As most of you probably know, Netflix recently released the extremely popular and controversial show, 13 Reasons Why. The plot, which is based on Jay Asher’s novel of the same name, follows thirteen people who are deemed responsible for the suicide of a teenage girl, Hannah Baker. Packed with teen issues, illegal activities, and extremely graphic scenes, the show has sparked an enormous amount of concern and debate among people of every age.
Many Texas schools have sent out emails warning parents about the show’s upsetting content, including Lovejoy, Frisco, and Mesquite ISDs. Chances are, if you’re a parent, then you’ve been made aware of the show and the dangers some say it presents. The uproar against the show has spread far and wide, and many parents have been left wondering why this show is so popular with teens and yet hated by many worried adults.
Why People Are Concerned
13 Reasons Why leaves little to the imagination when it comes to Hannah’s traumatic experiences, and eventually, her suicide. Upset viewers have claimed that the show is practically a disturbing instruction manual on how to end your life.
“Experts, parents, and teachers agree that the show and its premise glorify suicide, not putting in proper context a character's misguided rationalization for suicide. And since teens have a high rate of suicidal thoughts, many question whether this show should’ve been made at all.” - Business Insider
Although the creators of the show have stated that they hope to bring awareness to the issue of suicide and help those who might be struggling, a large portion of viewers believe that the show will have much more worrisome effects. Several writers have claimed that Hannah’s death seems justified and even beautiful. In a USA Today article, Swathi Krishna of Morehouse School of Medicine says, “You don’t really know what’s in people’s heads. So people can think that (committing suicide) is easy. It kind of gives people examples of what to do in a bad way.”
13 Reasons Why also paints a rather nasty image of adults who offer assistance to teens. The school counselor seems extremely incompetent, and Hannah’s school seems to value its reputation over the safety and well-being of its students. This could potentially encourage teenagers to avoid seeking help from adults when faced with sticky situations.
The suicide scene is included, and it’s very graphic. Hannah Baker slits her wrists and bleeds to death, alone, in a bathtub. According to an article published on CNN, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and other credible sources have warned against such graphic depictions and/or discussions of suicide because it can actually increase the risk in people who are considering ending their lives.
Experts also worry that the show simplifies the rationale behind suicide by attributing Hannah’s distress to the actions of others. "It’s kind of glamorizing putting people through this," Krishna says on USA Today. "Blaming all of these people and saying, ‘You did this and this is the reason why. You know you were my 12th reason. You were my 13th.’"
Asking a Psychotherapist: Does the Show Have Merit or Should We Avoid It?
We at BubbleLife decided to turn to an expert to obtain an opinion about the show. Marci Stiles LCP-S, a Frisco-based psychotherapist at Positive Outlook Counseling, had a lot to say about the show and its content.
“When I first started hearing about the show, I was disgusted and had the same reaction as many other people,” she says. “Then I realized: it’s out there, just like everything else is. If suicidal people want to find a how-to guide on killing yourself, all they have to do is Google it or search YouTube. I wish that wasn’t true, but Pandora’s Box has already been opened. This show was not the first to do it, and to shut it down without discussing its value would be very short-sighted.”
As the parent of two girls in their twenties, Stiles views the show from a professional and parental standpoint. “It’s hard when you watch it as a parent and you know that you can try to be there for your teen like Hannah’s parents do, but sometimes teens won’t come to you with their problems if they aren’t ready,” she says. The show does depict the Baker parents as supportive guardians, and Stiles believes it reveals just how difficult it can be for parents to communicate with their children about the struggles that accompany high school.
“In a perfect world, everyone would watch this show with their kids and discuss it thoroughly. Boycotting the show is pointless because teenagers are talking about it. It’s so important to at least bring up these subjects with your kids, even if you don’t feel comfortable watching every episode together.”
When asked about the warnings schools issued to parents, Stiles agreed that school counselors should be alerting parents about the show’s dangerous concepts. “I see where people are coming from, and I do agree that it could instigate a ‘copycat’ effect in people who are at risk,” Stiles says. “However, it also points out the warning signs, and parents should be aware of those. If you think your kids are mature enough, then I think talking about this show could be extremely beneficial.”
Despite the hatred for the show found scattered across the internet recently, Stiles thinks 13 Reasons Why has an important and potentially life-altering message. “It’s great,” she says. “It teaches a valuable lesson: You never know how you affect someone else. If talking about suicide, sexual assault, and bullying after watching this show saves even two or three lives, then it is worth it.”
Stiles encourages parents to watch the show with their children. If they don’t feel comfortable viewing such graphic images together, then she says parents should at least watch the show on their own so they understand what their children are witnessing, both on television and potentially in their own lives.
What to Talk About With Your Teens After They Watch 13 Reasons Why
(Because They Will)
Many teenagers will watch the show, regardless of what their schools or other adults say. In fact, the heated debate surrounding the show will most likely increase viewership, and parents need to be prepared to have difficult talks with their teens. Here are some topics addressed in the show that parents might want to talk about with their teens:
1. The Portrayal of High School Gossip and the Use of Technology
The high school atmosphere presented in the show is all too accurate. Cell phones are constantly out, and it takes less than ten minutes for one person’s embarrassment to become everyone’s news. No matter what school your teens attend, there’s cyber bullying. It’s almost guaranteed. Discuss it with your teen and make sure that they understand the severe implications of sharing inappropriate photos or talking about people behind their backs.
2. Sexual Assault and Abuse
One in six women is sexually abused. In the show, there are two depictions of rape and many representations of less physical (but still damaging) sexual harassment. Most parents believe that their children are in an educational environment where objectification doesn’t happen, but there is evidence that indicates many teenage girls are physically and verbally abused like Hannah. The show also addresses the issue of consent. A no is a no, and silence is never a yes. Have an open discussion with your children about sexual consent, as well as their safety.
3. Seeking Help
5,000 teenagers in the United States attempt suicide. Every. Day. Yes, this show is hard to watch and has its red flags, but the message is clear: we need to pay attention, and teenagers need to know how to reach out. If parents don’t know how to help their children, then they also need to know how to seek aid.
4. How Suicide Affects Those Left Behind
One of the show’s most important aspects is its portrayal of the aftermath. Yes, there are flowers by Hannah’s lockers and sweet tears shed over her lost life, but there’s more: Her parents are devastated, her friends are wrecks, and her classmates are at a higher risk of suicide. Suicide is not a one-person event, and that should be something we all acknowledge.
A Word from the Book’s Author
13 Reasons Why was making waves long before it was adapted into a television show, and Jay Asher has been speaking about suicide for many years. He recognizes that the topics addressed in his book and the show are extremely difficult to deal with, but he doesn’t apologize for talking about them in such a manner.
“These things happen, and to give respect to the people they do happen to, it felt wrong to hold back,” Asher says in an interview with Coming Soon. “It needs to be uncomfortable to read or watch. If it’s not, and we pull away, it felt like the story would only contribute to the problem of not truthfully tackling these things. We’re already good at avoiding uncomfortable subjects, and that needs to change.”
For help with any of the issues talked about in this article, especially suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255