Lately there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the new Netflix original “13 Reasons Why”. If you’ve been living under a rock, this show is about a high school girl, Hannah Baker, who commits suicide after some bad experiences and chronicles it on 13 tapes. Each tape reveals a reason why she ended her life and the people who contributed to her decision.
Many conservative parenting sites, news sites and schools are warning against letting your teen watch this show. The main reasons being that they feel the content is too graphic and also that it could give teens an idea of how to commit suicide, or that it could plant the seed of suicide in general.
I watched this show and of course found it very intriguing. In fact, I found it so intriguing I binged watched it over the course of a few days.
As some of you may know from my social media, last August my cousins 13-year-old son committed suicide after a long bout with bullying, so naturally the topic of teen suicide is a near one to my heart. I honestly believe you should not only be letting your teen watch the show but encouraging it. The topics touched on (although graphic) are important and relevant topics to today’s teens whether parents want to admit it or not.
This show isn’t just about the actual act of suicide, it’s about all of the factors that led to that point. Each one a serious and realistic issue that affects many teens today. To not recognize those issues and instead effectively sweep them under the carpet because they may be “difficult to deal with” would be a disservice to your teenager.
It seems as though teen suicides are happening at a much more rapid rate then when I was in high school a mere 10 years ago. Clearly in that short of time period things have become drastically different and teens today are faced with a whole different ballgame that includes a ton of social media platforms and texting which could make facing a bully or a difficult issue 10 times harder.
As parents we have to realize that teens are facing problems like sexual assault and bullying and that there is a chance that they wouldn’t tell us. This series shines a light on the multiple struggles that teens could face while in high school and it’s your job as a parent to know about those struggles so you’re not in the dark.
I believe teens should be watching this show as well. When Hannah goes through each factor and person that led to her committing suicide on the tapes I think it is an eye-opening way to see that one small change is all it takes to save someones life by changing their mind.
Hannah details how she was isolated and had no friends, how she was raped one night at a party, how a sexual picture of her was spread around school. All of these factors and others helped her make a decision about suicide. While these specific instances may not resonate with every teen, I think its safe to say that they are somewhat common issues and that the general issues of mental health (depression, anxiety) probably do resonate with most teens at one point or another.
The scene where Hannah commits suicide is graphic, but in no way does it “glamorize” suicide. When watching it, I actually cringed. The shows depiction of Hannah’s suicide is different than how the book (of which the series is based) depicted it. In the book, Hannah takes a handful of pills. In the series, Hannah slices her wrists open with a razor blade in a bathtub. Obviously, this is a much more graphic way to show suicide but I believe they did this on purpose to show how horrible suicide really is and for the scene itself to stay with the people who watch it. It’s supposed to resonate with viewers long after watching, the way the effects of suicide stay with those you leave behind long after your gone.
Now, I obviously don’t think it would be a good idea to just dump your teenager in front of the TV to watch this show and walk away. The point of letting your teen watch this show is to watch it with them. As your watching the show pay attention to your teen and what their reaction is. As Vox explains in their article about a father and son who watched the series together, this show could catapult you into a conversation with your teen about the serious topics touched on in the series.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth today between the ages of 10 and 24. Teens may be wanting to talk to you about something that has been bothering them and they just need a entrance into that conversation. This series could be the perfect way to learn about your teens daily life and struggles, and how they feel about the serious topics touched on throughout the show.