Selena Gomez and her mother recently brought to the screen (a la Netflix) a book by Jay Asher called 13 Reasons Why. The novel’s central character, Clay, receives a set of cassette tapes following the suicide of classmate Hannah. The tapes detail thirteen reasons why Hannah decided to take her own life, basically implicating the other children at school (and some adults) in tangling a web of neglect so thick she could not find her way out.
The whole thing is a teen drama along the lines of Pretty Little Liars; a story of teenage issues which could easily be solved if someone, anyone, had simply told an adult. Any adult. A teacher, a parent, a random person in a store. Anyone.
If you are a parent, you should watch this show. Here is why (I will do my best to explain this without any spoilers):
- The parents in this show are all completely clueless as to what is happening in their child’s life. The show is not just about Hannah’s death, but about the way several of the main characters lose their own innocence or moral way. All through the story we see parents happily cooking dinner for their kids, being satisfied with mundane “how was school” interactions and basically not knowing shit about their children. They don’t know where their children are, what they are really doing or who any of their children’s friends are. I see this as a factor of several things, the first being that parents do not want to think anything is wrong with their child. There is a sort of denial that grows around parents with teens: you know your kid by now, she’s a good kid; if she says that something is the way it is, then it is. The thing is that children change. Your chubby cheeked seven year old is not your sullen sixteen year old. I don’t have a teenager yet (my eldest is ten), but I teach almost 100 of them and I can guarantee that there are things I observe about these kids which their parents do not. Case in point, for parents’ evening I have my students give their parents a quiz about themselves. Parents answer silly questions about their child and then we all see how they did. The thing is that the majority of the parents don’t know anything about their children. Some get less than half the questions correct. Things like “What is my favorite color” and “What is my favorite food”. `Many parents will turn to their child and say, “But I thought it was pink? When did it become red?” This television show made me think about that quiz because the parents in this show probably didn’t know the answers to those questions anymore either.
2. Life for teens is hard. Every teenager in the show displays this. They are pressured to be strong academically, excel in sports, be socially acceptable and grow the way society expects them to. Watching these episodes has made me reflect on the pressure I place on my own daughter. As parents we may not realize the anxiety our children experience trying to live up to our expectations. Sometimes we set the bar for our children based on who we think they are and not who they have become. See #1 above.
3. People have no idea of the consequences of their actions. When I was a teenager myself, my friends and I watched a movie called The Butterfly Effect, named for the theory that a butterfly can flap its wings and cause a hurricane somewhere. The movie was about a group of friends who discover that they can go back in time to change the future. The problem is that every time they do, they screw stuff up more and end up destroying lives based on minuscule changes made while in the past. 13 Reasons Why actually references the basis of the phenomenon through the voice of the dead narrator, Hannah. The series of events leading up to Hannah’s decision to commit suicide displays a bevy of wings all flapping at different times, from different directions, causing her own personal hurricane. None of these metaphorical butterflies is aware that their wings are causing damage.
4. You need to monitor your child’s social life. You know what I said about about how the parents in this show don’t know jack about what is happening with their kids? Well, watching will underscore the fact that you need to know who your child’s friends are. The type of people your child hangs out with not only will tell you more about your child, but will be the biggest influencer on her. Hannah’s parents meet people in this show that were close with their daughter and they had no idea. Clay’s mom calls and texts him all the time, yet she has no idea what he is doing. Almost every parent in this show has no idea who their child’s friends are. The saddest thing is that Hannah spends most of her high school life trying to get in with the “right” crowd; the right crowd is what leads to her death. Her parents are clueless when she gains and loses friends, one of the things leading to her suicide.
5. Some people are weaker than others. The way the teens in this show handle pressure shows varying degrees of ability to cope. Hannah chose suicide, some others choose drugs or alcohol or cutting. Things that affect Hannah have some of the other characters saying “get over it”, but her will is not as strong as theirs. The show is a chronicle of one girl’s resolve slowly deteriorating until there is no hope left. There are varying degrees of coping; how does your child handle pressure?
6. Your child could be a bully. The parents in this show don’t know their children are bullies. This means that you also might not know this and it really makes you think. As a teacher, I see children in their environment interacting with one another in ways that their parents don’t. Some of the ones I think are bullies, have parents who think they are the sweetest angels.
7. Whether you want to think about it or not, your child is (or could be) dealing with some crazy moral dilemmas. The kids on this show make a series of bad decisions. I’ll just leave it at that in case you decide to watch and don’t want the plot revealed. The most jarring thing to see about the bad-decision-making is that they grapple with their conscience (or maybe the inner voice of their parents) before choosing the wrong thing based purely on self- and social-preservation.
8. Don’t stop asking questions of your child. This show makes you realize that you need to know more about your child’s life. After watching about four episodes, I sat down with my daughter and asked her all the questions the parents in this show should have been asking their children. I always consider myself to be super involved in my daughter’s life, but after that conversation I felt like I hadn’t known anything prior to it.
9. Make sure you are empowering your child more than being critical of her. So many of the teens in this show seem to be subliminally begging their parents to tell them something good. I realized that in my criticisms of my daughter, I may be drowning my praises. You know how sometimes we only write reviews of products on Amazon when we are dissatisfied? Parenting can become like that, too. As your child gets older, you don’t praise them for putting their socks on or brushing their teeth like you did when they were three. Sometimes children need to know that you value their actions beyond getting good grades or winning a game. The teens in this show spend a phenomenal amount of time crying out for help in subtle ways.
10. You need to listen. Hannah, in so many ways, tells her parents that she is depressed, yet they are so busy in their own lives that they hardly pick up on it. Yesterday, I took my daughter to breakfast (just the two of us) and we ate flaky French pastries and laughed at stuff together. She sometimes makes remarks that she misses when it was just her and no baby brother; nine times out of ten I tell her that brother is here to stay, so stop dwelling. After watching half of 13 Reasons Why, I realized that I could be ignoring and trivializing something important to her.
11. There is a microscopic world where teens live that doesn’t follow the same rules as our adult world. As an adult watching any teen drama, you spend a lot of time saying “just do this” or “just do that” to the characters on the screen. The thing is (and I say this as an adult who spends a lot of time with teenagers) it just doesn’t work like that in the teenage world. Watching this show will give you 13 hours of teen logic to determine exactly how the thought process works.
12. Suicide is something that is difficult to understand if you have never experienced depression. I know this because I was the person who has never understood why someone would think that there was a problem they could not solve. I’m a problem solver, so I just think everyone else thinks that way, too. Ram-packed episodes show every grey area of darkness Hannah absorbed until hope was eclipsed by the midnight ink of impossibility. If you are like me and you are a parent, watch this show. What if your son or daughter is not a problem solver? What if they don’t think like you? Hannah’s parents spend the entire season trying to find out why Hannah chose to kill herself because they are problem solving optimists. Hannah was not.
13. You probably know your child. But what if you don’t?