I'm sure that a great number of you have heard of the show 13 Reasons Why recently released by Netflix. For those of you who have not, the show chronicles the aftermath of a junior in high school, Hannah Baker's, suicide. We, the audience, through the lens of Hannah's friend Clay Jensen, discover Hannah's reasons for killing herself presented on 13 cassette tapes that are given to Clay to listen to. The show hits on provocative themes such as teen suicide, sexual assault, bullying, sexting and self-harm to name a few.
The show, due to the no holding back portrayal of these themes, has both ardent supporters and vehement opposers. In my Danville counseling practice, I specialize in working with teens, so I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts on the show. I have watched the show all the way through, including the "Beyond the Reasons" episode where members of the cast and producer team share their thoughts on the themes that show addresses, along with what it was like for them to be involved in the making of this show. I'm sure there are a lot of parents wondering if the show is appropriate for their son or daughter to watch and individuals who wonder if they should watch the show or who have questions after watching the show. I hope this blog post gives these groups some guidance in their decision to watch or not watch the show, and how to have conversations around the show as it has become a big part of teen and pop-culture.
- The show does not shy away from the ugliness of sexual assault nor from the violent nature of Hannah's suicide. Both are portrayed with graphic reality. For these reasons, I'd advise some parent discretion for younger and more vulnerable viewers. The show is rated TV-MA.
- However, the graphic portrayal of these events accomplishes something. Placing these realities into the light, gives us the ability to have open discussions about these topics. This, in turn, helps to decrease some of the shame and guilt that is often felt by those who experience these themes. It gives parents, teachers, trusted adults the open door to approach teens with uncomfortable topics like these. Because the truth is whether or not we watch 13 Reasons Why, these themes are real realities for a large number of teens. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for teenagers.
- This show chronicles one teen's story that led her to committing suicide. It is important to acknowledge and remember that Hannah Baker's story is not representative of every teen suicide or every teen sexual assault. So, it is important to not assume that every teen having thoughts of suicide is just like Hannah Baker. Rather than leading to this assumption, the show can be a beginning to asking questions and learning about your teen's thoughts or contemplating your own thoughts about suicide, sexual assault, bullying, sexting, self-harm and some of the other themes the show portrays.
- Many opposers to the show cite that the show glorifies suicide as a way to take revenge on abusers and bullies, which I could definitely see in the early episodes. But I noticed as the show continues, you can begin to see less of the anger, but more of the helplessness, hopelessness, and emptiness that Hannah was experiencing. My advice to this is if you are going to watch the show, don't stop at the beginning episodes, but watch it all the way through. If you are worried that your teen will begin to believe that suicide is the only way to take revenge, then ask them about it; have a conversation about other options to handle bullying.
- I believe that the show did a good job in demonstrating that suicide does not affect just one person. The devastation following Hannah's suicide was portrayed in the pain of Hannah's parents and Hannah's peers, giving the message that the pain of suicide is not just limited to one person and continues after this person's death. One of the guarding factors against suicide is not wanting to put family or friends through the pain, and 13 Reasons Why demonstrated this pain in their depiction.
- If you are wondering how to start talking to your teen about this show or the topics it portrays, a good place to start is to ask them in a non-judgmental way if they have seen or heard of the show. If your teen has already seen the show, I would suggest that you watch the "Beyond the Reasons" extra episode either with them or you can watch this episode separately to help spark the conversation about some of these topics. Also, the Jed foundation has released helpful talking points related to 13 Reasons Why. https://www.jedfoundation.org/13-reasons-why-talking-points/
- The show is what it is, entertainment meant to engage and hook its viewers and by no means is perfect, but it is out there, attempting to shed light on some difficult realities that teens today face, and I'd encourage you all if you do decide to watch it or find that your teen has already watched it, to use it to help spark conversations about these tough realities that our teens are facing.
For resources related to suicide and mental health crisis visit:
If you are or you suspect that a loved one is struggling with some of these tough realities, there is hope. Being linked with a mental health professional can provide both you and your teen support through struggles like these. If you do not know where to find a trusted mental health counselor, reaching out to a professional like a primary care doctor, school counselor/teacher, religious leader, or other trusted adult can be helpful in finding a trusted mental health professional.