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.

13 Reasons Why: Book vs Show

WARNING: This post contains spoilers for both the book and the TV show. If you are worried about something being ruined for you, proceed with caution.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I will be diving into the world of Netflix’s newest show, 13 Reasons Why. What most people don’t realize is that the show is actually based on a 2007 novel written by Jay Asher.

Now, you will need to have read or watched to know exactly what I’m talking about which may make this post useless for some, but this is information I wanted out there before I continued writing about the show.

As I have been compiling my research and figuring out how to go about presenting it, I realized that it’s important to understand some of the differences between the show and the book. Like any adaptation, what’s on the page can’t always translate to the screen and in the case of turning a stand-alone novel into a series, a lot needs to change.

Take a look at Orange is the New Black, for example. The show is wildly different from the book simply because it needed to create something from nothing in order to last as long as it has.

Netflix is in the business of creating entertainment and 13 Reasons Why is no different, the show worked hard to leave loose ends to set up future seasons of the show. Personally, I feel this should be left as a mini-series but I’m not in charge and Netflix has a business to run. The show has proven wildly popular and they have left room for continuation.

I feel this is a mistake because it will ultimately detract from what producers claimed to have been hoping to accomplish with the series, which was to create a narrative for bullying and suicide awareness.

Whether that is accomplished is another post for another day.

For now, I want to dive in to some differences in Book vs Show.

The Timeline

For the sake of creating a compelling drama, the show takes place over a period of days, possibly weeks and with that, Clay’s consumption of the tapes takes just as long. Tony even comments that Clay is the slowest listener so far. In the book, Clay binge-listens to the tapes in one, caffeine-fueled evening.

Tony

Within the world of the Netflix show, Tony is revealed to be watching Clay far sooner than in the book. Clay realizes that Tony is watching him almost right away after he receives the tapes. In the book, it is not until Clay has reached tape four that he realizes that Tony is Hannah’s secret keeper. This is also when Tony confronts him about stealing the walkman.

Social Media’s Influence

It’s hard to imagine there was a time before most social media but there was. While Facebook and Twitter were around in 2007, they weren’t as big in the high school crowd as they are today. Instagram was still three years away from making its debut. As a result, the role of social media within the world of the book is almost non-existent. In the book, gossip and rumors find their way around through old-fashioned word of mouth. The show brings the story to the present-day and adds technology into the mix. It’s also worth noting that the story is actually taking place ahead of our current time. In the last episode when the depositions are taking place, note the timestamp says November 2017.

The Bakers and the Lawsuit

Hannah’s parents hardly exist in the world of the book but within the show they play a large role in both past and present. Again, for the sake of creating compelling entertainment, the Baker’s receive a full story-arc. This includes changing their profession from shoe store owners to struggling pharmacy owners competing against a corporate giant. They are also going after the school in a lawsuit claiming that more should have been done to protect their daughter from bullying. Mrs. Baker, in particular, plays a large role as she conducts her own investigation, finding the hurtful graffiti in the in the bathrooms along with Alex’s “Hot or Not” list.

Parents In General

Clay’s parents, as well as everyone else’s, play little to no role within the book as the setting is limited to flashbacks and Clay in the coffee shop. Within the world of the show, more side-stories are created in an effort to flesh out the world surrounding Clay. His mom, for example, ends up being the lawyer representing the school in the Baker’s lawsuit.

Clay and Hannah’s Relationship

The book presents Clay and Hannah’s relationship as being very one-sided with him pining for her but being too afraid to act on his feelings. They are friendly but don’t talk too much outside of their work relationship at the movie theatre. In the show, the two are far closer which sets up more missed opportunities on Clay’s part to realize there is something going on with his friend.

Courtney and Hannah

Within the world of the book, character’s race and sexuality don’t come into play at all so the storyline between Coutney and Hannah is very different. The trap they set for Tyler in the book simply involves innocent gossip and a staged, slightly risqué, encounter which was very innocent. In the show, the two girls break into Hannah’s parent’s liquor cabinet and get drunk. They two begin to kiss and this moment is captured on film and ultimately shared by Tyler. Courtney worries about the photo getting out as no one knows she is gay.

