April 21st, 2017
13 reasons...why is it so important?
So if you have a teen or know a teen, you may have seen/heard something about this Netflix series called “13 Reasons Why”. If you haven't, let me explain it a little.
“13 Reasons Why” is based on a book of the same name, about a girl named Hannah Baker. In the first few minutes we find out that Hannah had killed herself. But before she made this decision, she made 13 tapes (yes, audio tapes) that each tell one story about someone who somehow had something to do with it. We hear these tapes as one of the main guys, Clay, listens to them for the first time. Each tape tells stories of broken friendships, broken relationships, lies, and rumors. Then there are the more damaging stories of rape and, in one case, a death caused by a mistake someone made. Throughout the whole 13 episodes we see how each of the characters is affected by both the tapes (if they have heard them already) and the things that have happened to them (or that they made happen).
So why is this series such a huge success? Well, partially because it doesn't shy away from these difficult issues. Teens/kids want someone to talk to them about things that are difficult, but don't always want to hear about it from their parents/guardians/other important adult figures.
“13 Reasons” talks about these issues. It shows us how rumors can impact both the person the rumor is about and the people who hear it (in this case it's a rumor about how “easy” Hannah is). There are multiple tapes that deal with how broken friendships and lies can impact someone's life and how, as a high schooler, the lack of friends can leave someone feeling vulnerable. There are tapes that deal with 2 rapes. Hannah and Jessica each deal with their rape differently. And 13 Reasons doesn't shy away from showing how deeply they are affected and how that is manifested in their lives. We see kids who are broken and messed up and just plain need help; teens whose problems may, sometimes, seem trivial (especially to adults), but are very real and very overwhelming. The viewers also seen teens who are going through more than most people see on the surface. We see it all.
One might ask, “Well, where are the adults in all of this? Didn't any of them notice things were going on?” And those are valid questions with not so simple answers.
Hannah’s parents are introduced pretty early on. The viewer learns that they are suing the school because the Bakers believe that Hannah committed suicide due to bullying at the school. We see them in flashbacks with Hannah, being involved with her, asking her the normal things parents ask teens (how was school, how are your friends, what are you doing/where are you going). This relationship seems normal. But we also see that Hannah’s parents, who own a small pharmacy, are often worried because of the big box store that just moved to town and how that could/does impact their business. We see how the stress they have adds to what Hannah is already going through and how Hannah doesn't want to add more to their plate.
What about teachers/counselors/other school personnel? A teacher, the principal, and the school counselor all take part in this story. Early on we meet one of Hannah and Clay’s teachers. This teacher seems to be liked by most of the students and tries her best to engage teens in school. There is an anonymous basket put in the class where the teacher says they can “ask anything and I will try to answer it.” Hanna puts a question in there about how to deal with one of her issues. But it is anonymous and the teacher can't deal with it without more detail (which no one will provide). Hannah even goes to the counselor as a last ditch effort. She tells him she is struggling with “things.” She says she “needs everything to stop.” He asks all the right questions and almost gets Hannah to confide in him about her rape. But she can’t quite do it because she feels he is distracted (his phone rings multiple times while she is there). She isn’t 100% sure that she can even get her rapist convicted, so the counselor suggests that if she doesn't do something the only other option is to move on. Then after another few minutes, she leaves.
At the end, we watch as Hannah cleans up her room, gets things in order, and then goes and kills herself. Yes, the viewers see that too. We watch Hannah’s mom find her. We watch her (and Hannah’s dad), struggle to see how this could have come to be.
So what do we do now? Well if you have a teen, watch it. Don't assume your teen hasn't already seen it. I talked with 2 of my kids about it for 3 hours the other day. 3 hours. If they haven't, ask them if they want to watch it with you. Once you have finished it, talk with your kids. Ask them how they felt about it. Ask them if anything like that ever goes on at school. Ask them who they talk to about this kind of heavy stuff (maybe even make a list of people you both are ok with them talking to -adults you both trust). If all else fails and you just are feeling like this is way over your head, go to 13reasonswhy.info because they have resources there. Also look at the national suicide prevention's website (suicidepreventionlifeline.org) or rainn.org to learn more about how to discuss sexual assault.