Should Your Teen Watch “13 Reasons Why?”

13 Reason Why is a Netflix T.V. series based on the book by Jay Asher. It is about a teenager who commits suicide and leaves behind a series of tapes explaining  why she made the decision to end her life.

Should Your Teen Watch "13 Reasons Why?"

Talk about this series has been going on all over the place, online and offline. There has also been some questioning and debate as to whether it is appropriate for teens, and if so, how young is too young?

In full disclosure, I have not personally watched the show, nor do I plan to watch it. It is not the subject matter, per se, that is the problem; it is the graphic nature of the show that keeps me away. Still, I think I have read enough and talked to enough people to lay out some pros and cons so that you can come to you own conclusion as to whether the show is appropriate for your teen or not.

PROS

1. It Explores  Important Topics

Over the last few months, I have been hearing about suicide more and more. It feels like it is becoming an epidemic of sorts. In fact, I recently heard of an eight year old who took his own young life because of bullying. This is heartbreaking. It needs to be discussed and the underlying reasons behind the suicides needs to be addressed. People must learn the warning signs and get those in danger some help!

Each week of this series is centered on one tape and one reason why the young girl decided to kill herself. And in doing so, it touches on other important topics such as bullying, rape, etc. These are things that must be talked about and we must help our young people find ways to deal with them in healthy ways.

2. The Characters?

Truth be told, I had a hard time coming up with another positive, other than the fact that it covers important topics. I decided to add the characters as a “pro” because several people have told me that they found the characters to be relatable, if not stereotypical. Other people have told me that the characters are too stereotypical and not really relatable at all. Go figure. I guess you will have to make up your own mind with this one. 🙂

CONS

1. There is no mention of God

Yes, this world has become so very secularized that God is taken out of almost every area of life, especially T.V. Thus, it is no surprise that it is the same here. I mention it here, though, because faith (or lack thereof) colors a person’s perspective and that is particularly true for people who contemplate suicide.

Life with faith is still difficult but a life without faith is near impossible. God doesn’t promise a perfect, easy life, but He does promise us heaven. And He does promise us a life where He is with us every step of the way. When a person of faith faces difficulties, hopefully he or she can lean on God and get the help to work through those problems.

Therefore, when a person doesn’t have faith, they don’t have that layer of support. They don’t always know who to turn to for help because they feel alone. I know for myself, before I turned to the Lord, when things were hard, life became very, very dark. I turned in on myself and there were times when suicide was an attractive choice. (I do thank God I didn’t make that choice!)  For a person without faith, every little thing can get compounded in the mind and internalized by the person.

I get the sense, from people I’ve talked to, that this is similar to the girl in the show. Even when she went for help she felt misunderstood and there is  no faith baseline to guide the girl.

2. It is Very (Too) Graphic

It shows everything. Many adults that I talked to had to turn their heads during the rape scene and the suicide scene in particular because they were just too “in your face.” One woman I talked to said she wasn’t sure if she was going to watch the last episode or not because she didn’t want to watch the suicide scene.

3. It is one-dimensional.

A couple of moms that I talked to mentioned that, although the show covers important topics, it is superficial. It doesn’t go in depth, especially in regards to the girl who killed herself. One mom in particular said that there is no discussion about the girl’s mental state or any kind of mental illness that came into play in regards to her decision. Apparently, this is also an issue with several mental illness and suicide prevention groups.

My Recommendations

1. Watch the Program Yourself First

Only you can decide whether or not your child is mature enough to handle the nature of this show (or the book). If you do decide to let your teen watch the show, feel free to fast forward during the graphic scenes or skip specific episodes altogether.

2. Watch the Program WITH Your Teen

Even if you think your teen can handle the show without you, please watch it with her. They may have questions, or they may not be able to handle some of the situations as much as you may think.

3. Talk about each episode

Don’t just watch the show and leave it at that. Ask questions. Go deep. Even if your teen is hesitant, don’t shy away from discussing what is going on and why they are going on. Talk about the characters’ reactions to various events. Talk about the mindset of the individuals, especially the young girl who committed the suicide.

One other note: be prepared to let your teen react the way she/he reacts. Your teen may open up and share things that may surprise or shock you. Say a prayer to the Holy Spirit and allow him to work/speak through you to your teen. Who knows, maybe this series – and the discussions that flow from it – may wind up being a time of growth for you and your teen (and strengthen your relationship with each other)!

Have you watched the series? What do you think about it? Have you let your teen watch the show? Why or why not? Please share in the comments. I am truly interested in other’s opinion about this series. More importantly, I am very interesting in learning how this series may (or may not) help our young people sort out the complicated issue of suicide.

P.S. For the record, my son is 12 so I won’t be letting him watch the show. Of course, that probably doesn’t surprise you. If I’m not going to watch it myself, I am not going to let him watch it. {smile}

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