Saturday, April 22, 2017

Why I Don't Want My Kids Watching '13 Reasons Why'

A new series on Netflix, "13 Reasons Why," focuses on high schools students and what it's like to be a teenager in today's America. I watched the series with the intention on being informed about what teens are watching. If it were not for that purpose, I would not have finished watching the series.

The premise of the series is the main character, Hannah Baker, kills herself and leaves behind the 13 reasons why she ended her life. Each reason is a story about a person who she believes did her wrong. Each story is an episode. The series is based off a young adult novel by the same title by Jay Asher published several years ago.

The series is narrated by Hannah through the cassette tapes she leaves behind. The other main character, Clay, struggles to understand why he is on the tapes and also vows to seek revenge on behalf of Hannah. 

It was clear to me that Hannah also sought vengeance by leaving behind these tapes that would ruin the lives of the people on them if the tapes were exposed. Much of the series is spent trying to make sure the tapes aren't exposed by the people on the tapes.

The subjects of the tapes are on them for various reasons. One person sent a misleading photo of Hannah to others making it look like she had sex with him. Another character is trying to hide the fact that she kissed Hannah and was in the closet as a lesbian. Another was on the tape for raping an unconscious girl at a party and Hannah witnessed it. The bottom line is there are serious reasons that most of the people on the tapes are there. The exception could be that Clay didn't tell her he loved her and care for her the way she hoped he would. 

There are many problems with the series that concern me.

The Graphic Nature of the Series

This series is rated TV-MA. But I believe that it was written for adolescent audiences. It is also on Netflix, so if parents don't have parent controls on and don't ask what their son or daughter is watching, the will not know. 

Besides the drugs and alcohol use, the crimes committed, the profanity, and the bullying, there are three scenes that are still burned in my mind. There are two of the most graphic rape scenes I have ever watched, and there is the scene where Hannah slits her wrists in the bath tub and blood comes squirting out of her arms.

One of the rapes is of a drunk and barely conscious girl at a party. Viewers watch the actual rape. There is nothing implied, it is the real deal. The other rape is also at a party and it is violent. This time the rape is of Hannah, who goes home and discovers bruises all over her body from where the rapist held her down to rape her.

The suicide scene is the worst thing I have ever seen on any movie or show. It wasn't just the blood that was troubling; it was the process Hannah goes through to commit the act. She steals razors, puts on old clothes, and leaves the water running in the tub. While the director has stated that he hoped the scene would not glamorize suicide, I fear it has done just that. In fact, in the book the suicide is attempted by overdosing. The director has said he changed it so that others would not attempt suicide. 

Additionally, viewers watch as her parents discover her body and their reaction to their child having killed herself. 

The Lack of Resources

The only time in the series where any kind of help is offered to viewers is in the epilogue. The epilogue offers viewers a web site to go to for resources. 

I believe it is grossly irresponsible to not put a hotline number and web site for troubled adolescents to contact if they are thinking of hurting themselves or need help at the end of every episode.  I questions how many teen viewers will take the time to watch the wrap-up episode after the series completes. 

On the web site given on the epilogue, there are talking points about the series. This is one of the only helpful offerings of the site. I wish the talking points would have been highlighted at any point in the credits at the end of any episode. 

Kids are Watching

When my 15 year old son found out I was watching this series, he told me many of his friends were watching, too. After I finished the series, I tearfully asked him not to watch and to ask his friends to please talk to an adult about the series. While a few teens are mature enough and prepared to watch this series, I believe the majority of teens are neither. 

While the intention might have been to create a dialogue about bullying, rape, and suicide, many teen viewers cannot think critically enough to see that intent. Instead I believe they get a message that suicide is the only way out, that adults can't be trusted with their problems, that revenge is something that should be sought, and that partying in high school is cool and acceptable.

My 12-year-old son, who is in the sixth grade, begged me to watch the series because he said, "all my friends are watching it." He named a list of about a dozen of his friends who are watching. While I question whether or not a 16 year old is mature enough to watch, there is no doubt in my mind that a 12 year old is not mature enough to watch. 

Furthermore, because it is on Netflix, there is a likelihood that their parents are unaware that they are watching. If the parents are aware of what they are watching, unless they watch with their child or watch before their child, it's hard to understand how serious and graphic the series is, especially in a brain where the frontal lobe is just starting to develop.

Vulnerable Youth

While most adolescents won't watch the series and think that suicide is the only way out, I worry specifically about youth who are already vulnerable. Whether they have had a previous suicide attempt, they have been sexually assaulted, they have experienced another type of trauma, or they are battling mental illness, sorting through the issues in this series might be too much for them.

The series offers no other solutions to Hannahs problems. Whether it was bullying, reporting a sexual assault, friendship issues, or any of the others issues shown, suicide was the answer. So much so that another character in the show attempts suicide in the final episode.

As an educator and school counselor, it is my worst nightmare that a vulnerable youth will watch this series and as a result idolize Hannah and believe what she did was ok or something they should do themselves. 

Talk to Your Own Kids

As you can see, I feel strongly about the dangers of youth watching this series. I take them very seriously.

If your child has watched this series, please talk to them about it. Talk to them about what they saw and how it made them feel. Talk about any issues they saw with the characters. Talk to them about anything they are worried about or want to talk about.

Here are some questions to ask your child and conversation starters that go along with the series: 

  • Have you ever thought about suicide?
  • Are you suicidal now? If so, do you have a plan?
  • Do you know what it means to be raped?
  • Do you understand sexual consent?
  • Do you know what to do if someone makes you feel uncomfortable with the way they touch you, act or say?
  • Do you know what to do if you go to a party and feel uncomfortable?
  • Do you understand some of the consequences of drinking alcohol?
  • What words would you say to someone who wanted you to do something you didn’t want to do? (Drink alcohol, do drugs, have sex, etc.)
  • Have you ever been bullied? What did you do about it?
  • Have you ever been cyberbullied? What did you do about it?
  • Have you ever bullied or cyberbullied someone else?
  • Do you have a trusted adult that you could talk to? (parent, grandparent, family friend, teacher, counselor, principal, pastor, etc.)

Finally, I am not alone in how I feel about this series. Many articles have come out with the same concerns. Here are a few:

Netflix's '13 Reasons Why' Carries Danger of Glorifying Suicide, Experts Say

Parents, Talk to Your Kids About '13 Reasons Why'

A Guide for Parents in Response to New Series

'13 Reasons Why' Offers the Wrong Solution to Teen Struggles 

'13 Reasons Why' Promised to Raise Awareness About Teen Mental Health. That Backfired.

If you need resources after talking to your child, here are a few: 

If you have more questions or concerns, I encourage you to contact your child’s school and speak with his/her school counselor. School counselors should be knowledgeable about the resources available in your area and specific ways the school can help you.

This is a series that can be dangerous. Please talk to your kids.