I just finished watching the series “13 reasons why” the Netflix show that a couple of weeks ago was causing a ruckus. It only took a few days, but that’s because I plan to cancel my Netflix account after the free one month trial, not because I was binge watching. In fact, I debated watching the show at all after hearing about how graphic it was and knowing the show’s popularity would just be a fad. Too be honest, I actually didn’t think it was too graphic, but more on that later.
I first heard about this show though a youth pastor support and idea sharing group I am a part of on Facebook. Youth pastors all over the country reported being worried about how to warn parents about the show’s mature content and wondered if they should discuss the topics it portrayed with their students. Personally, I neither warned parents nor discussed it, but my group’s dynamics and my own philosophy of ministry drove that decision. The former I can’t necessarily discuss in a blog post and the latter being that as a pastor and not a mental health counselor, I believe my primary focus should be on the spiritual development of my students. Do the two ever overlap? Always. We need to be prepared for that, but that’s another blog post.
Something bothers me about this whole 13 reasons why thing and no it wasn’t how graphic the show was. It’s difficult to watch for sure, anyone with half a heart would agree. However, the portrayals of sexual assault, rape, violence and the main character’s decision to commit suicide are shown very honestly. That’s the word I would choose, I don’t think they went too far and the end of the day, I expect those things to be graphic, because in real life they’re even worse. In a way, it might be beneficial that it made us a little uncomfortable.
Shortly after I heard about the show in this Facebook group, I heard about it everywhere; social media, the news etc. Any organization that had anything to do with teenagers or the mental health field responded in droves. Blog posts, posters and tweets galore. “13 reasons why not” became a popular antithesis to name these campaigns. I don’t doubt that many of these efforts are heartfelt and meaningful, but is it enough?
Oddly enough, the show predicted this sort of response. What I mean is that our response is eerily reminiscent of how the school administrators and other adults in the show responded.
Throughout the series, you get the notion that the teens are more or less annoyed by the adult’s wayward attempt at dealing with the issue. You get the feeling like the posters and class discussions are really just damage control and liability prevention.
I wonder if the mass response I saw last week was the same thing in some ways. You see, while just a week or two ago I was hearing about this show everywhere, now I hear about it nowhere. Nothing.
Sure, suicide prevention agencies are still zoned in, but that’s too be expected. It’s saddening that it often takes a serious event (thankfully fictional this time) to generate any sort of response at all, because unlike the show, suicide is not a fad. It is a real issue happening daily among adults and teenagers everywhere, because the underlying issues that trigger suicidal thoughts are not being dealt with.
Communication is key.
I think that one of the biggest roadblocks for adults to be able to empathize with teenagers is the fact that we no longer think like teenagers. We did at one time, but now our brains have changed. While its possible to remember some of the things that happened during my teenage years, I now look at them from an adult perspective. At the same time, one of the biggest roadblocks for teenagers to be able to appreciate the wisdom of the adults in their life is the fact that they can’t see past the here and now which makes everything feel urgent and impossible to overcome.
Those two mindsets create a dissonance that is difficult to reconcile.
Earlier I said that I didn’t find the show be overly grotesque. One caveat I will put here is that I don’t think teens should watch it alone. Watching the show just for entertainment value really misses the potential this show has to generate discussion and does expose younger viewers to unnecessary graphic depictions. This is a show that needs to be watched together by older teens with their families. The show covers so many other topics than just suicide. The topics range from bullying to being responsible for your actions and the consequences that can occur. It could be a good starting ground for adults and teenagers to get honest with each other and try to bridge that gap.