“Hi, It’s Hannah. Hannah Baker. That’s right, don’t adjust whatever device you’re hearing this on. It’s me. Live and in stereo. No return engagements. No encore. And absolutely no requests. Get a snack, settle in, because I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically why my life ended. And if you’re listening to this tape, you’re one of the reasons why.”
If I’m honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch 13 Reasons Why. I mean watching a program about a teenage girls suicide wasn’t exactly going to be happy viewing. But then there was the hype. Everyone was talking about it. Maybe it was fear of missing out. Maybe it was peer pressure. As is human nature, curiosity got the better of me, and so began my binge. And with that opening line on Hannah’s tapes, I was hooked.
Although I finished watching it weeks ago now, it has stayed with me. I can’t stop thinking about it. So much so that I was wanted to write this post, which is a lot more serious than my normal style. There’s no denying it’s a difficult program to watch. It made me feel uncomfortable. It shocked me. It made me cry. But it’s an important program to watch. It’s a conversation starter. Difficult and uncomfortable conversations, but conversations that as a parent we must have with our children. Conversations that can save a life.
So here are the thirteen conversations you should have after watching 13 Reasons Why.
Warning: Contains spoilers.
1 Talk about being a Teenager
My boys are 3 and 7. The thought of them being teenagers terrifies me. The having to let go and let them learn from their mistakes. What those mistakes might be. How things that they go through in their teenage years will shape the person they become. When I started watching 13 Reasons Why I didn’t think I would relate to the main characters. Those days are long behind me. But it took me back.
It reminded me of all those feelings that are so big to cope with. It reminded me how fast life moves when you are a teenager. One minute you can be at the top of the world and the next it feels like you are at rock bottom. Little things matter a lot. Other people matter a lot. What people think of you is everything when you are a teenager. Talk to your kids about when you were a teenager. Let them know that you felt everything they are feeling too.
2 Talk about social media
As much as 13 Reasons Why took me back, it also highlighted the huge differences from when I was a teenager to what teenagers go through now. Mainly social media. Rumours at school were hard enough to cope with, but when you got home you could escape them. Teenagers can no longer do this. No where is safe for them.
13 Reasons Why served as a stark reminder of the education both parents and teens need about social media and the impact it can have on peoples lives. My fashion faux pars are relegated to a dusty photo album and have only ever been seen by a select few. Teenagers today have no control over the images of themselves or how they are used. Social media in the hands of adolescents is a really scary thing. There needs to be more conversations about cyber bullying.
3 Talk about consent
This is such an important message for teenagers. Any conversations about sex should start with consent. Consent is everything. In my teenage years I remember every talk being about teenage pregnancy, experimentation with toys, and STD’s. It was never about consent. Alexis Jones, founder of I Am That Girl, puts it far more eloquently than I can;
“Pause. Take a moment to ask “I just want to make sure you’re ok with us having sex” It’s incredibly sexy. That makes any girl feel really taken care of.”
And it really is that simple. We need to teach our kids to ask.
4 Talk about victim blaming
I remember having conversations with my mum as a teenager about rape victim blaming. Sadly from what I can see in in the twenty plus years that have followed nothing has changed. A rape victim is put on trial. The clothes they wore, what they drank, every past sexual encounter. All things that are irrelevant to what happened in that moment that they did not give their consent.
Recent high profile cases such as Ched Evans and the Stanford rape case show how women are treated in the aftermath of the ordeal. I will never understand the judges decision in the Stanford case after reading the victim impact statement. 13 Reasons Why shows the fear the victims have in coming forward. The fear of not being believed. The fear in their attacker getting away with it. Unless we talk about the culture of victim blaming, when will it change?
5 Talk about the signs someone isn’t coping
As parents we should really be talking about the signs our child isn’t coping, the signs that something is wrong, the signs that they are depressed. The signs that they have lost all hope. The signs that they might take their own life.
I kind of hope there is a pamphlet or something. Some kind of parent of a teenager instruction manual. But seeing as how they didn’t arrive into the world clutching one about being a baby, one I could have really done with, I sincerely doubt it. Instead it is up to us to look out for our own kids, and each others. 13 Reasons Why shows us how easy it is to miss the signs, to mistake them for something else, to downplay them, to ignore them.
6 Talk about asking For Help
We need to encourage our kids to ask for help, let them know it’s ok. To make sure they know where to turn if for whatever reason they can’t turn to us. They need to see us asking for help, to know that all of us need support. To know that asking for help is always the right thing to do.
So often mental health is hushed or shrouded in shame and asking for help is seen as a weakness. When teenagers are trying so hard to be independent and prove they are grown up, it can be so hard to reach out for help. If anyone of the kids in 13 Reasons Why had asked for help at some point, things could have been so different.
7 Talk about the right thing
The biggest thing that struck me in 13 Reasons Why was how long it took the kids to come forwards and tell someone that either they had done wrong, or someone else had. We try so hard to teach our kids right from wrong and hope they make good decisions. But what if they know someone else has done wrong? Where is that line between telling tales, and doing the right thing? How to we give them the courage and conviction to come forwards when they know someone has done something wrong?
8 Talk about compassion
I think the overriding message for me from 13 Reasons Why is that we never know what is going on in someones elses life. Often we are too caught up in our own to see. When you are a teenager acceptance among your peers can seem like the most important thing in the world, at any cost. But in Clay’s words,
“It has to get better. The way we treat each other. looking out for each other. It has to get better somehow.”
Kindness, understanding, tolerance. The best qualities we can teach our children.
9 Talk about mistakes
Cause and effect. How your actions, no matter how simple, how insignificant they may seem can have a huge impact on other people. A split second decision, like the one Sheri makes about not reporting her collision with the stop sign can have devastating consequences. We need to teach our kids that we all make mistakes. But that we need to own up to them. To let them know we will always be there for them and that they can tell us anything. To not make the fear of our reaction be the reason they don’t own up to their mistake.
10 Talk about death
So many of us steer away from conversations about death. It’s not an easy or pleasant conversation to have. In 13 Reasons Why it felt like the adults didn’t know how to talk to the kids about Hannah’s suicide. How do you? How do you acknowledge the pain someone is going through after the death of a friend? How do you respond if they feel responsible? I cried a lot watching 13 Reasons Why, but what made me sob was when Clay said,
“I cost a girl her life because I was afraid to love her.”
But they need to know it’s ok to feel sad and mad and everything in between. To know that life goes on, and that’s ok too, because it has to.
11 Talk about suicide
Another topic that is often swept under the carpet. Again, a difficult conversation to have. But if we don’t acknowledge it and talk about it, how can we have further conversations about suicide prevention? As 13 Reasons Why shows, putting up suicide awareness posters after the event is too little too late.
12 Talk about what matters
The brilliance of 13 Reasons Why is it’s realistic portrayal of being a teenager and the pressures of adolescence. Often things that are so real to teenagers are dismissed by adults. As Brian Yorkey, the executive producer for 13 Reasons Why says,
“Adults tend to trivialise what for teenagers and young adults is not trivial. teenage brains don’t work the way adults brains do. Trauma and pain feel like they are going to last forever. And I think that we forget that sometimes.”
13 Talk about the future
Things will get better. You will not always feel like this. Whatever life throws at us, we can get through it with the right support and help. There is always hope. There has to be.
Things will be ok in the end. If they’re not ok, it’s not the end.
Some people have labelled 13 Reasons Why as dangerous and glamorising suicide. I think it does the exact opposite. I think it tells an important story. I think it is a must watch.
I am part of the Netflix Stream Team
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