To start, I wanted to tell you that I don’t have any teenagers…yet. My children are all 6 and under, but I truly wanted to talk about 13 Reasons Why. First, if someone would let me talk for forever, I would talk your ear off about media and its importance as well as its reflection on culture (see also: my Media Arts bachelor’s degree). But second, and most importantly, is the fact that I will have teenagers. It’s not a matter of if, but when. There will be one day when my children will probably deal with some difficult things. Here’s the rub: the issues talked about in 13 Reasons Why aren’t just good for after school specials, they’re real. I say this because, unfortunately, I know some of those issues from experience. So here’s what I want you to know about 13 Reasons Why.
What’s so interesting about 13 Reasons Why?
I talked to my two teen nieces and their friends on what got them hooked. My niece Leah said that she saw it on Twitter and just wanted to know what it was about. Her friend, another local Omaha teen, said that she heard Selena Gomez produced it. This was enough. I think the producers of the show did this strategically. They targeted their audience specifically through how teens interact with each other and their worlds.
My niece Olivia said, “I was taken a back. It was intense honestly. It was crazy.” She’s not the only one to think this. In a letter to parents, Millard Schools stated, “…the series exposes viewers to numerous social issues that could be difficult for youth to understand and process, including graphic sexual violence, drug abuse, school violence, and bullying.” My niece was not wrong in thinking that it was intense; mental health care professionals caution against watching something so graphic.
If I were to tell you just about the content, I would tell you to not watch it. It is absolutely grotesque, horrendous, and is especially disturbing for those who are sensitive to topics such as these. But since the second season was released not that long ago, I wanted parents to be prepared. The content is extreme, but I want you to be ready with resources and armed with a listening ear. The reason for the extreme graphic violence is to get your attention. It’s a cry for help from our children, this generation. Did it grab your attention? Here’s what you can do to fully prepare to talk to your teens (and even preteens) about the show.
What you can do
I heard a recurring theme in talking to my nieces and their friends. I think they said it best.
“Parents try to cram information into us so they can send us out into the world to make sure we’re safe and everything, but I just want them to listen.”
“I just want a civil conversation.”
“A level-headed discussion would be nice, not a screaming match.”
“I just want parents to try to listen.”
In all our efforts to try to raise the best and healthiest kids, I think we forget to just listen. This is a great starting point with all of our kids. Don’t ask questions, just let them talk.
Why listen to a Millennial mom?
I hope I don’t give too much of my age away, but I graduated high school when Facebook became the thing. I grew up on the cusp of the previous generation who had no real connection to technology to the generation that is eternally connected.
The issues in 13 Reasons Why are not new. They happened to my friends. They’re still affecting adults today. A good friend of mine didn’t have any options or resources. She was vulnerable and someone took advantage of her vulnerable state to keep her in an abusive situation. She is still dealing with the ramifications from our silence when she needed help the most. And I didn’t know how to help her. My friends didn’t know. Her parents didn’t know. It was so easy for her to fall into her situation, but no one could help immediately. It is not enough to just have a catchy hashtag or songs that have important phone numbers with resources (although, those do help). We need to reach out as a village of parents, friends, and extended family to care for our children.
Now that 13 Reasons Why has caught your attention (whether good or bad), here are some resources that you can pull from.
- Check with your local school systems about more information (Millard has a Millard Safe Schools Hotline available at 888-809-4754)
- Email and chat are available at www.yourlifeyourvoice.org
- Contact your local pediatrician or family doctor for more help.
- Boystown National Hotline is 800-448-300; it’s a free confidential resource that is available to anyone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
- As always, the suicide prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255
To my nieces and their friends, please talk to us parents; we want to listen. To my friend, I can’t wait to see you heal further…I hope your story doesn’t repeat and that others may have access to available resources. To my future teens, I am ready to help you in every way I can and so are other trusted adults, so please speak up.