13 Reasons Why
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that 13 Reasons Why is an intense, dark Netflix drama based on the popular young adult novel Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and is definitely not a light watch or for younger kids. The disturbing story explores a troubled teen's motivations for committing suicide, opening after the fatal event, with all appearances by deceased Hannah in the reflections of a boy who harbored a secret crush on her. Messages about treating people with respect and not taking others for granted are prominent, but the fact that Hannah blames others for her suicide is problematic and may send the wrong messages to some sensitive teens. The series doesn't shy away from mature issues, as Hannah's suicide is shown in great detail, as is more than one graphic rape scene involving a teenager. There's teen drinking, voyeurism (a boy circulates a picture of a girl in a compromising position after a sexual encounter), and lots of swearing ("f--k," "s--t," and "a--holes"). While this challenging story could help parents start conversations with teens about issues like bullying, isolation, and depression, the way the series addresses these issues is complex and may be confusing for impressionable viewers.
What's the story?
13 REASONS WHY follows Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) as he wrestles with his feelings after the recent suicide of his classmate and crush, Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford). Haunted by their brief friendship and her shocking death, Clay is surprised when a package arrives containing audio tapes on which Hannah chronicled the 13 matters -- and 13 people who caused them -- that led her to end her life. As Clay listens to each side and follows clues Hannah left on the recordings, he retraces events that reveal secrets and her peers' roles in them, connecting the dots that inspired her fatal decision.
Is it any good?
This series isn't a pleasant watch by any means, but it does raise vital issues that can inspire valuable discussions between parents and teens. There are two disturbing forces at play throughout the story, the first being Hannah's downward spiral and the circumstances that instigated it. Serious matters like cyberbullying, body image, sexual assault, and sexting are addressed unflinchingly; these scenes can be difficult to watch and are too mature for much of the targeted teen audience.
Hannah's choices are also complicated; it's clear that she blames others for her suicide. One wonders what, if anything, she hoped to gain by inflicting posthumous guilt on parties either actively engaged in tormenting her or innocently involved. As 13 Reasons Why is told from Clay's point of view, there's sympathy for him and others left behind, giving viewers a thought-provoking glimpse of what it's like to pick up the pieces after a suicide. Even so, the story's dark tone of blame and revenge sends some concerning messages parents may need to temper -- this is not a "fun" show and could be interpreted poorly by teens who aren't ready for the nuanced portrait of a young girl's life and death.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about the issues raised in 13 Reasons Why. Have your teens witnessed or experienced cyberbullying or more traditional bullying? What different forms can this behavior take these days? What defenses against it exist?
Teens: Do you find your peer pool to be mostly inclusive or exclusive? Can social media be a curse as well as a blessing? How does our constant connection to other people via cell phones cause stress? On the other hand, what are the benefits of this culture?
Why do you think Hannah makes and distributes these tapes? Does it ever feel good to inflict pain on someone else? Is there a time for revenge, or should we always turn the other cheek? Why is it so hard to do so?
Families can also talk about suicide and the way it's addressed in this series. When is it important to talk about mental health, especially if you're worried about a friend or family member? Netflix has a website to visit after viewing the series, 13ReasonsWhy.info. What other resources are available to help both kids and adults?
Sexual assault, specifically the rape of a main character, plays a large role in this series. Families can talk about resources available to teens; the Crisis Text Line is an excellent way for phone-shy teens to reach out in times of need.