Thirteen Reasons Why: Helping Vulnerable Children Navigate Difficult Topics

downloadI’m stepping out of my comfort zone and writing about a TV show many of our students are watching: Thirteen Reasons Why (Netflix). Jay Asher’s book has been popular for several years, but the Netflix series is controversial for its depiction of real, awful events. Knowing that many of our students are watching and that some schools have advised parents not to allow their children to watch, my wife and I took the weekend to watch the series and educate ourselves. I can’t help but share my reaction as a parent and teacher of students at a very vulnerable age.

I have not read the book. The series, though, isimages a painful emotional tour of the events
which lead a girl to commit suicide. Its visual nature makes the content of the book even more real. Hannah Baker is an intelligent and creative girl, and the show’s slow march towards her death is heartbreaking. It’s hard to watch the show and not think of the students who are watching this show and processing what it all means.

I don’t suggest middle schoolers watch this show due to the scenes depicting sexual harassment of Hannah and other girls, two scenes which show graphic rape, and the very real and visceral scene in which Hannah kills herself. All this overshadows other concerning calls for help – Tyler is building an arsenal of automatic weapons and a deep resentment of his peers, Alex contemplates suicide, and Justin has an abusive mother and is growing violent himself. Heavy stuff. However, many Lakeview students have watched this show, and a conversation with them is important to help them process what they’ve seen. Many of our kids identify with the characters in the show, but they don’t yet have the intellectual or neurological ability to process it properly.

If your children have watched this, it begs a conversation with them. Difficult, yes, but I can’t imagine a 13-year-old watching this and processing its content alone. Or with google, social media, or any other path to misinformation. If you don’t know how to approach topics like suicide and rape, I’ll leave some sources below. Professional advice or guidance from me would not be appropriate, but I recommend you reach out to our leaders at school (such as Mrs. Horeni) if you need help talking to your children. Watch the series, educate yourself, and prepare if necessary, but don’t let your children tony-13-reasons-whynavigate this alone. If anything positive is to be gleaned from this series, it’s the power of friendships and positive thinking. Be cool to people… you have no idea what’s going on between the ears.


Sources from experts about the topics in Thirteen Reasons Why: