Ok, thoughts on 13 Reasons Why….Here it goes. Be warned: There will likely be spoilers.
When I turned it on, I was expecting it to be hard to watch. The things I’d heard said that it was challenging to watch, it was convicting, and also that it glorified suicide. While the last episode with the actual suicide was hard to watch (I had to turn away), the rest of it seemed like a typical teenage angst-filled high school tv show where there is a lot of unnecessary drama. Overall, the main idea seems to be that parents and teachers should pay more attention to their kids and friends should be more “friendly”.
My first impression was that Hannah seems like the kind of girl that was always used to being pretty and having friends and maybe wasn’t always “popular”, but by no means was she a loner/awkward/lonely type girl. Her catalyst was moving to a new school and having to start over. That’s hard for everyone. She was introduced into a “forced” friendship that turned into a real friendship, but then, as high school relationships are wont to do, it faded when their interests/dreams/goals shifted. Honestly, how many of us are still best friends with everyone we knew in high school? Maybe one friend or two, but certainly not the huge social circle we thought was SO important back then. I do understand, though, that when you are in the midst of high school and *think* you’re so mature, but don’t know any better, it can be lonely and jarring when your friends “leave you”. That’s where the parents and teachers step in. I think this culture we are in these days, or at least my experience, parents expect the teachers to raise their children and talk about the hard issues in class, then when they’re home with their kids, all they have to talk about is homework and “how was school” and parents don’t always take time to get to know their children for who they really are. More about this later/throughout.
Let’s address parties. These are where all the bad things tend to happen. What’re the common factors in these parties? Underage drinking and no parental involvement at all. When you have a bunch of teenagers together in a totally unsupervised environment, things are going to happen. Then you add alcohol with people who don’t know their limits and shouldn’t even be drinking in the first place, and everything falls apart. Rape happens and no one says anything because the perp is the super jock at school who can do no wrong. We know of two people who were raped by this kid, and no one said anything. How many more were raped that we don’t know about? If ONE person started it, then more would have continued and something probably would have been done. If parents had been involved or present at the parties and the kids there felt welcomed and invited, maybe they’d have found a “safe” space for themselves to relax and be themselves. Or, maybe they would have been more “fake” and on their “best behavior” for the parents present. Either way, there is always a different mood when parents are involved. There is a part when Hannah’s parents basically push her out the door to go to a party. They don’t ask her who will be there. They don’t ask her if there will be parents there. They don’t ask her about drugs or alcohol involvement. They don’t see that she’s basically begging them to volunteer to be the “bad guy” so she has a way to say she can’t go. My mom always said that teenagers are a lot like toddlers and they need to be told the rules. I’ve experienced this to be true as well. If you tell teenagers the expectations, they rise to meet them. What’s great about rules is that they give direction. Kids aren’t ready to be thrown into the world. While they look like miniature adults, their brain development is not there yet! They need their moms and dads to help them figure life out. There’s a policeman dad who basically runs his house like a military institution and his son commits suicide as well. There’s a fine line between rules and law. While children need rules, they also need to be loved and supported and encouraged to make mistakes so they can learn. Alex was expected to be perfect all the time and so when he failed, it felt more serious than it really was. Zach’s stereotypical Asian parentage was similar – how could he have done anything wrong? He is supposed to be perfect. Poor Jessica probably had the most supportive home environment, but she didn’t take advantage of it at all because of her own vices and misconceptions. When she told her daddy about the rape, you could see it in his eyes that he was devastated that she hadn’t said anything sooner. The betrayal, the hurt, the helplessness. I wonder if any teenagers watching will see that in his eyes, or if they will be too self-focused.
Honestly, so much of this story is just regular high school drama that because of natural insecurities gets blown out of proportion. The fact that it ends in suicide is a tragedy, but sadly it is not an uncommon thing. I think the show doesn’t necessarily glorify suicide as some have said, but it certainly makes Hannah look like she was smarter than everyone and ahead of the game…though when she is in the bathtub, we see her with a slight look of fear like she’s not sure she really should be doing that. Her “last chance” was a total cop out. She didn’t ask anyone for help, but expected Mr. Porter to be able to read her mind. That’s too much to ask of anyone, but that is how a lot of teenagers think until they mature out of it. When you hear the whole story, sure, you can see how there were subtle messages. Her poem, her sudden withdrawal from social activities, etc.. but that is also something that a lot of teenagers go through. Like the student magazine kid (can’t remember his name) said, there are lots of poems submitted that could be interpreted as suicidal after the fact. Student poems can be dramatic. They’re figuring themselves out. “I just wish it all would end” can mean so many different things, and there are lots of popular songs on the radio that talk about things ending, or getting a way out, or something that could be seen as vaguely suicidal if the person singing/writing actually does commit suicide. The expectation on teachers to raise the students and teach them all the things they’re not learning at home is unreasonable. Teachers get blamed for so much that they cannot even control. It used to be that teachers jobs were to educate the kids in school subjects. If a student failed, it was the student’s fault. Now, it is the teacher’s fault for everything….
When the lawsuit (which seems odd that the parents felt the blame fell on the school, rather than some self reflection that they possibly failed their baby girl…) came to a head and the children were summoned to give their stories, they were prepared to fabricate a story, but then, they acted as children do and the truth came out and the opportunity for repairing relationships was available. The Baker parents hearing the stories that the friends told was eye opening, though there was a lot of heartache that could have been avoided if they’d just been honest right from the start.
Alright, wrapping this up: Parents need to be involved in their children’s lives. Teachers need to treat all students fairly and equally. Friends need to be able to have reasonable expectations for their relationships. It’s okay to be friends with more than one clique and if you don’t hang out for a certain length of time, it doesn’t mean the friendship is over, it just means that your interests changed or for some reason things are going to change. I think the show did a reasonably good job of saying that suicide isn’t the answer, and that honesty is the best policy. All of this drama and pain could have been avoided if there had been honest discussions between friends and family and teachers. I hope that the kids watching this show will understand that rather than kill themselves for attention that they’ll never even see, they should be more honest in their reaching out for help and talk to their parents/teachers/friends without fear. I hope the parents that watch this show will engage their kids in honest conversation, but be sensitive to the fact that it will be hard to repair potentially years of damage. I hope they will not try to place blame on their children for not reaching out, but will come at it from a place of humility and compassion, not just empty words because kids can see through that. Teachers have a hard enough life without parents blaming them because they didn’t intervene in their lonely life. It’s up to the parents to be there for their kids.
I’m glad I watched the show. I’m glad it’s getting the conversation about suicide going in a positive direction. It just seems like it was a little too open for interpretation for teenagers who might see it as “Wow, I want that attention.” rather than seeing that she could have reached out in a purposeful manner. So, if you’re a parent reading this: Get to know your kids. They’re mini versions of you, and are probably pretty cool if you get to know them. If you’re a teenager reading this: Talk to your parents. Understand that friend groups change. Ask your parents about their own high school experience. I bet you’re not unique in what you’re going through. Mostly though, if you’re feeling suicidal, reach out to someone and be completely honest. Don’t expect them to read your mind. We’re not there yet. We need to be honest in our communication when we need things and others around us aren’t understanding. There are lots of places to call hotlines, or email, or visit. Reach out. One way or another, this show should encourage communication. Thank you for reading!