By Kristy Smith, Linden Teacher
Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not imply endorsement by The Linden School.
"If anything, I think the amount of attention this show has garnered has been a great catalyst for bringing conversations about suicide and the other issues to the forefront in a way that can’t be swept aside. Linden is a place where communication and education are at the forefront in preparing girls to function successfully in the world — shying away from this topic would not be in line with that. Raising the topic and encouraging discussion is the more courageous route (also more like Linden!)" —Monika Joslin, Linden Parent
The recent release of 13 Reasons Why on Netflix has led to a discussion regarding the mental health and social difficulties young people can face in 2017. The show has become quite popular among high school and middle school students in North America, and many news outlets and online platforms have expressed concerns that teachers, parents, and adults who care about young people in their lives may share.
The show focuses on the life and death of high school student Hannah Baker. After struggling with social exclusion, sexual assault, and difficulty maintaining healthy relationships with peers and adults, Hannah dies by suicide. She leaves 13 cassette tapes behind to tell people in her life why she completed suicide. Each tape represents a person who Hannah feels contributed to her emotional decline.
Here are seven thoughts about the show for parents and caregivers to consider:
The content can be quite graphic. The target audience for this show is the teenage/young adult market. If your daughters or other young people in your life are watching, it’s important to be aware that the show does contain mature content. As an adult, I found it quite difficult to watch at times. The show contains scenes of rape, sexual assault, use of alcohol and drugs, and a graphic depiction of Hannah’s suicide.
Suicide can be interpreted as a solution. This is one of the key concerns many parents and caregivers have about the show. Hannah’s tapes articulate that her suicide was the solution to her pain, and also a way to seek revenge on the people who had wronged her. This thinking can be damaging to young viewers, so it is important to have conversations with your daughter about self-care, and identifying people she can turn to if she is struggling with depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, or other feelings that can be difficult to cope with.
Adults in the show are completely clueless. Although this is something that has upset parents and adult viewers, I think this is one of the show’s greatest strengths. As teachers and parents, we often feel like we know the young people in our lives deeply. But it’s important to recognize that young people can be struggling with issues that may not be obvious to us. This is an opportunity for us to slow down and really listen if our daughters and students come to us with concerns. It’s also a reminder that we need to be mindful of how they are feeling and coping with stress, and that we need to reflect on our own interactions with young people. Are we behaving in ways that show them that they can come to us? Are we listening to them? Are we validating the way they feel?
We’re invited to talk about consent. In the show, there are multiple instances of sexual assault. There is also an episode where one of the boys shares a photo of Hannah without her knowledge or consent. These are key talking points we can use to continue our hard work ensuring all Linden girls feel empowered to advocate for themselves and respect the consent of others. One of the things I love about Linden is our focus on consent. It’s not unusual to see two students hugging in the hallway, and a teacher asking them if they asked each other for consent before the hug. Everyone has a right to autonomy over their body, and it’s important to begin facilitating that early.
There are many triggers throughout the show. This is one of the reasons why I personally feel students in junior or middle school should not be watching 13 Reasons Why. Older students should exercise great caution and speak openly with parents about watching. The graphic nature of the show can be distressing for viewers with experiences of mental illness, social isolation, sexual assault, suicidal ideation, or social exclusion. I encourage everyone (adults included!) who chooses to watch to know their limits and triggers, practice self-care, and watch with a trusted friend, parent, or other supportive person in your life.
Pace yourself. I’m getting repetitive here, but I’ll say it again: this show is difficult to watch. It’s no secret that young people are becoming desensitized to graphic content: we see it more and more in new media every day. But the show demands that viewers develop a relationship with Hannah, and binge-watching this program can be emotionally exhausting. Take it one episode at a time, and reflect on your feelings before moving forward. Personally, I had to cover my eyes during Hannah’s death scene.
We need to trust women. In the final episode of the show, Hannah decides to try and reconcile her feelings one last time. She speaks to her guidance counsellor, and confides in him that she was raped by a fellow student, but does not feel comfortable saying who. Her guidance counsellor discouragingly tells her there isn’t anything he can do. Unfortunately, this narrative isn’t unique. We still live in a society that does not trust women who report rape and sexual assault, and we don’t have to look far for reminders of this in the media. 13 Reasons Why reminds us to listen to survivors and respect their autonomy.
Overall, 13 Reasons Why isn’t an inherently bad show, but it does invite adults to consider how we can actively support our young people. If you allow your daughter to watch it, I encourage you to watch it with her. Our students are mature, compassionate, and resilient, but I believe every young viewer should have a caring adult who is familiar with the content to talk to. As Linden teachers, we are always here to support you and our community, and guide our students through the challenges of adolescence!
Resources and Related Links:
Kids Help Phone at 1 (800) 668-6868 or visit the website to chat