The Order of the Tapes and their Fate

The tapes play out differently in the book which shows ones of the biggest changes for the sake of the show. In the book, Clay is reason number 9 rather than 11. In the show he moves to confront Bryce, number 12, rather than passing on the tapes out of fear they would be destroyed. He then passed them off to number 13, Mr. Porter, leaving it to him to determine their fate. In the book Clay finishes the tapes and passes them on per Hannah’s orders and what happens from there is unknown. In the show Tony creates digital copies of the tapes and passes them on to Hannah’s parents in the finale. The tapes are also mentioned in the student’s depositions despite spending the entire series working to suppress them.

Hannah’s Suicide

In the book Hannah’s suicide was by an overdose on unspecified pills. Clay mentions this towards the beginning as “took a bunch of pills.” In the show, Hannah commits suicide by cutting her wrists in the bathroom. A scene which I am still bothered by days later. More on that to come.

Alex and Tyler

In the final episode we learn that Alex is in critical condition after a suicide attempt. It would seem that producers may use this, along with the Baker’s lawsuit, as fodder for a potential second season. Another loose end not found in the book is Tylers stash of guns. We see him purchase a gun during one episode and then learn that he has a cache of weapons stored in his room. It would seem he is planning revenge against his own bullies as a result of Hannah’s tapes and Clay’s actions against him in the show. None of this is found in the book.

After writing this all out, I realize that it may come across as incredibly vague if you haven’t digested either form of 13 Reasons Why and for that I apologize. I orignianlly intended for only one post about the show but, as I mentioned, so much more needed to be said and rather than one giant post, I wanted to break things up.

I promise this information will come in handy as I continue on.

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.

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.

Why the “Welcome to Your Tape” Meme Needs to Stop

Over the next week or so, I plan on unleashing a lot of information about Netflix show ’13 Reasons Why’ but there is one issue I wanted to address sooner rather than later.

A meme.

The first meme I encountered for the show came Easter morning when this gem showed up on my Facebook newsfeed:

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At this point I hadn’t seen the show but knew enough about the premise to know that I was not amused by what I was seeing.

I started watching this show this morning after a few parents had emailed me asking about the show. Since then I have fallen down the rabbit hole of internet memes discovering a lot of misplace humor regarding “the tapes.”

For those that haven’t seen the show yet, the “welcome to your tape” meme is a direct reference to ’13 Reasons Why’ which tells the story of Hannah Baker who commits suicide, leaving behind a series of tapes for her classmates to listen to.

Each tape is dedicated to a person who she believes has wronged her. On the very first tape, Hannah explains, “If you’re listening to this tape, you were one of the reasons why. I’m not saying which tape brings you into the story, but fear not, if you received this lovely little box, your name will pop up. I promise.”

Hannah specifies who she is talking about on each cassette by saying “welcome to your tape.” A line that is repeated throughout the series.

This is where the meme has found the fuel for its fire.

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Then, yesterday Netflix took the opportunity to make a jab at rival Hulu with the meme:

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The internet finds itself divided on whether or not the joke was a step too far considering the show’s content.

Now, I totally understand that this is a television show and these are fictional characters so I’d appreciate no one jumping down my throat on that front.

But I also understand that this show is about a young girl killing herself and leaving behind these tapes are her form of a note. And I also know that suicide is not a joke.

The truth is that suicide is the third leading cause of death among Americans between the ages of 15 and 24 years old. Furthermore over 15 million in the United States are living with some form of depression.

By taking Hannah’s words and turning them into a joke we are belittling the feelings of those who are suffering from depression.

When you suffer from a mental disorder, it can be really hard to talk about it with others. I’m speaking from personal experience. For four years I have suffered from the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and it wasn’t until very recently that I was comfortable telling even my best of friends.

When others make light of something or poke fun at it, it makes it more difficult to discuss because it just appears to be a joke to those around you.

Depression and suicide are not a joke, so let’s stop turning it into one. Let’s start with this meme. Let’s end it here.

As we have learned from past events and we are learning through watching this show, everyone’s choices, words and actions have consequences.

Let’s make sure that we’re not mocking someone else’s suffering. Even if you think it’s just about a TV show, you never know when it could be so much more.

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.