13 Reasons Why EVERY Parent Should Watch "13 Reasons Why"
Or at least 13 lessons YOU can learn as a parent and be made aware of from this show.
There has been a LOT of controversy lately over the Netflix Original Show “13 Reasons Why”, and now with the release of the second season it seems that controversy is not dying down any time soon. Schools are sending notices to parents to NOT let their children watch this show, petitions have been started to get the show removed from Netflix, and I have even seen one parent trying to blame her daughters suicide attempt on this show. When I first heard about this show a year ago from some high school girls I worked with and they explained the premise, I had to ask why in the world would anyone watch something that sounds so depressing! But since everyone was talking about it and I wanted to stay up to date with what my high schoolers and the culture was into at the moment, I binged the show in about 1.5 days (who needs sleep right?). In case you haven’t heard about this show yet, it is the story of a young high school girl who committed suicide and left behind tapes for different people who are all part of her “reason” of committing suicide. If that sounds dark, it’s because it is. If that sounds inappropriate for kids, IT IS. Some people say that it is "glorifying" suicide, but I think the show actually did a great job of show the negative effects this girls suicide had one everyone around her, and at the end of each episode is a PSA that if you are struggling and need help finding crisis resources, you can visit 13reasonswhy.info Honestly I can't say if watching this show will actually help or hurt a struggling teenager, but I would advise not watching this without adult supervision if you are under the age of 18.
BUT, if you are a parent with children at home, ESPECIALLY teenagers that you send to school, you NEED to watch this show.
Why you ask?
BECAUSE THIS IS REAL. Maybe not the exact story itself, but the things that happen in this story, the scandals, the abuse, the poor decisions, the clueless parents, all these things are exactly what our main stream culture looks like right now.
How do I know this? Because I have worked with youth, Jr High to Highschool and even college age, for almost 10 years now and have a major in Youth and Family Ministry. The stories I have heard have broken my heart time and time again. The abandonment and cluelessness I have seen by parents has shocked me. The amount of anxiety and depression experienced on a regular basis among the teens I have worked with TERRIFIES me.
And this show scared the living CRAP out of me because for each story it told, I could think of a real-life person I knew whose story reflected that in an eerie way.
So, if you are on the fence and still not sure what kind of topics this show dives into, I am going to go into some examples (spoiler alerts) of the things I have seen and heard so you can have a better understanding as to what kinds of things our teenagers face today in mainstream culture. Here are my 13 reasons why you should watch this show, what you can learn from it, and some conversations you may need to have with your teenager if you are a parent of one!
1. You SHOULD be concerned about your child’s Public School and Main Influencers. - I have to admit I am biased to homeschooling as this is how I was raised, but I understand that is not for everyone and that’s ok. That being said, when you send your child to school (especially a public school) for 8+ hours a day (not including time for sports and extra-circular activities), you need to think LONG and hard about who their main influencers will be. Do you think it will be the under paid/over worked teachers, in charge of who knows how many kids, that your child sees for about an hour or two a day? I Doubt it. Most likely their main influencers will be their peers, for better or for worse. Even if your child hangs out with “good kids” you need to remember that they are STILL kids. DUMB kids that can do dumb things (like we all did as kids) because their brains are not fully developed, and they have not yet gained wisdom or mature reasoning and coping skills. Even though these kids may seem supervised when in school, the truth is the teachers and staff can’t possibly be everywhere at once monitoring every interaction, and kids will be kids right? We all know bullying can happen, but there is SO MUCH MORE that happens beneath the surface inside your child’s school, which this show makes you blatantly aware of as we watch these kids interact with hardly any adults ever present. There is a book called “HURT 2.0” by Chap Clark that goes into detail how so many youths have been “abandoned” in some form or another by parents and adults and so have formed their own “underground culture” with their main influencers being their peers. It makes so much sense of how our culture today has come to be and EVERY parent (or maybe every person) should read this book. If you are a parent that chooses to send your child to school, you need to be AGGRESSIVE in making sure you are an influencer in your child’s life, that you have time with them every day and that you KNOW what is going on with them, where they are at all times, and who their friends are. You can’t usually pick their friends FOR them, but you can encourage them and train them on what to look for and expect in a friend, and how to be a good friend in return. You can help your child by finding them ADULT mentors other than yourself that they are able to learn from and confide and go to for wisdom. Maybe that person is a local youth worker/volunteer, family member, co-worker, a close friend from church or even a counselor. Find someone you know who is trustworthy and would be a good influence on your child and then help them set up a regular meeting time in a safe environment. I have heard it said that most kids need 5-6 good outside adult influencers for healthy development, so you as a parent NEED to be proactive in helping your child find those people. In the show, Hannah tries to go to the school counselor with her problems, the ONE adult outside of her parents that she feels she might be able to trust and go to, but he basically brushes her aside and says he can’t really do anything for her. Hannah felt she only had ONE resource, ONE adult, ONE last chance, and he proved not to be trust worthy to her. DO NOT let your child end up in the same situation.
