My thoughts after watching the show…
*Disclosure: I don’t normally write about this type of thing on my blog, but this does have to do with parenting and quite possibly one of the more scarier aspects of parenting.*
If you haven’t heard of the show 13 Reasons Why, I’ll fill you in:
On the surface, it is a show about a teenage girl who commits suicide seemingly out of the blue. Before she kills herself, she records a series of tapes outlining the reasons why she chose to end her life. The show has sparked controversy and a great deal of outcry by parents and some religious groups.
In my own circles I recently heard a woman (whom I don’t know personally), speak angrily about the show. She claimed we were ‘losing our youth’ to its message and to ‘Hollywood’ overall. Let me begin by saying that as someone who has worked in the industry on and off and who is still working on establishing a career in the industry; I’m the first to admit that there’s a lot of garbage out there that inexplicably gets produced. Please don’t get me started on “Rubber,” I still want that hour and twenty-two minutes of my life back. I’m also the first to admit that a great amount of media and what is produced in ‘Hollywood’ (aka Television & Film), does have damaging messages to our youth; messages about what it is to be “a man,” or about a woman’s role or about violence… And yes, parents should guard what their children watch. However, this show isn’t in this category. Quite the opposite.
After I heard this particular woman speak so ardidly; I did some research. Since then I’ve seen blogs, articles, and overall buzz about the show and it’s “controversy.”
Some people seemed to be demonizing the show and claiming that it “glorifies suicide.”
This prompted me to watch the show and decide for myself.
After watching, I conclude that anyone who thinks the show ‘glorifies’ suicide hasn’t watched it. Anyone who thinks we are losing our youth to its message doesn’t know the message and is judging the show solely based on its surface premise; a young girl kills herself and leaves behind a mystery in the form of thirteen tapes to be solved.
However, that is not the message. The message is clear; suicide is not the answer, but it is happening, there is an epidemic and we need to be able to talk about it, specially with our vulnerable youth.
This show is necessary; it is the type of narrative that starts a conversation- conversations that need to happen. We need to be talking about some of the issues that could happen in young teen/adult lives; cyber-bulling and sexual assault specially. And we need to be having those conversations with our youth.
There is a point in the “Beyond the Reasons” segment of the show where one of the consultants, Alexis Jones, founder of I Am That Girl & PROTECTHER says, “I think first and foremost schools can be teaching more emotional education; I think that we’re lacking so severely in that arena.” As well as when the show discusses the idea that we need to have more skilled and equipped people on campus’ to handle what these kids are dealing with and to create a safe place for them to talk and be heard. One of the psychologists consulting on the show, Dr. Rebecca Hedrick, mentions that it’s common for young adults to not recognize their own emotions or even be able to talk about them…. As well as this powerful notion that we need to educate counselors, educators, and parents on how to receive this type of information from a teen.
I think this show is necessary to begin that dialog for ourselves as parents; “How can I equip myself to talk to my teen? Or how can I create a safe place to help him/her navigate their emotions or to talk to someone who can?”
And also as educators; “How can I know what to look for when a kid needs help? Or how can I let my students know or the students of this school know where to seek help? To feel safe to unburden themselves?”
My takeaway from this show wasn’t that it glorified teen suicide. My takeaway from this show is that we need to equip ourselves with how to communicate with our youth; specially in an era of technology. How to understand and not trivialize cyber-bulling, how to talk about sex and consent openly to keep our youth safe, and more importantly to create a safe space to talk. That’s my biggest takeaway from the show; TALK.
Be vigilant with your kid, be involved, but also TALK with your kid.
I don’t think 13 Reasons Why is an evil influence on our youth. If anything, sit down and watch it with your youth. If anything, the show depicts the damage that a suicide can leave behind; the pain on your loved ones; it doesn’t glorify it. It shows how hard it is, how ugly and painful and how damaging it is. After you watch it, have those difficult conversations; talk openly.
As a writer, I admire this type of brave and honest narrative and I think that in this digital age where we have become so cynical and desensitized; I think shows like this can steer conversations that we need to be having and can help us remember to reinforce or in some cases establish those lines of communication.