“Watching this new show. It’s so good.” my 13 year old casually texted me.
“Wait! What Show?” I frantically texted back.
“13 Reasons Why! It’s SUPER POPULAR at school.” was her reply.
“I know it is, but I wanted to watch it with you. I’ve heard mixed reviews from parents” total mom response.
If you have a tween/teen, chances are you’ve heard of the SUPER POPULAR new Neflix original series 13 Reasons Why. You are probably aware of the storyline. A teenage girl, Hannah, commits suicide and prior to taking her own life records 13 audio tapes – outlining the 13 reasons why she killed herself. Those recorded tapes are then passed around to the people who are the subject of the tapes. Viewers enter the story when the package of tapes lands on the front step of Clay’s house. We watch Clay listen to the tapes and the impact Hannah’s words have on his life.
Let me preface this entire article by saying that I have a background in the field of mental health. I worked, volunteered and am educated in the care of people living with mental health issues. This doesn’t make me an expert, I am not a psychologist. This does however, mean that when I heard the general overview of this series I felt concerned – concerned and interested. I knew that there were going to be difficult situations presented in this series and I wanted to be with my daughter, able to talk our way through what we were watching.
Why did I want to…check that…why did I need to watch 13 Reasons Why with my child?
Know Your Teen Truth be told we skipped past some of the more difficult scenes in this series. It is important to know your child and know your child’s limits. The writers, director and producers wanted the series to be honest and at times uncomfortable to watch. The topics being covered (underage drinking, bullying, physical assault, slut shaming, consent, sexual assault, depression, mental health) should make viewers uncomfortable and they didn’t want to shy away from that. As a parent, I know my child and you know your child. By watching the series with my daughter I was able to pause it when necessary and skip ahead when the discomfort was too much – and that’s okay.
Understanding I clearly remember being a teenager and thinking that my parents totally did not understand my life. How could they? One of the reasons I wanted to watch 13 Reasons Why with my daughter was so that I could get a glimpse into what high school is like in 2017…in the age of cyber bullying. I discovered that the more things change, the more they stay the same. This series gives parents, and kids like my daughter who will be starting high school in the fall, a fairly accurate look into high school life. Being a teenager in high school hasn’t really changed all that much. Technology has taken the unfortunate role of adding a new tool to the school bully’s arsenal. Watching the series at my daughter’s side meant we could laugh along together at the jokes, I didn’t freak out at the profanity and that we became upset by the same situations. All of this brought a little bit of understanding to both of us.
Sharing When you become a parent you ask yourself the question, “will I tell my kids all the stupid things I did as a teenager?” Will I tell your kids the “bad” things I did? How do we even enter into those awkward conversations? Watching this program was like I was having a flashback to high school parties, the writing on the bathroom walls at school, the awkwardness of school dances, the pressures to go out with boys and the mistakes I made with those boys. Watching 13 Reasons Why broke the ice for my daughter and I to chat openly about my experiences in high school. It was important to share with her that I could identify with some of the incidents happening in the series. In particular, it was important to me to share how it is possible to have a pile of terrible life experiences and still find a way out…that suicide is not the only possible solution.
Support Some of the criticism of the series centres around the portrayal of the school counsellor in the series. When Hannah reaches out to the counsellor on the day she ultimately takes her life, he doesn’t really help her. He doesn’t pick up on her desperation. Hannah feels that the counsellor puts all the weight of her situation on her shoulders. This can be the harsh reality that kids (and adults) face. We reach out to the people who are supposed to help us and they let us down. While I understand the criticism, I also understand that this is the reality the author chose for Hannah. The question, as a parent, is how do we grapple with the impression that society’s helpers aren’t always helpful?
Be sure to watch the follow up episode 13 Reasons Why Beyond the Reasons. Meet the actors, writer, executive producers, psychiatrists and counsellors who helped put together the series. I was impressed with their insight into the research, and thoughtfulness that went into making the show. I hope that anyone who watches the series will also watch this additional piece. If you, or someone you know is looking for assistance head to www.13reasonswhy.info to be directed to a crisis centre where you live.
Connection When kids are little it is easy to find ways to connect with them. As kids grow into teens many parents find it hard to connect. Results of a recent Netflix study revealed that 70% of parents of tweens and teens (worldwide) wish they had more to talk to their kids about. 74% of teens are interested in talking to their parents about the shows they watch. There are many ways to stay connected with our kids and I’m a true believer in paying attention to what my kids are consuming online.
Watching 13 Reasons Why created a little ritual for my daughter and I. We would steal an hour or two together, curled under the duvet in my bed. Watching this high school drama unfold on my laptop. My husband and my youngest knew that when the door was shut, they should leave us alone – we were hanging on Hannah’s every word.
Did you watch 13 Reasons Why? Did your tween or teen? Did you watch it together? What did you think about the series?