Netflix is about to release season three of 13 Reasons Why. Please don’t let your kids watch this alone.
There is help if you are feeling alone and hopeless: the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.
I finally got up the courage to watch 13 Reasons Why. My first thought was, “Ahhh, time to home school.” This definitely isn’t High School Musical.
My dad and I judge great movies and shows on one main piece of criteria: do they stay with you in a way that resonates and makes you think? But 13 Reasons Why has stayed with me for different reasons: it troubles me. When I first started watching, I examined it from an artistic perspective. This is a beautifully crafted drama. It’s compelling, and the character development is incredible.
However, the more I watched and the more research I did, the more elements came to my attention that struck me as disturbing. Lots of mental health experts have wisely weighed in, but as a parent I’d like to discuss some of the issues that haven’t been talked about.
First, 13 Reasons Why relentlessly portrays high school as a dark, cruel place fraught with misery. The place and the characters are completely joyless. I know firsthand what it means to struggle with depression. It’s a monster, a beast when it takes hold, and the first thing it does is steal your joy. So the entire universe of the characters is coming from that dark place of deep depression. That is the lens the storytellers are presenting to us. To escape, in 13 Reasons Why kids self-medicate or worse.
The main characters of Hannah Baker and Clay Jensen have no interests or activities. They work at the movie theater together but aren’t movie fans. Several of the characters are jocks and cheerleaders, but their interest in sports somehow feels soul-less.
I was a theater geek, and I attend high school before social media was even invented (thank my lucky stars). However, I don’t think the essence of high school has changed for kids. Yes, it can definitely be a tough place, but it can also be a positive experience. Profound changes are happening for kids in high school that form the foundation of who they will be as adults. Camaraderie, discovering passions and interests, forming lifelong friendships – these are all wonderful things that can happen in high school.
I hate it that 13 Reasons Why portrays the teen years as devoid of hope and riddled with despair.
Next, it bothers me that both the book’s author and the showrunner are men. I would never suggest that a male writer or artist doesn’t have the right and ability to create a great female character. However, Hannah Baker is a special case. This is a young woman who takes her own life. Recent research suggests that suicide among girls actually spiked after Netflix released the show.
There is a lot about Hannah Baker’s character that strikes me as male fantasy. These men don’t know what it’s like to be a young woman struggling with depression. They haven’t been there. They might be sympathetic to Hannah, but they aren’t empathetic. They haven’t lived it and walked a mile in a young girl’s shoes. In her voice-over Hannah says that the male characters don’t know what it’s like to be a girl. But I don’t think the showrunner and the book’s author really know what it’s like.
The show is not just a male fantasy, but it’s a revenge fantasy about teen suicide. Numerous mental health experts have pointed out that Hannah’s recorded voice over from the grave is not realistic. When major depression strikes, children are not in a state of mind to eloquently narrate no less than 13 old-fashioned cassette tapes – both sides – in a voice dripping with sarcasm. IRL, kids with major depression are feeling sad, hopeless, worthless. They are despondent, crying. Suicidal ideation – that is thoughts of suicide – can strike very quickly and come out of nowhere. It blindsides the victim. And if kids are ruminating about suicide, they wouldn’t be articulate enough to put this together.
The shows creators argue that the show is helping to lift the stigma of mental illness by sparking conversation. They are lifting the ugly veil to reveal the hideous epidemic of cyberbullying that provokes major depression, substance abuse, and suicide in our children. But in their approach, they are playing with fire.
This is definitely not a show that children should watch alone. In fact, mental health experts recommend that Netflix release one show at a time so kids don’t binge watch when they release a new season. Watch the series before your kids do, and then you can decide.