Steeped in controversy, the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” has brought greater awareness to teen issues such as bullying, depression and suicide. It’s raw. It’s violent. It’s difficult to watch. But it’s real and the reality of what many teenagers go through on a daily basis. Long before it became a series, I read the book, “13 Reasons Why.” And yes, I did watch the series with my daughter (who was 19 at the time), which sparked some great conversation.
Regardless of how you feel about the series, it was my past naivete that leads me now to face these types of hard topics head on. Our family’s personal experience with some of the same issues addressed in this series doesn’t allow for me to ignore the painful truth. Yes, even for a semi-functional family. A two-parent family. A loving family. A church family.
Whether you choose to watch it or not, alone or with your child, I implore you to consider 13 reasons why you need to talk to your children about these types of difficult topics.
- What we think is minuscule could be monumental to your child.
I’ve always joked that my daughter was a drama queen, or when she was younger that she was sensitive. Emerging into the teen years, I oftentimes made the mistake of dismissing her “end-of-the-world” events with it “just being her.” Yet the reality is that some of those events were truly traumatic to her. The more I poo-pooed them, the less she shared. As a result, she suffered silently. Our wake-up call came when she overdosed, which thankfully she recovered from. But it taught me a painful lesson on not recognizing the importance of taking her hurts to heart.
2. Bullying is real and it’s harsher that we might imagine.
Bullying has reached new levels, compared to when I was a child. And we can easily miss cues that it’s become an issue for our child. I naively believed that my daughter’s middle school years were smooth sailing. It wasn’t until she was in high school that I discovered just how painful that time was in her life. None of my children have been spared from some form of bullying. And it didn’t just happen at school…it happened in the church. It extends to an online world, in which you can’t seem to escape the bullying. Pictures, posts, snap chats, Tweets, and comments can follow a child around ruthlessly.
3. Everyone reacts differently to bullying.
The way someone responds to taunts, name-calling, or harassment depends on so many different factors. Some people seem to handle it better than others. Certainly, the answer is never to end one’s life. Yet we can’t dismiss the deep hurt that some feel, to the point where it feels like there is no other option. Because of this, we need to be available to our children so they can talk to us if there are issues of bullying.
4. Our children need to understand the impact of suicide.
Some felt the Netflix series glamorized suicide. In some ways I can understand why, but it also depicted the deep pain and anguish felt by the main character’s parents, friends, and yes, even her enemies. Suicide is a very uncomfortable topic but it’s so important. My daughter (thank God) was able to see the effects of her overdose on our family. This isn’t always the case.
5. We need to understand the climate our teenagers face on a daily basis.
At one point in the series I turned to my daughter and asked, “Is this really what school is like?” It seemed almost too vulgar to believe. Yet she confirmed that it was indeed what she had experienced. Our children face a daily barrage of foul language, unkindness, gossip and backstabbing. While we’d like to believe they’re untainted, it’s safe to say they’re affected to one degree or another. And let me assure you, it takes place in both public and private schools. It’s naïve to believe that our children aren’t affected by a school’s climate.
6. The sexualization of females (yes, in middle and high school) is real.
Slut-shaming, crude remarks and sexual assault are realities that females face everywhere—even in school. Evaluated by looks, body parts and how far one goes…is an unfortunate part of this sinful world. Being taken advantage of, emotionally or physically, can significantly impact a person’s mental health. This type of behavior should never be downplayed. And when we see teenage girls posing in provocative or suggestive pictures online, let’s pray for them. Most are confused and have falsely come to believe that their worth is tied up in how they look. We need to have open and honest conversations with not only our daughters but sons when it comes to the sexualization of females.
7. Our children need to know the value of a true friendship.
I don’t want to spoil the story-line for those who may not have watched this series, but I have to say it’s extremely sad the main character missed the opportunity for a true friend. She had one, even though she partly blamed that person for her death…the reality is that this individual genuinely cared for her. Trust is a real issue in friendships, especially for teenagers. One minute someone claims to be your best friend and the next, they stab you in the back. While these events are painful, they reveal if someone is a true friend. Our children need to know that a crowd of friends who will dump you in a second can never replace the worth of one good friend who is there for a lifetime.
8. A bad reputation isn’t always built on truth.
A bad reputation is hard to recover from. Once gossip spreads about someone, it’s really hard to take it back—kind of like trying to get toothpaste back into the tube. It’s messy and nearly impossible. While we can create our own bad reputations, sometimes they’re built on lies. It’s extremely painful to be known for something that you’re not. This is a good reminder to our teens that what they say about someone could result in long-lasting damage.
9. Even with the best intentions, we can miss the mark.
Another issue that critics had with this series is how the guidance counselor failed to help the main character. I don’t know if the intent was to throw professionals under the bus. Yet the reality is that teachers and others can fail to see a need. Even her parents missed the mark. No one could have ever convinced me several years ago that I would find myself sitting in a room at Children’s Hospital, with no privacy, because my daughter was there on suicide watch. Or that I would have to fight to get her out of a mental institution. I’ve always had the best intentions for my daughter but clearly, somewhere along the way, I missed something. It’s important to acknowledge this reality—not to place us on a guilt trip, but as a reminder of our imperfections and God’s perfect grace.
10. We can’t blame everyone around us for the way we respond to our feelings.
Critics have also brought up the way the main character blames everyone for her decision to end her life. It’s a reminder that we must take personal responsibility for the way we react to our feelings. We can feel angry, hurt and frustrated about what others do. It’s what we do with those feelings that rests squarely on our shoulders. When someone decides to end their life, it’s on that person. It’s a choice. A terrible, heartbreaking, permanent choice that cannot be undone.
11. Pain is temporary. Death is forever.
Watching my daughter suffer through some pretty painful experiences were the hardest times of my life. In the moment, it feels like the pain will never end. Our children need to know that it doesn’t last…but death, oh, there is no coming back from it. We need to share with our children those moments in our own life when it felt like the pain would never end. They are not alone in that thinking. They need to know that God will see them through because He has a wonderful future awaiting them.
12. Suicide is grisly.
Unlike other scenes where the cutting of wrists looks like a simple slice and then you just relax and stop breathing…the scene in “13 Reasons Why” was graphic. It was bloody. Death was slow. It was very difficult to watch.
Suicide isn’t romantic. It’s also not the answer to life’s problems. While it’s not an easy topic to discuss, it’s critical we talk to our children about it.
13. God has entrusted these children to you.
Our responsibility to parent goes beyond providing shelter, food and clothes. We have a holy obligation to point our children to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. The spiritual implications of this cannot be underestimated. The devil wants to do everything he can to thwart your efforts. He will use all means of doing this—depression, eating disorders, self-harm, pornography, sexual immorality, drug addiction, alcoholism and the list goes on.
We can’t talk to our children if we’re wrapped up in our own world. With our eyes fixed on our phones, computers and television sets. We need to purpose to set aside time to talk with them. We have to be willing to get out of our comfort zones and deal with the hard stuff of life.
Don’t be lax in the reality that there’s a battle waging for their souls. Mom, Dad…YOU are their champion! You are their warrior! You are their safe place. Do not ignore or make light of this role. It could make an eternal difference…