2. ZERO Parental Guidance is DANGEROUS. No, I’m not talking about the rating of movies. Watching this show, I kept asking WHERE IN THE WORLD ARE THE PARENTS!?!? These kids are constantly out unsupervised at night, locking their doors, sneaking around, drinking, throwing parties, having secret sleepovers, going on dates, meeting at coffee shops and who knows what else! Some of this is a bit exaggerated since it is a show, yet in real life I have seen teenagers who still live at home have FAR more active social lives than I do! They have sleepovers all summer, go to the mall and beach and lunch and I keep looking at their lives thinking are you ever home? Do your parents not have rules? Good parents need to not only be active in their children’s lives, but also their protectors, and sometimes that means even from the teen themselves! Your child does NOT always need to be out doing something, and they CERTAINLY don’t need their “freedom” to do whatever they want! Even teenagers need boundaries like curfews, locks on computers, monitored screen usage, and a parent who can just say NO. What if Hannah’s parents had said no? No, you can’t get a summer job at your age (she looks like she is only 15 in the show and she can’t even drive!), no you can’t go on that date, no you can’t go out tonight, NO. If her parents had been a little bit stricter, she probably wouldn’t have been put into situation after situation that left her so vulnerable. Time at home with their family (if the family model is healthy) is so necessary for a healthy child's development, and I would argue even the chance to be "bored" and experience solitude is beneficial. Your child may say you are “ruining their life” now, but in the long run you could be SAVING it. Besides, if they say that you know you are doing something right…
3. Unmonitored Social Media Usage is detrimental to an adolescent’s development. If you as a parent are NOT scared yet in this modern day and age of what harm social media can do to your child, YOU SHOULD BE. There is a thousand times more pressure to look perfect/hot/sexy (thanks to the Kardashians, Instagram models, and social media influencers) than I EVER had growing up with Barbie or 17 Magazine! If you think Instagram is just a fun way to see friend’s pictures, you need to do some research into how this is actually becoming the best way to advertise to younger generations, and I believe is a huge part of the reason that anxiety and depression is on the rise among youth. “Insta-Famous” models get sponsors as they gain followers and then spend hours trying to take the perfect “effortless picture” to help their popularity and sell products. Guess what, they did NOT just #WakeUpLikeThis and our kids are deceived into thinking that these people truly do live perfect, Pinterest worthy, #Goals lives! ESPECIALLY if you have daughters, you NEED to talk with your children about the reality of most of these “Insta-Famous” people, explain the dangers, and help your children understand that no one is perfect no matter what front they put on. MONITOR who your child follows on social media, and if you want to allow Instagram/Facebook/Snapchat, maybe once a week you sit down with them to look at who they follow or talk to and have a discussion about WHY and if it is WISE. Train your child to do this now and hopefully they will bring that intentionality with them as an adult! Snapchat is a whole other beast that honestly… I would recommend to no one. Yes, the filters are adorable, but you can send messages/photos/videos and hold conversations that are instantly deleted after you look at them, as well as watch daily clips on updates of the going-ons of ALL the Kardashian and their behinds. It is almost impossible to monitor ANYTHING that happens on Snapchat, and that’s kind of the point… so, parents be warned.
