“The way we treat each other and look out for each other. It has to get better.”
This past Saturday I finished watching the Netflix series, “Thirteen Reasons Why.” Watching 13 hours of television in a relatively short time span was a major commitment for me. (I’m not bragging about how virtuously I spend my free time – I waste plenty of time – just not usually in front of the TV!) But I had heard so much about this series I felt compelled to watch it and finish it.
“Thirteen Reasons Why”, based on the book of the same title, has young adults as its main characters and its target audience. The series is about a high school student named Hannah Baker who decides to commit suicide after experiencing bullying and sexual assault from several classmates. She leaves behind 13 cassette tapes, each one telling the story of a friend or acquaintance who (in her words) could have done more to help her.
Should parents watch “Thirteen Reasons Why?” I strongly urge them to do so. Yes, it is fiction, but students say that there are many similarities between the fictional Liberty High and the culture in many real high schools. It is not easy to watch. It graphically portrays drinking, bullying and rape as well as suicide.
I agree with the wisdom of these two articles (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/13-reasons-why-parents-should-watch-the-netflix-series_us_5907a3c8e4b05279d4edbee1, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/panic-life/201705/13-reasons-why-you-should-watch-13-reasons-why) – I would not recommend the show to students, especially younger high school students, those who might be triggered by any of the afore-mentioned topics, or those watching without parental support. The reality is that many students binge-watched the 13 episodes before many parents had even heard of it. While the topics are still fresh, parents can catch up and take advantage of the opportunity to have conversation about high school culture today and the way individual students respond to it.
The male protagonist is a high school student named Clay Jensen. Wise beyond his years, Clay often seems to be one of the more mature characters, almost a voice of moral authority. In the last episode, Clay confronts the high school guidance counselor, claiming that he was ineffective in preventing Hannah’s suicide. Clay says to the counselor, “It has to get better. The way we treat each other and look out for each other. It has to get better somehow.”
As a church leader, I couldn’t help but wonder how the main characters would have been different if any of them had been active in a church youth group. Would any of them have had second thoughts about participating in such vicious, destructive behavior? Might Hannah have had someone else to turn to, other than the school guidance counselor?
The series has been criticized, especially for the suicide scene, which some professionals fear could produce “copycat” behavior in teens. I understand that worry, and I don’t disagree with it, but the fact is, the series is out there, and young people are watching it. So I encourage parents to watch it and talk to their teenage sons and daughters about it.
I didn’t like the atmosphere at Liberty High, and I found the show painful to watch at times, but I’m glad I watched “Thirteen Reasons Why.” I need to know what school is like for the students in our church. I need to know about cyber-bullying, about shaming and name-calling. We can’t confront problems if we’re not aware of them. With eyes wide open, we can now begin to change the culture and treat one another better.