Disclaimer: I am not a TV critic, however as a mental health professional this show peeked my interest. If you believe you or someone you know is struggling, please contact me or another therapist in your area.
So let me just say that I normally don't watch television, however I found myself on my day off with a pile of laundry to fold and in the need of background noise. So, I glanced at Netflix and was about to binge watch Parks and Recreation, but decided to see what 13 Reasons Why was about and why it was so controversial. Well about 4 - 5 hours later, with a pile of laundry still left to fold... I was HOOKED. I binged watched the whole season in two days and was not sure why people were so against it because I think it is important to watch. If you haven’t watched it, you may not want to read the following below (I give spoilers). If you have watched it and are opposed to the show, I want to challenge you to think about why this show is important by providing my input.
1. We need to talk about suicide, not shy away from it. Since Hannah is a teenager and this series appears to be geared towards that demographic, it is important that teens have conversations with their parents about suicide and depression. Based on my limited research, kids don’t watch cable. Most of their entertainment comes from Netflix, YouTube and social media…so chances are your teen or child might have already seen 13 Reasons Why. It is important that you talk to your kids about these topics because this show isn't something you should leave up to a teen to process on their own.
One of the most unfortunate things about Hannah’s suicide and experiences leading up to it was that her parents were completely unaware. Her parents were very caring towards Hannah, but can get caught up in the stressors of work. Something we all do. Given Hannah’s caring nature, she didn’t want to burden her parents with what was going on with her. Plus, we are given to presume, that Hannah had an issue with bullying in the past and that may have led them to move to this new town. So she may not have been forthcoming with this information because of it.
Why do I mention all of this? Going back to my original point, we can’t shy away from the topics of suicide and depression with our kids. We need to make sure that no matter the circumstances, we are here for them. They need to know that it doesn’t matter what stress we have going on at work or if we need to cook dinner, we will always make the time to talk to them about things that are going on with them. No matter how big or small.
During that conversation, it should be stated how much support they have and that suicide shouldn’t be an option because there will always be help around them.
2. The series also talks about heavy topics that we don’t discuss enough with our teens. There was a lot of heavy stuff in this show in addition Hannah's suicide. We have rape, sexual assault, bullying, stalking, etc. These are all issues that we need to educate everyone about! I service a teen group near my practice and considering that most of them seen the series, I thought it was important to have a conversation about it. The one thing that this show should encourage is conversation, and I wanted to make sure that they got that. SO...that is exactly what I did, and I can say that it was definitely needed. Teens don’t realize how much their actions or lack thereof, can impact people in profound ways.
Let us take for example the moment that started it all for Hannah…the picture. This unflattering picture that was shared around the school without her consent or knowledge, that was also tied into a story that did not happen. According to my teen group, and what I will generalize to the greater population of teens, there is nothing they could have done at that point to stop it. This is where I challenge them to think more realistically. Yes, the picture is out there…but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the story has to end there. Why not speak up? Why not say anything about it not being “cool” or telling an adult? Granted, I understand that can be left with them being “ghosted” or their popularity points taking a hit…but let’s be real…in the bigger picture that doesn’t matter. High school is just a period of time, these “popularity points” don’t matter once it is all over. What does stay with you, is your character. What type of person do you want to be? What type of person do you want your teen to be?
You have two options. You can choose to do nothing… and be like everyone else... everyone else who chooses to do nothing and by doing nothing, making this type of behavior acceptable. Or you can choose to be someone with character. A character that isn’t so concerned with “popularity points’ but by morals and standards. Someone that will stick up for others in a way that could potentially create change in the overall perception of what is acceptable behavior…something that serves the greater good other than “popularity points”. I gave that choice to my teen group, because at this point they haven’t thought about how their lack of action allows this type of behavior to continue.
Now, you may all think…”well teens don’t have to deal with these types of issues”. Well…you are wrong. Even in this small group of seven to eight teens, they had experienced something of this nature in their school. And the picture that was shared was MUCH more explicit than Hannah’s. You know those types of pictures...the ones that parents don’t want to know their child is doing. The type that gets sent to a love interest, but is shared among others. Hopefully this series allows parents to see that these things do exist in the real world…and hopefully it opens up a conversation.
