The series 13 Reasons Why on Netflix is hugely popular among teens. It is based on the bestselling novel, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, that came out in 2007. Netflix summarizes the show saying “[a]fter a teenage girl’s perplexing suicide, a classmate receives a series of tapes that unravel the mystery of her tragic choice.” Here’s some of the information about 13 Reasons Why for parents.
What’s the story?
The premise is that high school junior Hannah Baker (played by Katherine Langford) committed suicide and left cassette tapes explaining the reasons why she did so. There are, of course, 13 of them. After her death, classmate Clay Jensen (played by Dylan Minnette) receives the cassette tapes and as he listens, the show offers flashbacks of Hannah’s life with her parents and friends as she reveals her story up until her death.
What topics does it cover?
Parents should know that 13 Reasons Why addresses the obviously very heavy topic of Hannah’s suicide, which is shown in the series in graphic detail and exceptionally difficult to watch.
They should also be aware that the series covers sexual assault and rape, which is also shown in graphic scenes that are often described as “brutal.” The author of the book defended those scenes in this piece in Buzzfeed, acknowledging that it is uncomfortable but saying that it needs to be that way.
There is also slut shaming and bullying as well as lots of strong language. I’m guessing the last item is the least of your worries at this point, but it’s worth knowing that there are numerous f-bombs going in, cementing an R/MA rating.
Some fault the series for not handling the suicide well and the revenge aspect of it. The New Statesman says, “Suicide is a difficult topic to tackle without being sensationalist or reductive. But 13 Reasons Why manages to fall into both of these categories at once, depicting Hannah’s suicide as a means of exposing the actions of her peers and making them feel guilty rather than exploring the nuances of mental illness.”
Common Sense Media adds, “Messages about treating people with respect and not taking others for granted are most prominent, but the fact that Hannah blames others for her suicide is problematic and may send the wrong messages to some sensitive teens.”
What ages is it appropriate for?
The experts at Common Sense Media recommend it for kids 16 and older. Interestingly, parents on the site say age 15+, while kids say 14+. They caution that it “could be interpreted poorly by teens who aren’t ready for the nuanced portrait of a young girl’s life and death.” This PopSugar piece recommends it for 15+.
Most importantly, I think it’s important for parents to know their kid. On the Between Us Parents Facebook page, several readers stressed the importance of watching with your kid. It is a great way to enter into some incredibly important conversations with your kids, and help them navigate these very heavy topics.
Others noted that sensitive kids may find the show to be too much. As a highly sensitive adult, I think that applies to any age.
Salon warns that the show “has the potential to wreck a person. You have been warned.” It also adds “[I]t’s a lot to take in. Be careful.”I find that I have a pretty visceral reaction just reading about the show. Encourage your teens to really know themselves and if this is a show they can handle. Remind them that it’s okay to opt out, even if it feels like everyone in the whole world (or their high school) is watching it.
Is the whole world really watching it?
13 Reasons Why is hugely popular. It’s all over high schoolers’ social media feeds and group texts. If your child says that everyone is watching it, it’s not the typical hyperbole. It’s also true, though, that not every single kid on the planet is watching this show. If your teen opts out, remind them that there are tons of other things to talk about and that this fad will fade in the future.
Is it any good?
Rotten Tomatoes says 90% of the reviews are positive.
Nina Vallone is the parent of two teens who is watching the show and she finds the series “compelling and oh so good” in her blog “Three Reasons Why I am Loving 13 Reasons Why.” She explains that one of the reasons she likes 13 Reasons Why is because it illustrates so very clearly just how connected we all are.
A review in Forbes, not exactly the outlet you’d expect to love it, calls it “one of the best original dramas Netflix has made in several years.”
That doesn’t mean this is a fun show, not even close. Common Sense says “This series isn’t a pleasant watch by any means, but it does raise vital issues that can inspire valuable discussions between parents and teens.
The Washington Post reviewer didn’t love it, saying that what the show “gets right about teen tendencies toward melodrama fades as the series fumbles around with tone and emotional accuracy. The characters very rarely come across as real, perhaps because the story itself is so contrived.”
Is the series better than the book?
If you’re wondering how the book compares to the TV series, check out this Vox article, which finds that the series as an adaptation “corrects and transcends the book it’s based on.”
But not everyone agrees. The New Statesman, a progressive cultural magazine in Britain, says in its review, “Although the creators’ decision to widen the novel’s psychological focus on a dual narrative between Hannah and Clay is a sound one, it has been stretched so thin that it becomes flimsy and transparent.”
Vulture breaks down the differences between the book and the series here.
What resources are available?
Vallone recommends that kids and parents both watch the after show on which a few expert psychologists and the creators provide some very good information.
Suicide Awareness Voices of Education compiled talking points to assist parents, teachers, and other gatekeepers in talking to youth about suicide as it relates to the situational drama that unfolds in Thirteen Reasons Why. You can find it here.
“Suicide is never a heroic or romantic act. Hannah’s suicide (although fictional) is a cautionary tale, not meant to appear heroic and should be viewed as a tragedy,” it stresses.
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Filed under: Pop Culture