What Parents Should Know About “13 Reasons Why”

It has been over a month since “13 Reasons Why” debut on Netflix and my inbox has been flooded with questions about the show. I have been working hard to put together the best information possible for parents and educators. The more I start to work on this, the more I realize there is to say. In an effort to keep each of these posts short and sweet, I will continue to post information in separate posts. I will include link-backs to earlier posts to help keep all the information together. I have also created a “13 Reasons Why” category which will show you all the posts back-to-back.

WARNING: This post contains spoilers for both the show and possibly the book. If you are worried about plot points being revealed, proceed with caution.

Based on the best-selling novel by Jay Asher, the show follows Clay Jensen following the suicide of his classmate Hannah Baker. Clay received a mysterious package containing cassette tapes, which turn out to be Hannah’s suicide note. On each of the 13 tapes, Hannah details the reasons why each person mentioned is responsible for her committing suicide.

SEE ALSO: 13 Reasons Why: Book vs Show AND Why the “Welcome to Your Tape” Meme Needs to Stop

The question that seems to be coming up a lot from parents has been “should I let my kids watch 13 Reasons Why?”

Because the show is on Netflix, which is subscription based, it falls outside the TV Parental Guidelines and therefore is classified as “Not Rated.”

This really leaves it up to parents to decide whether or not the show is right for their kids and I have to agree. I’ve said many times before that I should always be up to the parents to make the decision about what they feel is right for their kids. This applies on all fronts: technology, social media and even television and movies.

You know what your kids can and can’t handle.

As the show has received an insane amount of both positive and negative press, it would be hard to believe that kids haven’t already heard of it. The book has also been taught in some schools prior to the show’s release.

There’s no escaping it.

Even if you decide that you don’t want your kids to watch the show, with the east of access to something like Netflix, it’s almost impossible to keep your kids away even with parental controls in place.

Therefore, I think it’s important that parents have an understanding of the show and use its content to hold constructive conversations on the subject matter.

Open communication is important, especially in the high school years. While you may not feel ready to talk to your child about suicide, sexual assault, and depression these are topics that are coming up more and more, especially within middle and high school settings.

The series does allow an opening to discuss these topics and more including drugs and alcohol.

As someone who deals with depression and anxiety on a personal level, I found it especially hard to watch the show. More so, as an educator in bullying prevention and social media I was beyond frustrated with how many of the situations in the show were dealt with by the grown-ups.

The way I have chosen to look at the story being told by the show is that it is being told from the perspective of the kids living within this world. With the book, we are centered solely around Clay as he spends a single night listening to the tapes. The events of the book are told from his perspective as well as Hannah’s by way of the tapes. Adults and outside stories don’t really exist.

When you take this approach to the show things can start to make a little more sense as to how situations are being handled.

Though, on the same vein, I find it hard to believe that an obscene amount of offensive graffiti like what Hannah’s mother found, would go unnoticed in a school bathroom long enough to be amass gas station bathroom status.

I also find it hard to believe that things like the photos like that of Hannah at the park, Hannah and Courtney kissing, or Tyler’s nude photo taken and disseminated by Clay could go viral within a school setting and not catch the attention of a single adult. The fact that things like the “Hot or Not” list or anything involving the student-run magazine would have been allowed to play out as they did.

There’s so much more to say on all of that but this is not the post. For now, I want parents to have an understanding of the show in general. As I mentioned, I will continue to break down the show in future posts.

For now, here is what parents should know about “13 Reasons Why”

Language

It seems trivial compared to the bigger picture of the show but there is a lot of foul language thrown around by both adults and teenagers in the show. Be prepared for very strong language.

Drugs and Alcohol

Partying is definitely a reoccurring scene during the run of the series. Underage drinking is depicted in just about every episode as teenagers along with recreational drug use.

Nudity

There is some slight nudity over the course of these series. This was actually one of the things that really bothered me as a viewer. I know the actors are all adults but the portrayal of supposed underage nudity was troubling. This comes in the form of a boys locker room scene and a nude photo of Tyler which is taken by Clay and distributed around the school as revenge for his role in Hannah’s suicide.

It Romanticizes Suicide

You’ll find this to be a common theme in many articles written about the show and I can’t help but agree. When people, especially teens, consider suicide, they often fantacize about the aftermath. They envision their funeral and who will attend, who will be happy to see them go and who will regret not being nicer to them when they were alive. The show fuels that fantasy as Hannah’s tapes are passed around.

The Show Does Nothing to Address Mental Illness

The show is sparking a lot of conversations, which was the intention of the author as well as the producers but I’m not sure it’s in the way they had hoped. The show does nothing to address mental illness. It would seem that Hannah is perfectly healthy and simply living in a world of sick, cold-hearted people. The show fails to address that mental illness is treatable and thoughts of suicide are often a sign of depression or other issue.

It Reinforces Victim Mentality

Hannah has created these tapes and had them sent out to specific people so that they’ll understand their role in her decision to end her life. She doesn’t take responsibility for this decision and this portrayal reinforced the victim mentality in those who blame others for their problems.

Adults Are Depicted as Incompetent

As I mentioned above, adults within the world of 13 Reasons Why are shown to be absolutely clueless about what is going on. Those who do know what is happening don’t seem to care. In the final episode, Hannah reaches out for help from her guidance counselor, telling him she was raped. His advice to her was to move on.

Sexual Assault Isn’t Implied; It’s Shown

After the publishing of the “Hot or Not” list Hannah is repeatedly harassed by her classmates, including being fondled by one in a convenience store. During a party we see a drunk Jessica being raped by Bryce and, in a later episode, Hannah’s rape by the same offender. The series doesn’t hold back and it is incredibly uncomfortable to watch. Powerful. Important. But uncomfortable.

Hannah’s Suicide Is Shown

In the book, Hannah commits suicide by overdosing on unnamed pills. The show takes a different route as Hannah cuts her wrist in the bathtub. The scene is incredibly graphic and painful to watch. It shows how she does it, where and everything in between.

WHAT PARENTS CAN DO

Talk.

It’s important to get a conversation started not only about the show, but the content. Even if your kids haven’t seen they show, they’ve heard of it. There’s a chance they may have already read the book. Find out what they know and use this to fuel constructive conversations.

Discuss what and how they feel about the show and its depiction of reality. Believe it or not, there is quite a bit that the show gets right. This is an unfortunate reality.

I will be posting more in the days to come. Possibly once or twice a week until I’ve gotten through everything I want to get out there.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit their website.

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

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