4. Text/Sext Scandals DO happen. This one is hard because you want your child to have friends, and in this day and age it seems they need a cell phone to do that. When I do have kids, they will NOT be getting a SMART phone till at least 16, and even then there WILL be locks and limitations. But this show gives a scarily accurate portrayal of the kinds of scandals that happen among teens with phones. A quote from the show says “In Highschool, one rumor, one picture, one SOMETHING can define you FOREVER.” and forever IS how long it will feel if your child gets wrapped up in a scandal like this. In season 1 there is a picture taken of Hannah going down a slide on her first date, having a grand ole time. Not until the next day does she find out that the picture was taken at just the right angle to expose her undergarments, and that the guy she went on the date with showed that picture to his friends (and it ends up getting sent to the whole school) and told them that sexual things had happened, when in reality all poor Hannah did was kiss him. Again, why they were so alone on this first date and not in a more public place with witnesses is beyond me, and it’s the age-old story of the guy trying to appear “cool” to his friends through sexual conquest. But the scary part nowadays is how EASY it is to slander someone’s name!!! As a youth worker I have had Jr. High and high school girls who have been involved in similar scandal’s and labeled sluts, even when some of them did NOTHING to get themselves into such a situation other than text or hang out with a boy! To say this was detrimental to their development is an understatement, but I still can NOT get over how YOUNG some of these girls are! I keep thinking a 13-year-old should barely know what sex IS much less be involved in a sex scandal and labeled SLUT. Hearing these stories and experiencing this heart break with these girls was when I started to realize just how dangerous cell phones were in the hands of your children. Yes, rumors have always been able to spread like wild fire, but now lies can spread at the speed of light, and our children are most vulnerable to this. You can’t protect your children from everything, but you can talk with them about how these situations could happen and set up guide lines in case a situation arises. Teach them to gather proof like a screen shot if they EVER feel uncomfortable and let them know that if they come to you, you will NOT get angry but will do everything you can to help them and make sure they are SAFE! And while we are talking about safety, research and talk about child grooming and how predators are trying to reach children through social media these days. Have those talks NOW before it is too late!!
5. Underage Drinking comes with a high price. At this point, teenagers experimenting with alcohol and underaged drinking (or drugs) just seems like a given. Every show on tv I know of sooner or later portrays the youth getting in to mom and dad’s liquor cabinet (or even the parents OFFERING drinks) and having a crazy fun party or adventure. Now personally I like having a glass of wine or two myself and have no problem with alcohol when used in moderation and legally. But our kids need to know there is far more to drinking than just having FUN and letting loose. This show is actually a great example of some of the other things that can come from underaged drinking, such as when one of the girls crashes her car into a stop sign. Because she has been drinking, she is more worried about the personal consequences that could happen to her than the danger that the bent and no longer visible stop sign poses to other drivers. Because of too much alcohol, another character is too drunk to fight off her rapist. Hannah’s entire character is questioned because of her poor choices involving alcohol (as is Jessica’s). Time and time again in this show we see these characters paying because of “one fun night” or “one bad decision”. YOUR CHILD NEEDS to be aware that one wrong decision COULD actually ruin their whole life. Try those drugs once and you may never get your dream job with security clearance. That drink could lose you your scholarship. Drinking at the party could take your virginity. Getting in that car could take your LIFE. This is one of those topics where “because I said so” should be enough but is NOT. They need to be extremely aware of what their choices in this area could cost them. That being said, YOU CAN have fun in high school without alcohol! I was one of the few people on earth it seems who didn’t actually touch a drop until I was over 21, and I had so many wonderful, fun, awesome memories of parties and bonfires in high school that luckily will not “haunt” me for the rest of my life.
6. Sex Happens...sooner than you even think it does. I have heard of teenagers having sex as young as 12 years old. We know our culture is OVERSATURATED with sex these days, but I am not sure people have a clue as to HOW many teenagers are engaging in sexual activity. Fifteen to sixteen years old is when a lot of teens start having sexual encounters with peers, and by age 18 if a kid is in a relationship, it is usually expected that they have had sex. This statistic says that just under HALF of all 12th graders in this poll reported being sexually active. Now, sexual activity is a topic that will vary from family to family, but the best thing you can do with your teen is try your HARDEST to have open, shame-free communication with your child. I am not saying you have to condone something, but if your child opens up to you about something, LISTEN, DON’T be shocked that your teenager has sexual urges, and DON’T make them feel like this topic is disgusting, embarrassing, or icky to talk about. Sex is a part of life, their body is waking up to that, and sometimes it is better to be blunt about things and get them into the open than to try to sweep something like this under the carpet or establish a “don’t ask don’t tell” relationship. Again, this is where OTHER wise adult mentors would be helpful to guide them towards understanding that sex is not just "fun" but a powerful connecter and what that should be used for, and to answer any questions that might be too uncomfortable to mention to mom or dad.
