I decided to watch, 13 Reasons Why, on a whim. Netflix, to me, is like some sort of strong drug I have never been able to use in moderation. When I watch…I binge. Dexter, Supernatural & Making a Murderer are the only 3 series I’ve ever watched, and I assure you I broke land/speed records in completing them. To be honest I had absolutely no clue what the show was about when I clicked play on that first episode. All I know is that within 36 hours I found myself numbed after watching the finale. It’s been a week since the final credits rolled, and I have a few things to say.
If you are, right now, like I was last Friday night let me explain the gist of the series to you. A high school girl gets relentlessly bullied and assaulted after starting at a new school during her Sophomore year. She is driven to the brink of suicide and eventually commits to the act….but not before recording a series of cassette tapes where she reveals just how each of the adolescent perpetrator’s actions led to her decision to end her life.
I was 4 episodes in when I walked into my 17 year old daughter’s bedroom and said, “I’m 2 tapes deep. Where are ya?” She looked at me dumbfounded and muttered something about being on tape 1 side B. “How do you know about the show, Dad?” she quandered. “I know things,” was my cryptic response. To be honest, I had no idea that she had started the series and was smiling like I’d won the lottery when she proclaimed, “Wow, Dad, you’re so NOW!” I suppose even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Below are some simple observations and conclusions that have been rattling through my head all week. I offer them as a father of 6 and a teacher of middle schoolers for the last 20 years. I don’t even really have a blog anymore but I have really felt a burden to get the word out to parents about the good, the bad and the ugly of, 13 Reasons Why.
The show really does an outstanding job of exposing the contemporary underbelly that goes on in High School these days. I really believe that parents who watch it will develop a much better appreciation for how the methods and dimensions of communications and bullying have dramatically changed. It used to be where if you had a problem it was there for you to handle the next day at school. Times have changed now because of technology so that the problem grows exponentially by the time the bell rings to begin 1st period the next day… and even when it’s all deleted…well, it’s never really deleted, is it? Texting, social media and various apps have changed the game and our children are the pawns. There is a difference between bombs and nuclear bombs. Both destroy but one lingers and continues to destroy.
Parents would do well to catch a glimpse of what their kids are probably not mentioning to them. In my experience, very seldom is it the parent who self-identifies as ‘clueless’ that worries me. It’s the parent who believes they know every little thing their kid is up to that concerns me because that parent no longer feels they have a reason to keep learning.
I know that as for me and my daughter the show helped to pry open some doors of communication that had been stuck for a while. Just being able to discuss the plot line and the nuances of the characters made for some very insightful conversation about where her heart is at. I asked a lot of questions and listened intently. I was careful to stay ahead of my daughter in the series so I could keep the conversation going. In retrospect, I’m really glad I did but for quite another reason.
There are 3 episodes that begin with a warning for graphic physical and/or sexual violence. Mom and Dad, I’m telling you right now DO NOT allow your elementary or middle school child to see this. I really would not even recommend it for many kids in high school. The sexual assault scenes are ridiculously graphic and intense. Not in nudity but in raw brutality and emotion. After seeing them I sternly warned my 17 year old that it is not something she’d be ok seeing. I’ve worked hard to create and expand fences of freedom for my children to wander out into. She decided to close the fence I’d intentionally left open on this one. She confessed to me later that she hit fast forward through them all because she got the point of what was happening without needing to be exposed to it visually.
Beyond the sexual assault scenes is the episode that contains the actual scene of the main character slitting her wrists in a bathtub. I honestly wish I could wipe that from my mind even now. I’m certain the scene is realistic but that does not mean it’s something that many people (myself included), let alone a young child, should ever have to have burned in their minds. I would actually contend that if a person were able to watch that process without being bothered in some way then there is something probably deeply wrong going on. I genuinely think the producers went over the top in these areas as the subject matter of the story lends itself to many teenagers having an interest in it. No teen should be quite ready for what they’ll see during those last 3 episodes.
It took me a full week to really recognize this last point. I’ll begin with this: I don’t feel, 13 Reasons Why, is at all appropriate for teenagers to navigate through themselves. The subject matter is too intense and it is the parent’s responsibility to help them work through the array of issues and potential wounds that this show can/will open up.
My biggest concern with the series is that I feel it depicts the young lady who kills herself as a hero of sorts for having the forethought to take down those who harmed her before slitting her wrists. There is no doubt that she goes through a hellish high school experience that no one should have to endure. The problem here is that justice is eventually served as a direct result of her suicide and the subsequent release of the condemning tapes. She essentially rides off into the sunset as her perpetrators are picked off one by one and left to suffer. Introduce that concept to a child who feels isolated, or who is being bullied, and I can just see the headlines begin to accumulate.
Am I being overly dramatic? Let me just say that unless you too have had to stare at an empty desk like I have had to several times in my career and begin to second guess everything you ever said, or wished you’d said, to a kid who thought suicide was the only option then your opinion doesn’t have a whole lot of weight with me. There is a difference between being in the deep end of a pool with a teenager and simply allowing a kid to jump in while you take a nap in the house.
This week, I heard many of the 7th graders I teach, and several 6th graders, talking about the show with much enthusiasm and excitement. I am entirely confident that these children are in NO WAY ready to take in what they are sure to see this weekend. It sickens me to know that as I write this parents are sitting in front of glowing cell phones and televisions, entirely unaware of what’s being streamed on their child’s ipad in the next room.
Parents…We owe it to our children to BE THE PARENTS! In my 20 years in the classroom I have seen things that would make you weep, and I’m here to tell you that it is getting exponentially worse with each year that passes. My intent here is not to tell you what to do. It is simply to encourage us all to be vigilant and aware. This is not about keeping our kids in some protective bubble, it is about respecting their latency.
Our kids are worth working through the tough conversations that will result from what is brought out into the open through this series whether you decide to watch it or not. Our children deserve the best we have to offer them. The show invests itself into defining the 13 reasons why a person felt she had to end her life. We need to be intentional about showing and communicating to our children that there are countless reasons why LIFE is definitely worth fighting for. This begins with opening the conversation and it’s your move.
Thanks for taking the time to read this and for sharing it with others. It really does take a village to raise our children.