One thing that I need to stress is definitely having a conversation with all teens regarding consent. Wehave to be honest with ourselves. Our children aren’t always going to be perfect angels, however, they should know what is acceptable when it comes to how they treat others. Consent is ALWAYS needed, regardless of the situation. We need to let go of this victim blaming mentality and really place more importance on teaching our children how to be respectful of others.
3. This is an opportunity for teens to see that their actions have consequences. Not to offend any teens that may be reading this…but this is a very “self-centered” period for you. For you, high school is a defining period...and technically it is. This is when you start to have more independence, more self-awareness and you begin to develop more of your personality and identity. I get it…I was once a teenager. However, there are so many things ahead of you, so not everything is essential…but what is essential is to know that what you do today can impact someone else for the rest of their life.
Granted not EVERYTHING you do is under a microscope. If you choose to order guacamole at Chiptole…I doubt it will be that significant. So I don’t want you to walk on eggshells, but I would like you to have some more self-awareness. Take the time to think about how your tweet or comment may affect someone else. Take the time to think about how your decision to spread a rumor may affect someone else, even if you aren’t the one to start it. While these things may seem “small” to you, they can have a bigger impact on someone else.
Let us think about a situation where you may have done something really small and while it wasn't that
big of a deal, you feel that it will still get you in trouble if you decide to tell an adult. For example: maybe you don’t want to call the cops if you knock over a stop sign (you have to have seen the series to understand that) because your parents might get upset if they find out…think about the bigger impact. Would you rather get in trouble or would you rather be responsible for someone being seriously injured? Which seems worse? Honestly?
Now, I get strict parents. My mother was in the military and I was never allowed outside the house when the street lights came on, but I am 100% confident that my mother would prefer that I do the right thing and tell the truth vs. being responsible for something of that magnitude. If you are a parent reading this, I would hope you have that same understanding. If you do, then tell your kids. Don’t assume that they know, because they probably don’t.
If you are a parent that would get upset regardless, then it is important to think about the tone you may be setting for your child. If you aren’t a safe person to go to, at least make sure that they have someone they can go to.
4. It gives adults a chance to see that they too can do better. We are adults, we aren’t perfect. While we may “think” we know what is going on with our children, we may not have the full story. Granted, we are the “authority” figure and we want to make sure that we aren’t taken advantage of, but there is a way to create balance. We can still ensure that rules are being followed, but also create a safe space for our children to feel comfortable and open.
If they still don’t open up, offer to find someone that they would feel comfortable speaking to. It doesn’t have to be a professional, it could be a family member or trusted friend. Let them know that they have options and you will be happy to help them in whatever capacity you can. But don’t push…we have to understand that sometimes are kids may not want to tell us (parents) what is going on, don’t try to take it personally. Try to empathize and help in other ways.
Other points for us (adults) to learn is how to address topics that may make us uncomfortable. Hannah’s guidance counselor had such a big opportunity to help, but simply was unaware of how to handle it. We need to educate ourselves on how to understand and be empathetic with our children, without placing judgments, guilt, blame, etc.
Now, I don’t know the legal standings in the state that Hannah lives in, however, in the State of Florida…guidance counselors are mandated reporters…meaning that they are required to contact the authorities or parents to ensure that the safety of the children. One things that should have been in place is a safety plan for Hannah. This is something that I recommend that parents be aware of as well. A safety plan is a plan of action that is to be put in place if an individual may harm themselves. In Hannah’s case, or at least what she presented to her guidance counselor, a phone call to her parents and a deeper conversation should have taken place.
Her guidance counselor REALLY dropped the ball because it was such a deep cry for help that was missed. His response to her, essentially reporting her rape, is so tragic. What makes it more tragic is that this line of questioning is not uncommon to rape survivors. We need to change the language, dynamic and overall understanding of how to handle these situations. As a society, we can’t place blame on those who go through these experiences by stating that they in some way deserved it or were asking for it. What type of message are we sending to the growing generation? There is no reason to EVER take advantage of anyone in that capacity. As adults, we need to ensure that we are not perpetuating this cycle of victim blaming, otherwise we are not setting a good example.
I can continue to give more examples as to why I think this series is needed today, but I want to leave you with just these few reasons. Let us do better. Let us not shy away from topics that scare us. Let us not assume that we know what is going on. Let us create a more comfortable space for others to speak up, without judgment or blame. Let us change the dynamics so that no one has any reason to make a decision so tragic.