13 Reasons Why: A Parental Review
As I walked by my daughter’s bedroom a couple of weeks ago I saw her staring intently at her phone. I could tell that she was enthralled in something and I figured she was catching up on some of her favorite shows.
“What are you watching?” I said, trying to be the dad that knows what his daughter is doing.
“It’s a new show on Netflix,” she replied. “It’s called 13 Reasons Why. Everybody at school is watching it.”
I thought nothing else about it. I very rarely condemn anything that my kids are watching unless I know that it is something extremely violent or raunchy. The title actually registered in my mind because I had seen the book on the shelf at the bookstore and online a few times. I knew it was a young adult title so I figured a Netflix show based on that should be alright. I mean, she’s seen The Hunger Games, right?
A couple of days later my wife tells me that she saw a few stories online about some kids that have committed suicide after watching the show. That sounds a little farfetched to me and I tell her that Gracie is watching that show. She doesn’t like the idea so I call Gracie in the room and tell her that we’d be more comfortable if she didn’t watch the rest of the show until we had done some more research. Of course she tells us that she’s already binged the whole thing. Guess what? There are only 13 episodes. Shocker.
So, I decide to do my due diligence as an active father and watch the whole thing myself. I have to know just what my daughter has been exposed to due to my shoulder-shrugging indifference. Maybe it was made for a younger audience and probably heavy with melodrama, but I needed to know what was in this show that I needed to talk with her about.
That is the story of how it came about that I watched the entire first season of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why. And now I’m going to tell you what I thought about what I saw. But first, a quick rundown of what the show is about.
Clay Jensen is a sophomore in high school. He’s not the most popular kid in his class but he has friends in all the school’s social cliques. One of his friends, Hannah Baker, recently committed suicide. The whole school seems to be reeling from the sudden loss of one of their own. But Clay begins to notice that a lot of the kids that are leaving signs and notes on her locker didn’t really have much of a relationship with Hannah when she was alive.
But Clay’s whole world changes when he comes home one night and discovers a package on his doorstep. When he opens it he finds that it contains seven cassette tapes. They’re all decorated and the box has drawings all over it. He finds a tape player and puts in the first tape. He instantly hears Hannah’s voice.
Hannah made 13 tapes, or sides to cassettes, detailing all of the reasons why she decided to take her own life. She set up an elaborate plan of who the tapes should go to and be passed along the line until everyone on her list has heard her story. She blames certain individuals in her life for leading her to make this decision and she wanted them to know exactly what they did that contributed to her death.
It’s a very morbid idea…and a very wrong on at that. I watched all 13 episodes of this show. With the exception of a couple of the kids on Hannah’s list, the kids that she blamed didn’t do anything that wasn’t normal teenager stuff. There was some bullying, some gossiping, and some cheating. But nothing that would warrant the punishment of feeling as though you’ve basically had your hands in a murder.
The guy that wrote the book is Jay Asher. I know that he was trying to shed a light on teenage suicide by showing that there are so many kids that have things happening to them that lead to such a terrible end. And that, in a way, by going on about our daily lives and not noticing what is going on with these kids, we call kind of contribute to the end result. The kids in Hannah’s school weren’t interested in what their bullying did to her, but the fact that it could lead to her death never crossed their minds.
I was a victim of bullying when I was a kid. I know firsthand what it is like to be psychologically tortured everyday for 7-8 hours. And I know what it is like to have school administration basically not do a thing about it. I also know what it’s like to wonder how bad everyone would feel if I just died. This show has Hannah go through those feelings and then actually do something about it.
Hannah needed help, and she didn’t get it. The school was too worried about legal ramifications. Her parents were too wrapped up in their financial problems. The friends that she did have didn’t realize that she was sad. So no one helped her.
But Hannah wasn’t innocent in all of this either. She punished the kids that had bullied her and done things to her in a way that will haunt them forever. That’s one of the things that I find very dangerous about this show. Hannah is using her suicide as a revenge…which makes me think that she has the whole thing fantasized. It’s almost as if she doesn’t realize that in order to pull this off she has to die. And when the story is over…she’s still going to be dead. Revenge is a very bad reason to die.
Overall, the show is decent. If you like most of the teenage drama stuff you find on CW then you’ll probably like it. It’s very dark compared to that stuff, though. The acting is very well done. The kids in this show definitely have bright futures ahead of them because some of the performances are very compelling.
But, it is also extremely intense. And truth be told…I wish that Gracie had not watched it. Not that I wouldn’t let her see it, because I think there is some excellent lessons to be learned here. But if I had a chance to go back, I would watch it with her. And after every episode we would talk about what had happened and what we can take from it. I’ve given her express directives that when season two drops next year that she’ll have to watch every episode with my wife and me.
If your kids have already seen it, have a talk with them. If they haven’t, then either watch it with them or don’t let them watch it. Because there are some things that you’d probably rather they didn’t see. For one thing, two episodes have some pretty graphic rape scenes. There isn’t any nudity, but there are some prolonged scenes in which you know exactly what is happening and it is uncomfortable.
And then there is the scene in which Hannah actually commits suicide. It is very graphic, very bloody, and very hard to watch. It was a big change from the book where she simply swallowed some sleeping pills. In this version she gets into a bathtub and slices her wrists open with a razor blade…and you see every bit of it. And you see her parents finding her in that bloody water a little later. As a parent I literally choked when it happened. So be prepared for that. If you don’t think your kids can handle it, then I wouldn’t let them see it.
But the thing is…it’s out there. Our kids are going to see it if they want to see it whether we like it or not. You can take their phone and they’ll just watch it with their friends at school. I know it’s not what you want to hear. So…talk to them about it. Find out if there is anything going on in their lives that they feel like no one cares about or that they haven’t gotten any help with. You would be surprised at the things that your kids have experienced that you know nothing about. And finding out that little bit of information could be the difference in life or death in some situations.
13 Reasons Why is available on Netflix.