If you haven’t heard about it online yet, there’s no doubt that you will in the days and weeks to come. 13 Reasons Why, based on a young-adult novel of the same name, was released on Netflix (13 episodes, of course) on March 31 and in the past month has become a locomotive of controversy and interest as a result.
School boards are sending notices home to parents, on why (depending on where they stand on the issue) your children either shouldn’t watch the series, or should watch with adult supervision, and if the school board is diligent, also including a list of resources on where to find help if a student is suspected of being in danger of harming themselves or others. Not since Tipper Gore’s pursuit of parental advisory stickers on album covers in 1985 has something in entertainment been so prominent in schools and at dinner tables.
So WHY is 13 Reasons Why so controversial and why – despite the warnings – am I such a fierce advocate for parents watching the series? I’m not going to write 13 reasons why, but here’s what spoke to me about the series – hopefully this will give you a better understanding and basis for your own Netflix binge.
1) It deals with suicide (obviously) but suicide is not talked about at the kitchen table in households. No one wants to go there, yet we read countless articles in local papers about families dealing with the devastation it brings. It helps open the door to discussion with our tweens and teens, even if the topic is one we’d never want to go near. It turns out all the most important topics in parenting are like that.
2) Sexual Assault is shown in different ways – some graphically and some subtle – but again it opens up this topic for discussion with our kids. The graphic scenes of sexual assault were a trigger for me (I hate that word, so overused) and uncomfortable to watch having experienced sexual assault as a teenager. I believe the producers made the scenes so graphic to have the uncomfortable impact they did. Truthfully, the scene with Hannah in the convenience store with Bryce grabbing her bottom bothered me just as much. I felt the flush of Hannah’s face, the prickly heat on the back of her neck, the sting of tears in her eyes when that happened. It’s not minor, none of it is.
3) It explains how seemingly minor events can combine into a snowball of disaster. I loved how Hannah explained the butterfly effect in her tape. How a small occurrence, not noticeable to most, can cause something huge in the end. We go about our days as parents, having our own issues, and we know our kids do too. If they’re not crying in their rooms or bringing you a topic quietly before bedtime, all must be OK right? This reminds us the importance of checking in, always asking questions and always talking through the little stuff (and not so little stuff) with our children, tweens and teens. That sounds fluffy, I get it, but it’s important to say.
— Tenille Lafontaine (@RealTenille) April 24, 2017
4) It shares mentorship and friendship. At first, I thought Tony was a ghost. Who can blame me with his 50’s style, swagger and car, and of course Bruce Willis ruining us forever in The Sixth Sense? But no, Tony is real and an ever-present part of the story. He guides Clay without directing him, he waits for him to learn the lessons in front of him and helps him come to terms with them. I loved the Tony/Clay dynamic the most and wish we all could have a Tony in our lives.
5) Ultimately, it shares that suicide is not the answer. While those writing against watching 13 Reasons Why certainly have their reasons, I disagree that 13 Reasons Why is a revenge-fantasy. People desperate for help, considering suicide, may in fact think about what their death will mean to others around them. It’s conceivable to think that many feel it gives them the last word. I get that. But I think what is more powerful in this story, and why so many people signed up to be on the team to produce it, is the weight of sadness left on the viewer at the end. Clay is devastated knowing the love and life with Hannah has slipped through is fingers. Her friends who let her down are left with that burden. Her parents are broken. We are left looking at everyone with remorse and sadness, because things could have been different – not celebrating because Hannah ‘showed them’.
More on this topic was shared today on Saskatchewan Afternoon with David Kirton (who is the person that recommended the book to me, and I’m so grateful to him for that!)