Why Every Parent Should Watch 13 Reasons Why
I first learned about 13 Reasons Why when a warning from a local school superintendent began circulating on one of my mom Facebook groups. Until then I had never heard of it. Intrigued, I Googled the show and saw all kinds of warnings about how the show glorified suicide and how it is an extreme exaggeration of life for American teenagers.
I continued to hear about the show so I decided to see what actual teenagers thought about it. I looked on websites where teens and tweens had weighed in on the show. I was really surprised at what I read. While some kids stated that they thought the show was an exaggeration of high school life, other kids said that the show was an accurate description of their high school experience. See here and here. For that reason, I decided to watch the show. Without my kids.
My initial impression of the show was that it was kind of boring and that the kids were whiny and dumb. I mean, honestly, we weren’t this clueless and peer-acceptance driven when we were in high school, were we? In fact, I struggled through the first few episodes because I didn’t find the characters or the story interesting. But I stuck with it.
I ended up watching both seasons over the course of about a month and I am glad I did. I decided that, rather than watch the show for entertainment purposes, I would watch it from the perspective of a parent. I approached the show by thinking – “What will I need to know and understand about my kids when they become teenagers and how can I best help them navigate that time in their development?"
Some overarching themes in the show include:
1. Female Rape, Sexual Assault and Reporting
2. Male on Male Sexual Assault
3. Teenaged Drinking and Drug Use
4. Developing Healthy Teen Friendships
5. Lying and Covering Up for Bad Behavior (of their own and others)
6. Teen Depression and Isolation
7. Bullying, Cyber bullying and Sexting
It can be easy to wave off the characters in the show as unrealistic - their utter lack of a moral compass, the absent parents who allowed their kids a ridiculous amount of personal freedom but who all thought they were great parents, the buffoonish school administrators who appeared more concerned with keeping their jobs and going through the motions than actually helping the students, the coach who turned a blind eye to the alcoholism, drug abuse and obvious sexual assault that was regularly committed on school property by the school jocks. But if you think about it, you may remember some of these people from your own high school experience. I know I certainly did as I watched the show.
I think that as adults, we tend to forget what it was like navigating through our teenage years. We forget about all the secrets we kept. About how hard it was to fit in. About how much we wanted to fit in. About the pressure to be perfect in the eyes of our parents, teachers, peers and religious institutions. We adults have forgotten all about our insecurities and how everything in the world was such a big deal! 13 Reasons Why is a reminder of all these things and how they can affect our kids.
Some of the more controversial topics that are covered in 13 Reasons Why, like sexual assault, cyber bullying and suicide, can be eye openers for parents. Many parents are happy to leave these topics to be covered in school health class. 13 Reasons Why illustrates the fact that you cannot leave these issues solely in the hands of the schools. But even those who do discuss sexual assault and suicide with their kids will likely realize how honest and frequent the dialogue needs to be. It’s not enough to simply tell your child that they can come and talk to you about anything. It needs to be demonstrated and verbalized frequently.
We all like to think we are great parents and that we have such wonderful relationships with our kids. Many of those who denigrate the show seem to think that scenes like those in 13 Reason Why would never happen in a real kid’s life. Unfortunately, anyone who thinks that is wrong. The fact is that it is estimated that only 30% of sexual assault cases are even reported. And even with low reporting, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that approximately 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. See here and here. Male sexual assault is also a very real issue. See here, here and here.
We cannot ignore these issues and 13 Reasons Why is an uncomfortable reminder of why we parents must be vigilant in educating and supporting (notice I didn’t say “protecting”) our children. I encourage all parents to watch it themselves and then decide if you want to watch it with your children.