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.

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.

New Ask.fm Owner Wants To Eliminate Bullying, Moves Company to the US

In summer of 2013, popular social networking site Ask.fm brought bullying back to the forefront of the minds of people around the world, sparking debates on privacy and digital responsibility (see What Parents Should Know About Ask.FM)

askfmofficeThe site allowed users to interact anonymously by asking and responding to questions. Naturally, young users took advantage of the ability to remain in the shadows of the internet and took to posting mean, threatening and harassing comments to users leading to a number of bullying related suicides.

In a quite deal for an undisclosed amount of money, Ask.fm has been purchased by the owners of popular dating app Tinder and will be moving the company to the United States.

The company behind the deal, IAC, will be working in conjunction with the New York Attorney General’s office and investing “millions” into making the web site safer for users.

A statement by the NYAG’s office reads:

Under the terms of the agreement, Ask.fm will revamp its safety policies and procedures, including creating a new online Safety Center, hiring a trust and safety officer to act as a primary safety contact, and establishing a Safety Advisory Board to oversee all safety issues. Ask.fm will also review user complaints within 24 hours and remove users that have been the subject of multiple complaints. An independent safety and security examiner will be appointed to examine the changes and report on compliance to the Attorney General’s Office for three years.

This is a major relief to parents and educators alike who have seen the site growing in popularity since its introduction in 2010. Today it boasts over 130 million users with roughly 700 posts made each second.

The brothers responsible for the founding of the web site will no longer be involved with its operations as a part of the deal.

“They had a laissez-faire, libertarian attitude,”  according Chief Executive of IAC, Doug Leeds, emphasizing that under the new regime, threats of violence and other distressing content would “not be welcome”.

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.

What Parents Should Know About Ask.FM

This week continues my regular series “What Parents Should Know.” This week’s entry was prompted by recent events.  Have something you’re wondering about? Send me a message and I’ll do my best to find an answer: info@joshgunderson.com

Following the August 2 suicide of Hannah Smith, parents have become very concerned about their kids using the popular social networking site, AskFM. The site is in the vein of others like Formspring (which is currently under new management and closed).ask-fm

Founded in June 2010, the site’s purpose is simple enough in allowing users to ask one another questions anonymously. The key to the site’s popularity and overall appeal to others being the anonymous bit.

Like most site, AskFM has simple beginnings, allowing users to ask each other harmless questions like “what is the last movie you saw?” or “what’s your favorite YouTube video?” Like all well-intentioned things, the site quickly became grounds for anonymous hate messaging and cyberbullying.

AskFM has gained notoriety over this summer as it’s been attributed to a number of European teen suicides. From July to August, the deaths of Daniel Perry, Hannah Smith, Erin Gallagher and Joshua Unsworth were said to have been instigated by bullying on the site.

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Privacy for the site is basic at best. You have two options: allow anonymous questions or do not allow then. The site also allows you to Blacklist or block users who you do not wish to interact with. I suggest, that if you are going to the site, do not allow for users to interact with you anonymously. This is only going to lead to problems.

User Interactions
Most users are just using the site for the reason it was intended. I joined up about a week ago to learn more about the site and just today received a question from a fellow user asking me “What is your one major weakness?” I have the option of answering with text or recording a video response. (For those who are wondering the answer is Mickey’s Premium Ice Cream Bars from Disney world and if I had the ability I’d record me crying tears of joy while eating one in Magic Kingdom!).askfm002

Users can link their Facebook or Twitter accounts to find friends or search through the millions of users to find questions, answers or new friends.

The issue comes from the ability for users to interact anonymously. This allows for mean-spirited users to send messages like “drink bleach,” “go get cancer” and “go die.”

Reporting Inappropriate Use
Despite what the media is currently saying about the site, it is possible to report users for inappropriate use of the site. On a user’s pageaskfm001 in their questions you will see a downward arrow. Clicking on this bring a drop down menu with the option of reporting the content. That said, what the site does to control, remove or moderate this content, I have no good answer for you there. With 65 million users as of July of 2013, I can’t imagine that it’s easy to moderate every complaint that comes through in a timely manner.

That Being Said
At the end of the day, I can honestly say that when it comes to sites like AskFM, Formspring and others, do not allow your kids to use them. Any site that allows users to interact with complete strangers (see: Omegle) or allows for anonymous interactions is no good in my book. Any sane person would look at this site and say “No, thanks!”

I would strongly recommend sitting down and having a very serious conversations with your kids about sites like this. Remember to make it just that, a conversation. If you come in defensive and demanding, your kids will shut down and want nothing to do with the conversation.

I also have to say that I can’t help but point the finger at parents in these situations. Yes, Mark and Ilja Terebin (AskFM’s founders) should be doing more to keep their users safe and should rethink the way they are running things over there. Along the same lines, parents need to be paying more attention to the sites that their kids are joining and taking responsibility in keeping them safe.

If choose to allow your child to join sites like AskFM, I strongly encourage that you go over the site’s policies and privacy options with them. Make it a requirement that they cannot allow anonymous questions and users to interact with them.

Do you have a questions about an app or social networking site? Please feel free to e-mail your questions to info@joshgunderson.com and I will do my best to find you the answer!

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.