As a former public school teacher and a mom to teenagers, 13 Reasons Why hasn’t been far from my radar since all the hype began. I’ve heard it called “irresponsible TV” and seen many conservative Christians rail against it as vile and a contaminant to today’s youth.
So I watched it for myself. Here’s what I want to tell you. Yes, it is vile and explicit. It’s true your brain will need a bath after viewing. It’s also entirely accurate in its portrayal of the public school culture many of our students live every single day.
I’ve read entire blogs dedicated to the avocation of its removal from Netflix based on its language alone. I can’t help but wonder if we’re missing the point?
If your teen or preteen attends a public school, I can assure you, they know, hear, and understand each word used in the series.
I don’t hold a particular position on whether teens or preteens should be allowed to watch the show, as I believe this is a decision best left to individual parents and kids to make together. You know your teen’s maturity level and triggers. What I am strongly suggesting is that you, the parents, watch the series and use it, as a tool to facilitate vitally needed discussions.
Yes, I’m aware it will be uncomfortable. I do realize it most likely goes against your moral code in every way possible. This is what gives the show its merit. It’s a window into the lives your teenagers live within the halls of their schools and don’t feel they can share with you. What if you used it as a launching pad for connection and understanding? What if we used it to talk to our teenagers about this culture that creates a desire for the ending of one’s life once and for all?
What if you allowed it to open your eyes and better equip your students for the reality of their day-to-day lives?
Below are thirteen questions I asked my teens after I watched the show. You know what? I was thankful for the discussions it opened up, and for the things I learned. None of us are limited to thirteen questions and we certainly don’t have to launch into them all in one sitting. But if you take the leap and ask the questions, I believe you’ll be glad you did. You’d be surprised what vileness can bring you closer to your teens.
- Can you tell me in your own words what sexual assault is? Do you feel equipped to stop it if you see it happening? Do you know the proper channels for reporting it?
- How would you respond to a friend who seemed like they might be or said they were considering suicide? What steps might you take?
- In your opinion, what are some signs someone might be suicidal?
- What are some things you feel lead people to choose to end their lives? Once they’ve made the choice to commit suicide, do you think anything could stop them? What role do you believe mental illness plays in suicide?
- Can you explain sexual consent? Can someone revoke his or her consent? How important is it to obtain or give consent?
- What does bullying mean to you? Do you think you’ve ever bullied anyone? Do you believe bullying changes the way people view themselves?
- How far would you go to gain acceptance? Would you knowingly allow someone to hurt or injure someone you love?
- How often do the students at your school share nude or almost nude photos of one another? Do you think the administration is aware? How do you think other students would respond to you if you reported these photos?
- What about school brings you joy? Is there anything that breaks your heart?
- If you could single-handedly change one thing about your school culture today, what would it be?
- How can I better support and equip you for the things you face every day at school?
- When you feel isolated, cut off, or misunderstood at school what stabilizes you?
- What questions do you have for me right now?