When I worked in news, we stayed away from covering individual suicides. You might hear it on the police scanner, everyone would shake their head in sadness and then we’d carry on, listening for the next potential story.
We didn’t cover suicides not because they weren’t important, but because there were so many and we feared by giving it attention, we would encourage more.
So, I’m left feeling a bit uncomfortable with the new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, which thrusts the issue of teen suicide squarely in the faces of our impressionable teens.
Don’t get me wrong — this is definitely an issue we need to talk about, but is this the right way to do it? Does executive director Selena Gomez portray Jay Asher’s novel in a thoughtful and responsible way?
We know many teens are suffering in silence. The National Institutes of Health says suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 15-24.
In The Woodlands, TX, last year, there was a cluster of seven suicides amongst what appeared to be happy, typical teenagers who were, obviously, distraught inside. (I wrote about it here for I AM Magazine). The community was in shock…how does this happen?
.@13ReasonsWhy makes me want to be a better person. Be careful how you treat people. You never know what they’re going through.
— JINX UNIVERSE (@jinxuniverse) April 9, 2017
This new Netflix series gives parents a window into why high school life can be so difficult for some teens and how things can quickly spiral out of control. It focuses on sophomore student Hannah Baker who leaves behind a set of tapes outlining the 13 incidents and people that led her to commit suicide. There are 13 episodes, narrated by Hannah, and it flips back and forth between the past and present, so you get to know Hannah and the other characters.
When my daughter asked me to watch it, I didn’t like the concept. I didn’t like that fact that Hannah was blaming other people for taking her own life. I felt like that was her decision to make, and some would call it a selfish one. After all, it’s the people left behind who are forced to deal with the aftermath and pain of suicide. Critics say the series focuses too much on blame and not enough on empathy.
Yet, as I watch the series (and I’m not that far along) I feel such sadness for this girl as things well beyond her control start to happen. The picture that wrongly labels her as a “slut” and gets spread around the school. Her real life nightmare continues with secrets, lies, rumors, frenemies and even rape.
The final scene ( I haven’t seen this yet) which shows Hannah committing the act is criticized as an attempt to sensationalize and over-dramatize teen suicide.
Par for the course with Netflix, this is a raw, somewhat dark, but realistic view of typical high school life. While it’s unlikely these 13 awful things would happen to one person, it’s quite possible that each event, on its own, could happen to a teen like yours or mine. My heart aches for her parents and when the camera shots go from Hannah’s smiling face to her empty seat in the classroom, it’s disturbing.
Watch this with your teen. Some of the commentary from teens after watching is that it makes them want to be a better person…a nicer person. And, as parents, I think it helps to explain a lot of what our teens deal with on a daily basis. You and I both know that when we say, “How was your day?” we only get half the story.
Keep these conversations happening, encourage your teen to reach out for help if needed and support them to speak out when they see cruel things happening.
I will close with these wise words from Chris Gritzmacher, a counselor with Montgomery County Youth Services in The Woodlands, from my article in I-AM Magazine.
“Teens need their families, more than anything else. They need those hugs because they help heal all those little fractures that occur every day.”
TBH I feel like they should show #13reasonswhy in every High School.
— Matthew Lush (@MatthewLush) April 7, 2017
I want to know what you think about this series? Leave me a comment below and share this post with another mom of teens!