13 Reasons Why :: One Mother's Perspective

This is just one mother's view and I understand and respect that many others may differ just as our parenting styles differ.


There's been a lot of press and even more talk about the controversial Netflix Series 13 Reasons Why. The series, set in 13 episodes, and produced by Selena Gomez is based on the book of the same name, which is required reading in many high schools as I have recently come to learn. 

Before I even considered watching I had heard that the series glorified suicide and the last two episodes were brutal and impossible to watch. I can't tell you how far this is from the truth. Many high schools and middle schools have sent notes home to parents almost as a warning but also to encourage us to talk about the hard to talk about topics. For those schools doing this, including those in my own school district, I applaud you.

Let us not sweep these topics under the rug.

We need to talk about what makes us uncomfortable.

We must take Honesty over Harmony.

Let us not pretend these things aren't happening.

Let us not close our eyes.

Let us not be naive. 

Our kids are watching. And they are talking.

13 Reasons Why DOES NOT glorify suicide.

In fact, it successfully does just the opposite. It shows that suicide is permanent with rippling effects and affects everyone. It depicts, in a very real and honest manner, how one seemingly small thing can lead to another, and another and another.  The topics covered are uncomfortable but they are very real and they're happening all over the country. And so watching 13 Reasons Why will at times make us uncomfortable and squeamish.

13 Reasons why is NOT a story about revenge. 

13 Reasons Why has us asking the hard questions and talking about the uncomfortable.

13 Reasons Why is a love story.

Why is this never discussed? 

We don't see this initially, but this is cautionary tale, a poignant love story about unrequited love and in the end the reader is left grappling with his or her own emotions as do each of the characters in the series. At the end we hear "if only I had..." repeatedly. Teenagers think so very differently than adults do. Their frontal lobes aren't fully formed. They can't see past today and into the future. They are terribly influenced by their peers and the need to fit in. They are constantly seeking approval. And as we learn, so many feel very much alone.

The series is based on the book of the same name which is now celebrating its 1oth Anniversary and has received accolades from all over the world for its honest approach to these very real and very serious teen issues. The author, Jay Asher, was inspired to write this based on his own battle with suicidal thoughts in his youth.

Again, despite what you are hearing, neither the series or the book does anything to glorify suicide.

13 Reasons Why makes us all aware. 

13 Reasons Why successfully shows us that our pre-conceived ideas of bullying, rape and suicide are inaccurate. Alcohol can lead to very poor decisions. Slut-shaming is very real. A seemingly innocuous note passed around a classroom can be sexually exploitive. A single picture blasted out into the internet is a form of bullying. One doesn't need to say no, stop, fight back, kick, scream for an act of unconsented sex to be considered rape. Rape doesn't need to be brutal in the traditional and physical sense.  We learn that any sexual act without a verbal yes is a form of assault, or rape. These are all very real topics that today's teens struggle with and the book and the series do well do explain this. 

It should also be noted that while there was one suicide, there were two, nearly three attempts, and not by the main character. 

It should also be noted that there was not one but two rapes. Neither were in the traditional, pre-conceived manner.

It should be noted that drinking affects judgement, and not just when one gets behind the wheel.

Therapy dogs were brought on to the set to help the actors.

13 Reasons Why also eloquently highlights why we shouldn't be so quick to judge - We have no idea what really goes on behind closed doors... Here we are given glimpses, often uncomfortable ones, into those personal lives behind the closed doors. Our lives are not perfect. No one's is. It's imperatively important to show this to our teenagers.

13 Reasons Why is a telling and compassionate story of loneliness and succeeds in illustrating the fact that everyone, no matter who or what they are can be affected by it. That loneliness is oftentimes crippling. That our children can be lonely yet we have no idea that they are. 

You may not like 13 Reasons Why because of the subject matter. Because these kids drop the F-bomb left and right. Because they approach controversial subjects without restraint and tell it like it is. Because there are questions about sexuality and sexual orientation. Because teenagers behaviors are often inappropriate. Especially when under the influence of alcohol. Because teenagers struggle to find the courage to speak up and out. Because rape is shocking. Because suicide is final. 

Here's what I will tell you. This isn't the first of its kind, nor is it the most brutal or most violent.

Instead, it approaches the topic with a very modern and real-life sensibility. Your children have likely seen much, much worse. There is more violence and blood shed on the news. There is more violence and bloodshed in the movies, on other Netflix programs and God knows what they're watching on YouTube.

I almost didn't watch past Episode 3.

I thought it was overly dramatic and sensationalized. And frankly I was bored. But my older two children had seen it and I thought I should, especially given all the controversy. I wanted to know what they had seen. And so I kept on watching. It was a cool, dreary and rainy Saturday afternoon and I binged on a few episodes. By the 6th episode I was nearly halfway there and fully engaged. The main characters were all starting to develop. I was becoming vested in their livelihoods. I wanted to yell at some. I wanted to throttle some. Teenagers have the innate capacity to make us want to do this. While I initially thought Hannah to be overly dramatic, which admittedly annoyed me, this is how teenagers are. (My own children included.) Their very worlds are dramatic. We learn that what might seem small and irrelevant is anything but. I learned a lot as a parent. It was invaluable. 

I strongly recommend that every teenager, parent, educator, counselor and therapist watch 13 Reasons Why. I also strongly urge everyone to watch the follow-up interview with the actors, writers, producers and therapists. 

At the end of the day it is up to every parent to decide when their children should watch, yet parents should also be aware that their kids are likely watching. Or have watched. Even if you think they haven't. Parents should also be aware that their high school children face many of these situations on a very regular basis. We can't be naive. We can't afford to be.

As parents we also need to understand that many of these issues will continue past high school. We need to talk to our children now while they're still at home with us, under our roofs. Hopefully this has opened their eyes as it has my own. My own town's own schools have had issues with cyber-bullying just this year, and unfortunately it received national attention. One dumb comment can forever alter a student's future. We've also recently experienced a very serious car-crash which left 6 friends from 3 different towns in grave condition. One nearly died. Two remain critical. 13 Questions Why asks the very real and very hard questions, honestly and fairly. 

If your child does have suicidal tendencies the series might not be appropriate. By that same token, it would be remiss and unwarranted to suggest that a book, film or television series would cause suicidal tendencies. 

13 Reasons Why - A brief synopsis:

Thirteen reasons why is the poignant and touching story of Hannah Baker told from her perspective. Prior to committing suicide she recorded 13 tapes, each naming an individual who had both touched her and ultimately let her down. We are introduced to the to the tapes when they come to Clay Jensen, Hannah’s classmate and her secret crush. These tapes will forever change Clay's life as well as those around him. As Clay listens to the tapes, and as we do, we get to know the protagonist on an intimate level. We gain insight into the causes of her pain. As Clay learns more about Hannah, he learns more about himself. I know there are a great many teenagers out there who can identify with Hannah, Clay and the other characters.

As we become more and more engaged we see the uncomfortable and bitter truths so eloquently handled, among them teenage drinking, drinking and driving, teenage sex, rape, bullying and suicide. We see how each of these terrible things all lead to her suicide. Contrary to what many are saying 13 Reasons Why is a moving story about love, loss, depression, secrets and the fear of speaking up and out. 

About the author

Jay Asher is an American young adult fiction writer. Apart from 'Thirteen Reasons Why', he has also co-written, 'The future of Us' with Carolyn Maker. 

Read the Teen Vogue interview with Jay Asher here