I have been paying attention to the discussions on social media about the Original Netflix TV series, 13 Reasons Why and felt that it was not something I was interested in. That being said, millions out there are watching it, young and old, and I couldn’t go without chiming in with some sort of coverage.
Full disclosure: I have not seen the TV series, but I hope this won’t stop you from reading on. There is valuable information and insight to be found below.
I remember in 2007 when the movie Juno came to the big screen. I also remember the controversial conversations which followed. It struck cords of painful realities that some struggled to resolve. Some thought it glorified pre-marital sex and built tolerance around and glorified the issue of teen pregnancy. It seemed to be a movie that not everyone should or could watch. I believe that the TV series, 13 Reasons Why, prompts the same types of conflicting sentiments and reactions in regards to mental illness and suicide.
Over dinner one night, I asked my 18-year-old if she had watched the show. I was admittedly a bit taken aback when her answer was, “yes”. Given the fact that she’s 18, legally an adult and about to be living on her own, we no longer control what she watches or has access to. The choices she makes from here on out are hers – as will the consequences be. She knows this and handles this responsibility well.
I knew I wanted to share thoughts on this show here on HJ but knew I wasn’t qualified since I hadn’t seen it. So, I asked my daughter If I could share some of our conversation with you. She graciously agreed.
During the course of our conversation, “A” (my daughter) mentioned that this story should have remained on the pages of a book and never been made it to the screen. With our media driven culture, I tend to think she’s right. Fewer people will pick up a book to read as will click a button on the remote. So many have viewed this show who aren’t prepared or equipped to handle the graphic visual content that is inappropriate for certain age groups or those whose emotional state aren’t strong enough to handle it.
Parents, be aware that your children might be watching this show without your knowledge. It is on Netflix and not censored. Although it does have a rating of TV-MA, unless you have preset controls on your Netflix account, your child could be watching without you knowing it. I would encourage you to ask them about it. Even if you approve of them watching it, it is likely they will need to process what they have seen and I believe parents, or a trusted adult, should be the ones for them to have those conversations with. Rest assured they are already talking about it with their peers.
Read through the conversation I had with my 18-year-old daughter.
Why did you watch 13 Reasons Why?
There was a lot of conversation around it. I didn’t know much about the show or what it was about other than it was just based off a book. I decided to see what all the hype was about.
Are you glad you watched it? Why?
I am glad I watched it. It was eye-opening for sure. The insight I had into how different styles of bullying and how that can lead to someone to want to kill themselves really changes how I react to people. The show definitely got me thinking on how I present myself to certain people. Although I wouldn’t recommend it to others just because I watched it, I was glad I did. That doesn’t mean I would recommend it to someone else.
Did you want to stop watching 13 Reasons Why but continued anyway? If so, why?
I did want to stop watching because it was just very heart wrenching to watch some of the very vivid things happening to the characters. I continued watching because it had a storyline with so many unanswered questions that weren’t revealed until the end of the season. It is one of those shows that involves your emotions so you feel the need to finish to have closure, I guess.
Who do you think this show is intended for?
I think this show is for people who are bullies or for high school students who struggle with identity issues in regards to bullying. It creates awareness and hopefully promotes conversation within the stigma of bullying and mental illness/suicide.
Do you think people are watching the show that shouldn’t be? If so, who?
It should definitely not be watched by younger audiences. The rating for being TV-MA is so true. The idea presented and the visuals were so vivid many times I had to skip parts of it. Also, people who struggling with mental illness should NOT watch it. I struggle with mental illness; however, I knew I was in a good place and it didn’t affect me as much. I think someone who is in the midst of their struggles could really be harmed by this.
Do you think 13 Reasons Why is harmful in any way?
The show really did not hold back and was very harsh with their scenes. It shows vivid representations of sexual assault and suicide. I didn’t even watch these scenes because they were so real and raw. These visuals could actually hurt someone who has been through these horrific events.
Do you think it has any positive benefits?
I think it creates real life scenarios of bullying. It raises awareness about those who struggle with mental illness. You can really sympathize with the characters. I am glad I watched it for my own personal reasons. It did enlighten me on how I treat people and how I react to how people treat me.
What would you tell parents whose younger children are watching the series or have access to it?
Do not let them watch this. I praise the show for representing something most people are afraid of, but for younger children to watch this is not okay. It upsets me that this show is on Netflix with access granted to anyone.
Do you think parents should watch 13 Reasons Why with their children?
Although I don’t think this is something a child should even be allowed to watch, I don’t think this is a show for parent and child to watch together. It has brought a lot of good conversation between my peers and friends. Also, in all honesty, I would feel extremely uncomfortable watching this with my parents.
Why would you feel uncomfortable watching it with your parents?
It’s just not something that is relationship building. I think it is something to watch separately and then have a conversation about. It’s just so raw and vivid. It’s worse than watching a sex scene with you (Mom) in a Rom Com. That is already uncomfortable enough. So, this is something I would rather have a conversation with my parents about rather than actually see what they are feeling in the moment. It requires reflection time.
Would you say this series is about bullying or suicide?
It’s about how bullying leads to mental illness which then leads to suicide. It’s the chain reaction.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
To watch this show you will need an enormous amount of courage and strength. for someone like me who had no expectation or knew anything about the show, it definitely caught me off guard. I encourage readers to pick your battles. Depending on how much strength you can muster, this may be a battle you want to sit out.
To take the conversation further, I went to social media asking for those who have seen the show to offer their thoughts in three words or less. (Clearly, a few of them see rules as mere guidelines but that was fine with me.) Here is what they (they = a wide range of ages, personalities and belief systems) had to say about 13 Reasons Why:
“I did not get through the whole series. It was way too triggering for me.”
“Heartbreaking. Real. Eye-opening.”
“Confronting. Real. Heartbreaking.”
“Raw. Hard. Heartbreaking.”
“Vulnerability. Thought-provoking. Heart-wrenching.”
“Confronting. Something for older teens and parents to watch together!!”
“Heartbreaking. Thought-provoking. Wake-up call.”
“I saw it. I had mixed feelings. Overall I would not recommend it. I felt it had an important message but did not like the delivery.”
“Real. Teen. Behaviors.”
“I’m too scared.”
I hope this brings clarity and wisdom to your choice to watch or allow your children to watch 13 Reasons Why. Honestly, after putting this article together, I’m even more convinced it’s a show I don’t need in my life. But that’s just me. If I had young children who wanted to watch it or have already watched it, I might feel differently so we could digest together what they have already taken in.
Adults: Be informed. Make sure the content is something that you are strong enough to handle.
Parents: Talk openly with your children. Let them hear about these tough topics from you first. Also, be informed. With a topic like this and graphic visual material, you can’t afford to not be.
Older Teens: Proceed with caution. If you’re going to watch this, make sure you have someone you trust to discuss it with.
Younger Teens and Children: This show is not for you. At least not for you to watch alone. With a TV-MA rating, even Netflix says it isn’t. If you have watched it already, talk to someone – your parents or an adult you can trust. You don’t have to deal with these very hard issues alone.
UPDATE: It came to my attention after the posting of this article that just days before, Netflix issued a statement saying they have added a trigger warning at the beginning of the series. Further, they have also produced an aftershow, Beyond the Reasons, to foster deeper conversations regarding this sensitive topic. Source: The Hollywood Reporter
Photo credit: themoviedb.org