7. Rape is Real. Once at a youth retreat, a girl opened up to me about how she had been raped. She went to a “party” with what she thought was going to be a few friends she knew. There was an older guy there she had met a few times but didn’t know very well. Apparently, her friend really like this guy and had invited him. There was drinking and eventually she found herself alone in a room with this guy. She wasn’t passed out like the character of Jessica was in the show, and she was able at least say “NO. Stop. I don’t want this.” but that didn’t matter. This guy still raped her, she was to weak and intoxicated to stop it, and afterwards she said nothing. SHE actually felt bad because she didn’t want to get HIM in trouble, and said he probably didn’t really know what he was doing. She didn’t want to press charges or really even tell anyone else, yet you could see this was tearing her up inside. She refused to tell her parents even after hours of talks and coaxing and trying to get her to realize this guy could be doing this to other girls. She was honestly scared to DEATH to tell her parents because she said, “My dad will kick me out of the house!” and didn't want them to know she had been drinking. Now unfortunately, I didn’t really know the parents very well in this situation, but I had a hard time believing ANY father would want to kick his daughter out because she was raped!! I did everything I could to help her see this but in the end, she withdrew and cut ties with me as I and the youth leader were mandated to report this to the police, and I was unable to help her. Obviously, your child needs to know they CAN talk to you if something happens and you WON’T kick them out of the house or stop loving them. But there are also things you teach your child to avoid being in this situation where they could be vulnerable in the first place! Teach them (from a YOUNG age) to be conscious of not being alone with the opposite sex, ESPECIALLY if they are older. Teach them to use the buddy system when using bathrooms and how to have their guard up and be on the lookout for predators. Teach them to evaluate situations they may be going into and make SURE they have a way OUT (maybe this is a cell phone that only makes calls and you or a neighbor or friend are always available to pick them up at a moment’s notice!). Teach them to say no, to walk away, and if all else fails teach them what my mother taught me to KICK AND SCREAM AND YELL AND FIGHT as much as you can! And maybe throw a can of mace in your daughter purse for good measure….
But it’s not just girls. Boys get raped too.
I know one who was raped by a group of boys at his church youth group. Boy or girl, this is a topic that NEEDS to be discussed, and they NEED to know that you are there for them no matter what happens, and they are always safe to talk to you because you love them more than anything.
8. DON’T Allow Closed Doors. Over and over again the kids on this show come home, say hi to the parents as they pass by the living room or kitchen, and then run upstairs to slam their door for privacy. What’s worse is that these parents tiptoe around, knocking on the door and saying “Honey are you ok in there? Can I come in?”. Growing up I only locked my door to change my clothes in the morning or evening (and try to slip in 10 more minutes of sleep). Whenever friends were over we were running all over the house and mom and dad would be walking in and out of our rooms and even if I closed my door they were never far away. If a boy was over there was strict policy about the door remaining open at all times. Again, if you are the parent then you make the rules in your house. Yes, some privacy can be good for a child as they develop but giving them free reign of that and tip toeing around like they are in charge is NOT good for them in the long run. Even teenagers need some strict boundaries, and again you are setting them up for adulthood because even as an adult I don’t want to be behind a closed door with another man. This is how scandals and affairs happen. As a youth worker I am acutely aware of the situations I step into, knowing that even if I do nothing wrong I could still be accused of something if others are not present. Teach them to be aware of and guard their reputation NOW, and sometimes that means a loss of privacy.
9. Don’t Miss or Ignore Warning Signs. I know most tv shows make parents totally clueless on purpose, but I can’t wonder how true this may actually be in real life. These parents can’t tell when their kids are lying, hiding, or rushing out the door to avoid questions. They don’t see the anxiety and depression and cutting and dangerous eating habits. They miss or dismiss outbursts and changes in their children’s behavior. Somehow at the end of the show, one of the boys has a whole TRUNK full of guns and weapons in his room that apparently his parents don’t know about, yet this kid is clearly bullied and even vocal about that fact to his parents and even in the court room! The minuet they showed this boy with his gun stockpile, I KNEW where that story line was leading! Almost all of these kids give warning signs that they are not emotionally stable and healthy. Looks for these signs, research signs of depression and anxiety, don’t be afraid to seek counseling if you feel like you see ANY warning signs! Better safe than sorry!
10. Validate their feelings and take your kids seriously. This is emphasized more in season 2 of this show through flashbacks, but Hannah keeps trying to tell her mom about things like a stalker, or drops hints about the "danger of pictures" and her mom constantly just brushes her off and even laughs at her. “My over dramatic Hannah!” she says, or “So you’re a celebrity now (with a stalker)?”. Hannah gives her mom so many chances to STOP, LISTEN, and ASK more questions about her obviously REAL concerns, but her mother constantly brushes them off. Invalidation is something parents can do all the time without even meaning too. Instead of saying: "Tell me more about this? Why did you feel that way? Do you think I can help?" so many parents brush their children’s fears or emotions aside. They may seem young and stupid and immature to you, but to a child their feelings are real and valid no matter their age. Some of the worst things you can say to your child concerning emotions are “You will be fine, suck it up”, “It’s just a phase!” “You are too young to feel this way and don’t even know what (insert emotion) is!” “Just don’t worry about it” and really anything dismissive. Train YOURSELF as a parent to LISTEN to what they are really saying, from “I’m scared or in pain” to “I’m worried and feel helpless”. What may not seem like a big deal to YOU could influence them for the rest of their LIFE.
