I just can’t quit thinking about this dang TV show. I don’t quite hate it, and I definitely don’t love it, but I do see the good in (some) of it. I wasn’t going to write about it, honestly. I wanted to stay out of the discussion, but I can’t help myself.
13 Reasons Why, a new Netflix show based off of Jay Asher’s hit novel, has been controversial since day one. I was a fan of the book when it was first published, and was eagerly watching the season in anticipation of seeing one of my favorite YA novels portrayed on the screen. But honestly? It left me feeling so many feelings that I haven’t been able to fully sort them out. I genuinely liked it, and binge watched the entire season. I’ve read countless articles, both praising and bashing the show in an attempt to define the feelings that I was experiencing.
First off, I work with teen girls at my church, have mentored teens throughout my college years, and am going to school to teach high school. I wrestled with anxiety and depression throughout my high school years. It’s safe to say I’m passionate about any issue that affects teenagers. Part of the reason I watched the show was because I knew that my teens would be talking about it. I wanted to be in the loop. I had heard from a Facebook friend that the show could be triggering to those who struggled with mental health disorders, specifically depression, so I made my boyfriend watch it with me for moral support. And I’m so thankful I did not watch it alone.
- 1. High school issues are portrayed accurately
I know this will ruffle some parental feathers, but I have to say, the show did a pretty good job in portraying some aspects of high school life. Yes, teenagers curse that much. Yes, parties can be that reckless and irresponsible. Yes, teenagers might drink and drive. Yes, sexual assault DOES HAPPEN at these parties. Yes, many teenagers struggle with self harm. Yes, teenagers are bullied-with pictures and videos now because everything is digital. Yes, the clique dynamics are accurate. It is important for parents, educators, and those working with youth know that these experiences are very real for the students you are working with. I strongly suggest watching the show for anyone in education, church youth leadership, and high school parents; because I think the show does an excellent job in not glamorizing or sugar-coating a teen’s experience.
2. People are finally talking about mental health
I do love that the show opens up a dialogue for people to discuss mental health issues. If you watch the show with your child, it allows you to ask them questions about your feelings that they might be too scared to talk about. Hopefully, it will inspire influencers to be more candid about their struggles with mental health. I love that Selena Gomez, a producer of the show, is open about her battle with depression and anxiety. It makes her more human. And honestly? Kids need to know that they aren’t alone, that their foreign feelings don’t make them a freak. The show does provide some comfort in terms of suggesting that the feelings of depression and anxiety aren’t theirs alone to bear.
- There are no resources available to someone who is struggling with suicide
I have a serious issue with the fact that Netflix did not include hotline numbers at the end of each episode. What about the kids watching this show who are being bullied, feeling exactly the way Hannah felt? This is irresponsible on Netflix’s part. They allowed an extremely, extremely sensitive topic to reach vulnerable teens WITHOUT providing access to HELP. There is no excuse.
2. It IS triggering
It might not be triggering for every teen, but it sure is triggering to several of the girls that I’ve talked to. And I guarantee you there’s a lot of teenagers out there who feel the same way. Mental health struggles are very real, and should NOT be taken lightly. If you are struggling with depression, have had suicidal thoughts, self harm, are a victim of sexual assault, or have PTSD: watch the show with a trusted friend or do NOT watch it. Please. Especially be careful of episodes 9, 12, and 13. I didn’t even watch the suicide. It was too much for me, so I removed myself from the equation. Self care is not weird.
3. Does it provide suicide as an option?
This is the great debate between internet commentators about the show. Some will argue YES, some would argue absolutely NOT. From considering a teenager’s point of view, I think I side more with yes. It seems as though Hannah feels as if suicide would solve all her problems (a common thought among suicidal teens) and I feel as though there is not enough grief depicted that would counteract this assessment. The show did not portray her funeral. It did not show any other option that Hannah could have chosen in her time of need. Even though we are watching from her perspective, teenagers watching the show need to see another option, a plan B that would NOT result in taking their own life. Instead, they are met with a gruesome scene of a girl slitting her wrists. And may I remind you, NO RESOURCES at the end of the show for help. To some younger viewers, it seems as though her death was necessary to “prove a point.” And that is flat out WRONG.
I think it’s easy to consider the show from an adult perspective, but my mindset completely changes when considering the pre-teens and teenagers who are watching (and obsessing) over it. Sure, the show is rated TV Mature, but the book is a YA book (targeted to teenagers). It’s also trendy. Can we expect teens to stay away from something that’s taken pop culture by storm? Nah. That’s why there’s cause for some alarm-not that the concept of the show itself is bad, but because we have to consider its audience.
With season 2 coming out, I have to wonder about the integrity of Netflix as a company. From a monetary standpoint, it is a great business move. But I wonder if they are praying upon vulnerable youth trying to fill their own pockets. Will we see a greater spike in suicide attempts? They are already sky high. We don’t need to lose lives because of the irresponsibility of a show, and the unavailability of resources. However, we can’t stay silent about these real issues that permeate the hallways of our nation’s high schools. Bullying and sexual assault need to be discussed-and not in a blame-the-victim kind of way.
What do you think about season 2? Have you watched 13 Reasons Why?