Should you watch “13 Reasons Why?”

A scene from “13 Reasons Why” on NETFLIX

I just finished watching the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” a story about a young girl who commits suicide and leaves behind cassette tapes that detail how several “friends” and circumstances contributed to her decision to take her own life.  The series is based on a book with the same title.  There have been many comments about this series, some say that it glamorizes suicide and that it may be tricky or dangerous for your teen to watch.  Others say it opens up important dialogue and serves as an eye opener for parents and young adults.    Both assessments are true.  The series is graphic and depicts one horrible occurrence after another.  We’ve all been through our school years but the events in her life just go on and on.  It’s painful to watch in more ways than one.  If you are a parent or grandparent, this post is definitely one you should be interested in.

Should you watch this series?  I would say YES if you have a young tween or teenager in your life that may have even already watched this series or has access to Netflix.  What about your teen?  Should you let your teen watch this series?  I can’t answer that for you but I can tell you how I reacted and encourage you to view the season in its entirety beforehand.

After finishing the series I felt sick to my stomach.  I couldn’t stop talking about the plot to my husband and I felt dark, depressed and beyond sad.  I wanted to cry.  I’m an extremely sensitive soul so the end result of this series was despondency.  I can’t  even imagine how a sensitive and self-conscious teen would feel watching the same series.  If your son or daughter is facing a difficult situation in school, I fear that those feelings would only intensify after watching this story unfold.  For others, getting the message that it MATTERS how you treat others is a good one.  However, if your son or daughter is struggling or sensitive, I can see why reviewers show concern.  Our kids already know that school can suck.  This isn’t news to them.  Getting ugly confirmation after ugly confirmation, episode after episode can be soul crushing for many struggling teens.  They may see themselves in Hannah.  I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

This series brought a flood of school memories back.  I remember the bullies, the drug dealers, the boy who committed suicide and two kids who lost their lives to cancer.  I remember the girl in my dorm who was raped by Joe Cool and who disappeared quietly without any of us paying any attention.  There were girls cutting themselves, perverts exposing themselves and awkward and lonely children that no one helped.  Bullies were plentiful and usually came from broken and abusive homes.   I remember thinking that I could not wait to get the HELL out of school.

And after watching that series today I was in tears.  The fact of the matter is that there is pain all around us.  My parents probably knew some of these stories but they definitely did not know all of them.  Neither will we.  It’s worse for our children.  Our children are exposed 24/7 through technology.  We could go home but our children can not get away from it all.  Our children are under assault by social media.

Technology has brought a new dynamic to our children’s’ world and that dynamic cannot be underestimated.  As we allow our kids to go on Snapchat, Instagram and play with their smart phones continuously, we also open them up to a magnification of bullying and difficulties that can sometimes occur during those difficult teen years. They don’t have any reprieve.   Please do not dismiss the need for some peace and downtime.  Kids leave school and they are still exposed through their phones until they go to sleep.   Loudoun County has already had four suicides this year and the counselors, teachers and parents are at a loss for how to handle the ongoing tragedy in our neighborhoods.

“13 Reasons Why” is worthy of binge watching but I suggest you watch the series in its entirety before your child watches it, although many tweens have already done so.  I also would consider very carefully the type of child you have before exposing them to this story.  I believe it could make a teen who is already struggling feel even more sadness and hopelessness while at the same time, lead other teens to understand why empathy and giving a shit is more important than popularity.  The series does not suggest ways of getting help and exposes our teenagers to many graphic scenes, ones that should be a bit restricted in nature.

The creators of this series have signed up for a season 2.  As parents we must keep open a dialogue with our kids and pay attention to the world around them.  Ask them the hard questions.  Who are the bullies?  Are there drugs in the schools?  Do they see anyone suffering alone?  You may be surprised by their answers, especially if these questions are indirect and encourage dialogue.  Share with them ways to get help or how to give a lifeline to a friend in need.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433. Both are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Should you watch “13 Reasons Why?”  Perhaps, if only to keep up with the culture that surrounds our children and to start a conversation that more of us need to have with the ones we love.

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