was the right or wrong decision.
*Suicide may be seen by some as the answer to her problems. She is in pain and no one is able or willing to take action to help her pain to cease. Apparently, when death comes the pain stops. But, is the problem solved? No, actually, not only does she not solve her problem, she creates an entirely new set of problems for those that loved her unconditionally and, in the case of her parents, were never made aware of any problem at all in their child's life.
*I'm aware that all of the things that happen to her actually do happen in today's society. However, I believe rarely do ALL these things happen to one person at the same time. Yes, it is possible, but unlikely. One or more of these may, however, have happened to a teenager who might identify with her and with her plight, as well as her solution.
*Hannah is presented purely as the victim in this tragic tale. She is presented as bearing no responsibility for anything that befalls her and is seen as a sympathetic object of abuse, ridicule and betrayal by an entire school. But, that really is not true. Many of the things that happen to Hannah, although horrifying, were precipitated by poor choices on her part and by her failure to allow anyone to help her, even when those who desired to do so were able and prepared to help. Hannah does not speak to an adult until the very end of this story, refuses to allow him to help and never once tells her parents of anything that is transpiring in her life.
*Hannah's recording of the "13 reasons" (or, at least 12 of them) leaves one with the false sense that she has turned those who victimized her into victims themselves. The reality is that those she hoped to victimize were probably victims for about 2 weeks, then moved on with life and never thought of it again. (that's how victimizers tend to roll) What's not emphasized is the fact that those who were totally innocent in this dysfunction are now made to be the unintentional victims for a lifetime. How tragic and backwards is that? The parents who loved her unconditionally will live in grief for the rest of her days. Statistically, they will most likely divorce. She hurt beyond measure those she never intended to hurt.
Is "13 REASONS WHY" a suicide prevention show?
It may have been intended to be so, but if that was the intention, then it fails miserably. Again, Hannah is the beautiful, likable, girl nextdoor, who bad things happen to and HAS to resort to suicide to solve her apparently unsolvable problems. I found nowhere that a moral statement was made. Rather than dealing with the right or wrong of suicide, this show chooses to focus more on who to blame for it happening. The focus is placed more blame for this act than in how it could have been prevented. But, apparently, Hannah shares none of the blame.
If my child asked me to watch it, what should I do?
I would strongly encourage you to watch it with them. Here's why:
1. Your child has access to it and if they want to watch it, they will. Without you. Without a reasonable counterpoint. They will most likely draw their conclusions in a vacuum, or even more likely, from their peers. Not advisable.
2. Because all their friends will have watched it, mostly without parents, and will have formulated poor responses to it. I believe you have to decide here if you want your child's friends to parent them, or if that's a job reserved and better suited for you.
3. Telling them they cannot watch it is no indicator that your child will not. Your child, no matter how compliant, comes equipped with a sin nature. Therefore, you telling them they cannot will only make it more enticing.
4. This is the most important one of all...It's a great teaching tool when placed in the right hands and the right setting. I would encourage you, not only to watch it with them, but to discuss it with them as well. Here are some questions you should ask after each episode:
*What happened to Hannah that was bad?
*Why did it happen to Hannah?
*What could Hannah have done differently that might have kept this from happening?
*If anything like that ever happened to you, what would you do?
Should I watch it before I let my child watch it?
ABSOLUTELY! There are things that are graphically depicted in this show. You need to know what's coming. Only you can decide what is appropriate for your child to view and when. It will not be comfortable to watch with your child. You are forewarned. Yet, the opportunity for preparing your child for real-life possibilities and knowing steps they can take to either keep this from happening to them or dealing with it in a life-giving way are invaluable.
Bottom Line: I do not believe "13 REASONS WHY" is good, but I definitely believe it can be used for good. We can say like Joseph from the Old Testament, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good".