11. Fear of Parents reactions. Don’t be shocked when your child messes up. A theme that keeps resurfacing in this show (and in real life) is this strong fear of these children to tell their parents the truth. Not just fear of consequences, but fear of how those parents might change their view of them. The parent keeps insisting to the world their child is a good kid/athlete/student/friend and holding them to such high standards that the child is afraid of breaking their parents image of them if they were to share the truth of their reality. Now, it is one thing to hold our kids to higher morals and standards, but it is another thing to expect them to always be perfect and never mess up. Heaven knows I mess up as a person, I bet you do all the time too! You may mentally KNOW that your child will sooner or later make a mistake or poor decision, but yet so many parents still act shocked and hurt when it happens.
EXPECT your child to mess up.
EXPECT that one day they will probably get a bad grade or lash out in anger or do something stupid no matter how you raised them. The question is not if they will fail but when, and YOUR response in that moment will change their LIFE. Do you listen with understanding and love and grace and help them through the struggle and teach them how to learn from it? Or do you lash out, act hurt and look at them like you failed them and they failed you? How would you want those around you to react to YOU making that same mistake?
12. Teach and MODEL to your children what is RIGHT and HOW to communicate. So many of these kids are acting the way they do because they want to “fit in” and be accepted. They don’t have a strong moral basis they are raised on. For some of them, their parents tell them one thing but act out the opposite, or their parents are more concerned about image than what is right or good for their own kids! The main thing this show seems to want to get across is how many of the teen characters sat back and let crap happen to their friends and didn’t say or do anything to help Hannah. We all want to raise our kids to do the “right thing”, but we need to actively be modeling that by speaking out against injustice when we see it, showing compassion when we can, and making an effort to care for hurt people. TEACH your children patience and to LISTEN. I got so frustrated watching this show because so many of these “reasons” Hannah shared were misunderstandings that could have been worked out. This is why honest and open communication is so important! If something bothers you or has hurt you, learn to address it head on. Teach your children to say, “I don’t know if you meant this, but I felt hurt when you…” or “I am upset because I felt” and address the problem head on. If you teach this when they are young, you will not only help them to be a healthy person but to also have healthy relationships with friends AND in marriage. You can model this as well in your marriage, or even in your relationship with your child. My mom taught me not to accuse, but to say I FELT, which helps keep the validity of the feelings I did experience while leaving the conversation open enough for the other person to respond and explain their intentions. And while I am on the topic, never assume another person’s attentions. Most likely they are not an ill willed person out to get you, they are simply reacting to the situation they are in, of which you may not know all the circumstances.
13. FIGHT FOR YOUR CHILD AND BE INTENTIONAL. In the end, it’s NOT the school’s responsibility to raise your child and keep them safe. It’s NOT their peers’ responsibility to look out for them. It’s NOT the churches responsibility to teach them morals and Biblical principles. As the parent, it is YOURS. You pick what school they go to. You pick what activities and events you allow them to go to. You pick what you allow in your house and under your roof. You are responsible for talking, training, teaching, preparing, guiding, and listening to them for the first 18 years of their life, and no matter what else you do in your life, the influence you left on the children you raised will be the most important thing you will do and will affect many generations to come. So start making yourself aware, do your research, maybe watch this show, alone or with your teenagers if you choose, and TALK about all these things if you have teens under your roof.
Children do not grow up into healthy, well rounded adults accidentally, but with with the love, work and support of intentional and involved parents and mentors.
Make a choice to be present and aggressively involved in your child’s life and God willing you will never be a parent searching for reasons “WHY” your child took their own life.
As to "13 Reasons Why", YES, this show is messed up, but that is kinda the point. Our society and the culture that our youth are growing up in today is beyond messed up, and if we don’t recognize that yet, it’s time to open our eyes.
*Obviously you don't HAVE to watch the show to be aware of and learn some of these lessons, but I will say the visual aspect of it makes it so much more REAL and shows how crucial it is to be aggressively involved in your child's life, and what could happen if you're NOT. If the language of this show (or material) offends you and you are worried about the language around your teens, maybe spend a day hanging out at the local high school. I can almost guarantee your child has already been “exposed” to strong language. Otherwise, I do believe you can connect VidAngel to your Netflix account to help filter unwanted material. Don’t you wish you could do that for their whole life? Actually… I take that back… they tried that in a “Black Mirror” episode (season 4, Episode 2) and that didn’t work out so well either so….