13 Reasons Why is a show on Netflix based on the Best Selling Young Adult Novel by Jay Asher. The book takes place just after a teenage girl kills herself and she has left a series of 13 tapes behind for the people in her life that are the reasons why she killed herself to listen to. I read the book several years ago and have followed the author online for several years. I am a bit of a YA junkie, and I was really excited for this series to come out. Which means that going in, I knew that the booked touched on extremely triggering topics like rape and suicide.
I watched the series fully intending on sitting down with my middle school aged daughter and watching with her. I knew that the topics touched on were hardcore, and that it would lead to some serious discussions between the two of us. But I am not so naive as to think that her friends aren’t already talking about sex and suicide. Even as a sixth grader, my daughter has brought a string of texts between her and a few friends where one of the girls was threatening to kill herself. This is heavy shit that I hate my kid is learning about at such a young age, but it IS happening, and we as parents DO need to be aware of it.
All that being said, I beg you to, no I IMPLORE you, DO NOT LET YOUR KIDS WATCH 13 REASONS WHY! (And if they have already watched it, but you haven’t, keep reading, because you have some damage control to do.)
Why am I not okay with this Netflix Original Series? Why do I not want kids to learn about the aftermath of bullying, drugs, alcohol, rape and suicide? (This show is rated TV-MA by the way, which means Mature Audience Only. This program is specifically designed to be viewed by adults and therefore may be unsuitable for children under 17. So Netflix doesn’t disagree with me.)
- This show was overly graphic. The last four episodes especially, so if you watch the first couple and think you have a good overview of how intense the show is, you don’t. They have explicit warnings at the beginning of each episode, but that isn’t enough. The show features two rapes of teenage girls. These rapes are gritty, horrifying and not something your children need to actually witness just in case they need to deal with something like this. They did a good job of showing Hannah (the girl who committed suicide) and how she felt during the rape, but watching her body writhe with each “thrust” was completely unnecessary and not something we needed to watch in order to understand the gravity of the situation.
- The suicide toward the end of the series might as well have been a handy dandy how-to graphic for how to kill yourself. They showed her stealing razors, and the showed the actual cutting of her wrists, the way she cried out and laid in the bathtub until she was gone. Why show a kid exactly how to do it? Why was that important? Don’t you think we could have gotten the same feelings if we hadn’t watched the blade actually pierce and slice her skin? (Also, in the books, she took pills. Was that not graphic enough for television?)
- The other big problem I had with the suicide was the build up, the entire series lead up to Hannah killing herself. Which isn’t different than in the books, but for some reason, they made it feel like a big reveal, an event that you were waiting on. Something exciting. Suicide should never EVER be exciting. And I was disappointed that they depicted it as such.
- They glamorized Hannah, the girl who killed herself. They made her out to be this big amazing person that everyone remembered and was heartbroken about after she left. In the book, the story was more about the kids she left behind, but for some reason, the series made this about her, like she left some sort of legacy only a dead girl could leave behind. Why would you want kids to think their lives will only have meaning after they die? What kind of effed up message even is that?
Look, I get it. I get that the whole point of the series is to make me feel uncomfortable because you SHOULD be uncomfortable when it comes to these topics. I understand that the scenes were overly graphic because they were trying to be real and show kids that actions have real consequences. I am just saying that it went too far. That the message is lost in the uncomfortableness, and that the way the series is depicted isn’t fair to the story or to the characters and what they went through.
The bottom line is this: There are differences between reading books and watching shows. With books, if things get too intense you can easily skim ahead a bit and avoid certain content. With shows it isn’t that simple. And a younger watcher might not be emotionally prepared to watch someone else’s depiction of these events. That development takes time. Seeing it thrown out there before they have the emotional strength to understand it us unfair to them and it isn’t right for us as parents to do that.
I remember the first time I watched the Lord of The Rings, when the orcs came on and how scared I was of them. The thing is, when I’d read the book as a kid, the orcs were only as scary as my imagination would let them be, and they were nowhere near as frightening as they were in the movie. I think this is sort of the same thing happening here. When you read something, your mind is only going to let it go as far as your mind can handle but when you watch it, you are at the mercy of someone else’s mind, and this time 13 Reasons Why did a poor job of understanding how much high school and middle school aged kids can handle.
Honestly, I am disappointed that I can’t share this show with my child. That we can’t talk through the things that happen, the cyber bullying, the sex, the kids and the way they treat each other and use this series as a tool to breed the conversation. I would have loved to see this series be something we could show to our high schoolers. A teaching aide for them to understand that life isn’t as dramatic or dire as they think it is in high school. It is such a missed opportunity that because of the overly graphic nature of a few scenes that this series can’t be more valuable to us as a society.
If your kids have already watched it, or you are planning to let them watch it anyway, talk to them. Talk through what they’ve seen and what their friends are talking about. Really spend some time on these topics and assess how it made them feel, because if this show shocked me as an adult, I can’t imagine how much it is going to rock the thought process of an adolescent.