A few days ago, I was contacted by a journalist who asked me to comment on the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why. If you aren’t familiar with this production, it is an authentic depiction of what can and has happened when bullying, slut-shaming, body-shaming, betrayal, revenge, and other forms of verbal and physical abuse goes unchecked.
I told the writer that although I had heard about this new series, I had not yet seen any of the episodes. She then asked me to offer some general comments about teenage life, anxiety, depression, and suicide prevention. As I have been working with teenagers and their parents for 30 years, I was more than happy to contribute to her article.
I went about finishing my day. However, that wasn’t the end of it. A quiet but growing voice inside told me that I needed to at least watch the first episode of 13 Reasons Why. After dinner, I sat down, turned on Netflix and watched the first episode. Followed by the second. And the third. I binge-watched through the first four episodes. All of a sudden it was almost 1:30 in the morning.
I’m usually in bed by 11 p.m. but completely lost track of time. I was utterly mesmerized and drawn in by just how incredibly realistic – disturbingly and accurately realistic – this show is. Over the next few days, I watched all thirteen episodes – completing the entire season.
It became clear to me that this controversial and important series could be a game-changer in terms of suicide awareness, and prevention. Along those lines, I want to offer a few thoughts and some viewing guidelines for you to consider. I strongly encourage the following safety warning, in particular:
NO TEEN SHOULD WATCH THIS ALONE.
WARNING: Any potential viewer who is going to watch these episodes should know that doing so also carries with it the risks of emotional contagion – and even suicide contagion – where one’s emotions and related behaviors trigger similar ones in others. The possibility of potential tragic acting out by a vulnerable teen is very real.
This is particularly true for a teen who is already in a state of crisis in their life.
For this, and other reasons, myself and many of my colleagues are urging restraint in terms of who should or should not watch this series. There are several very good reasons for parents to exercise caution if your teenager is already watching now, or may watch 13 Reasons Why in the future. Many commentators have covered the reasons not to watch this series. I don’t think it ends there. There are also several very good reasons to watch this series.
MY 13 REASONS TO WATCH
To that end, here are my 13 reasons to consider watching this show. There are no “Spoiler Alerts” here since I won’t be sharing specific plot details. I simply want you to feel informed about the nature of some of the content of these episodes without revealing exact details about the storyline.
1. If you are looking for something that is realistic, this is one of the most accurate depictions of the underbelly of high school life that you may ever see. Your teenagers may or may not have encountered one or more of the situations depicted in 13 Reasons. Even if they haven’t, they will be better prepared to cope should they confront something that is troubling for them.
2. If you want to learn more about the consequences of teenage bullying, watch this show.
3. If you want to learn more about the practice of “slut-shaming,” this series offers painful examples of this common and dangerous practice.
4. For some who have never experienced depression, this series will open your eyes to a world of emotional pain that includes feelings and thoughts of isolation, sadness, helplessness, impotent rage, fear, helplessness, numbness, and unremitting feelings of hopelessness.
5. Watch this show if you want a realistic example that may help you identify potential signs of suicidality.
6. This show is educational. Although dramatic and informative, I do not think it to be sensationalized in the least. Again, my experience working with teenagers and their families for over 30 years confirms that the vignettes in this series are quite realistic.
7. The storyline and the characters provide plenty of material to start having difficult conversations. One of the greatest takeaways of 13 Reasons Why is that the consequences of not having difficult conversations can be deadly. This is no overstatement.
8. Various studies indicate that somewhere between 20 and 33 percent of women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. This show will help you understand what happens to a young girl when she is brutally attacked.
9. There is a strong possibility that your teens are going to watch this. Given this reality, it makes sense that it would be helpful for parents to watch it with them as well.
10. If you are a teen who is watching this, it might be helpful to watch this with people who love you – family and friends.
11. It is certainly possible that you may not be able to relate to the characters and the events in 13 Reasons Why. No problem. Having said that, the knowledge you can gain from viewing this series could help you identify the signs and symptoms of depression that someone close to you may be experiencing. You having this information could literally save someone’s life.
12. We have all endured some degree of suffering in our lives. Watching this series may trigger something within you the viewer. It doesn’t mean that you will be impacted. It simply means that you could be. Given the nature and range of our human experiences, view yourself as a normal person having a normal response to something that can be understandably painful.
13. If you are a teenager or anyone else who has watched this and has, for any reason, become deeply impacted to the point that you are having a hard time with your normal daily routine, please reach out to someone now. Reach out to family, friends, your local clergy, or a professional counselor trained to help people navigate these complex thoughts and emotions. You are not alone. We are all potentially vulnerable to having these feelings at various points in our lives.
I hope that this information has been helpful for you and perhaps someone you care about. Below is information about a valuable resource if you need immediate assistance.
National Suicide Prevention Center: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
The National Suicide Prevention Lifelines is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in a suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year, including holidays. This hotline is a network of 163 crisis centers in 49 states.
In addition, you can chat online with a suicide hotline counselor.