If you have a teenager or a preteen, chances are you’ve heard about 13 Reasons Why and your kids are hounding you to watch it. If you haven’t heard about it, chances are, they’ve already watched it. It’s what’s going on right now, so that’s just the reality. If you’re asking the question, “Should I let my kid watch 13 Reasons Why?” you should know that there is a LOT to consider.
It began as a book that gained popularity, especially after Netflix announced they would be turning it into a show. I never read it in advance but I skimmed the internet for the plot points and figured out pretty soon that this book/show showcases some pretty mature story lines. My initial reaction was just to say no to my daughter watching it. However, she’s fourteen, going into high school next year and she has access to our Netflix account. I don’t live in a bubble where I think me saying no means she’ll never be exposed to it. So, I decided to watch and help weed out some situations and also use some as conversation starters.
Here’s what you’ll want to know going in. And yes, there are spoilers ahead.
Basically, 13 Reasons Why is the story of a high school girl named Hannah who is bullied and tortured by other students, friends, boyfriends, frenemies, and even questionably her teachers and guidance counselor. She’s also a drama queen and super hormonal and reactive things that happen to her, much like any teenage girl.
Right off the bat, it’s made aware that Hannah commits suicide because of the way she’s been treated and the mistakes that she’s made that have lead to a bottomless pit of depression. It’s tragic and very raw and really emotionally heartbreaking.
But Hannah takes her suicide a step further and decides to let everyone who she ever felt led her to this point in her life know that they’re directly responsible for her suicide by recording herself telling their story and what they did to her onto cassette tapes. Yes. Cassette tapes. Apparently they still exist and teenage girls can figure out how to use them. So, that was a high point.
There are 12 people whom Hannah holds responsible for her emotional state. So, she makes 14 tapes – 13 and a half, actually, since each person gets one side (one person is important enough to get two sides).
Hannah sets up a system after her death where these tapes are sent around to each person who is on them, they’re forced to listen to every single one, and then pass them on to the next person. When all 12 people have read them, they hand them back over to the one person Hannah trusted to pass out these tapes and monitor the people listening to eventually destroy them.
I’m sure you went to high school long enough to figure out that it doesn’t exactly go that way.
I took issue with this plot line. I get that it’s the backbone of the story but it’s just unbelievably cruel and weird. Yes, high school is cruel and weird, but this almost glorified making people relive pain. It was a good conversational topic, though, to discuss how sometimes people do things to us that we think are really terrible, and they are, but in reality the person might have never intended that consequence. Things just snowball sometimes, especially in a place like high school, and it’s important to remember how easily that can happen and to make sure that we’re always keeping other people in our consideration when making choices.
But, let’s get down to the nitty gritty.
1. There is sex. It’s heavily implied most of the time. You’ll see some making out and hinting around. There is no blatant nudity, but there are definitely scenes that almost cross a threshold. You’ll see a man’s butt, some sideboob of a girl, naked in bed with her boyfriend, some thrusting stuff like that. It’s awkward and could definitely NOT have been put in, but welcome to 2017.
Here’s what you really need to know.
2. There’s not one, but TWO rapes that occur in this show. They’re pretty fucking awful, to be honest, because they feel very true to life. And something I took a lot of issue with is that they didn’t just show the rape scenes, they KEPT SHOWING THEM as flashbacks. Thrusting. Sounds. …. It was a lot. I was seriously really surprised and frankly disturbed by how much they kept showing them. I fast forwarded through all of these scenes with my daughter and she claimed to not even mind because who the hell needs to see it happen to know it happened? Just know this going in because you’ll have to be prepared.
3. There is drinking and there are drugs. A few of the students are big into weed and open about drinking beer at parties. One of the students has a mom who is a drug addict. There is also a drinking and driving death scene.
4. There is a tough suicide scene. They show Hannah slit her wrists and bleed out in a bath tub. It’s creatively edited to try to soften it a little bit, but I really emphasize a little bit. It’s brutal. And when the parents find her… I just can’t. My heart broke in a million pieces and I skipped to the next scene.
5. There is a lot of manipulation. And I meant A LOT of manipulation. I’m still trying to figure out if any of these characters were actually not manipulative (except for the main character Clay. But he was so good, it was borderline unrealistic. And he still made it on to one of those damn tapes, anyway.)
6. There’s a lot of mean girl stuff going on. And make no mistake about it, guys can be mean girls, too. Girls and guys who are best friends who talk shit about each other and suddenly aren’t best friends anymore. Girls and guys who throw other each other under the bus to save their own asses. Girls and guys who intentionally start rumors to bring down others. And OMG, a WHOLE LOT OF SLUT SHAMING.
7. There are guns. Not just a random gun, here or there. There are guns everywhere in this show. One student has a cop father who has and cleans his gun. Another student has a military father who has trained her how to use guns. Another student packs a gun in his backpack when he runs away from home. Another has a legit arsenal in his bedroom and buys a gun in a back alley. There is a shooting at the end of the series that is heavily inferred to be ANOTHER suicide, but there are theories that it was a murder. That remains unclear, but what is very clear is that a student is shot. Seriously, where are all these suburban kids finding all of these freakin’ guns?
8. There are some harsh realities for parents in this show, too. I think one of the biggest is each parent’s realization that not only is their kid not as perfect as they thought they were, but that they didn’t really know them as well (or at all) as they thought they did. This is probably one of parent’s biggest fears, deep down. Yes, we worry about the drugs and the sex and the sneaking out and the behavior and the grades…. But discovering that our kids are completely different people than who we thought they were? Maybe someone who is capable of hurting someone else or not that nice or great of a person? No one wants to face that reality.
In the end, I think 13 Reasons Why definitely deserves its mature rating. I think it’s gratuitously mature, to be honest. But I think some good can come from watching it with your kids. Here are 5 Reasons Why.
9.) You can show them that you care. This is a very different world than when we were young. Back then, our parents could say that they remembered what it was like to be a teen and it was true. Nowadays? It’s a whole new ballgame. Social media, smartphones, personal devices, and technology have changed everything and the issues that kids have to face these days go beyond what we had to deal with. It’s important to acknowledge that and to let your kids know that you’re right there with them to help them figure it all out as it goes down, as their support system.
10.) You can talk. I really did get a lot of good conversations out of watching this show with my daughter. I learned a few things about her that I was surprised by and I was really happy that her reactions to many of the things I took issue with matched my own.
11.) You can stay relevant. It’s not always easy to be in the know these days, but this is what all of the kids are watching right now, so you might as well know what the hell is going on.
12.) It’s a good reminder that we’re all fighting a hard battle. Behind the scenes, we’re all struggling with something. Some more than others, some worse than others. But struggling, nonetheless. Take the time to find the kindness in your heart for everyone if possible, even when it’s hard. Because you never really know what’s going on. My daughter said this was the biggest thing she took away from the show in the end and for that, I was happy.
13.) It’s a good reminder that your kids aren’t perfect and you’re not perfect — None of us are perfect. Stay on top of them. Give them boundaries and curfews. Hold them accountable for their actions. But also cut them some damn slack once in a while. Raising a high schooler is hard. Being a high schooler is even harder. You’ll both survive it, just like our parents and we did. Just hang in there.
In short, 13 Reasons Why is an extremely mature show. It’s definitely not for young kids. And if you haven’t talked to your kids about sex, drugs, relationships, depression, suicide, drinking, slut shaming, safety… Then most definitely sit down with them and do that, but it should really be done before teens watch this show.