I’m sure everyone reading this already knows, but Netflix recently released an original series called 13 Reasons Why, based on the novel written by Jay Asher. Both the novel and the series are incredible. If you haven’t read the book or watched the series, I suggest you do both.
Before you start, just know…it’s real. raw. explicit.
This story captures the issues that every day real people face. It tells the stories of adolescents, young adults, and students from middle school to college. It shares the emotions felt by parents, families, and friends. It captures love, hate, fear, heartbreak, loneliness, grief, and so many other feelings that can’t even be described and that you didn’t know you could feel.
I read the book a long time ago. I would guess like 10 years ago when the novel was originally released. I would have been 13. I was in middle school. Maybe I was a freshman in high school. I don’t remember for sure, but I definitely read it when I was very young.
I don’t think that I truly grasped the concepts that were explored in this story back then, but that seems like a lifetime ago, so I don’t know for sure. It also seems like the world was a lot nicer back then. A lot simpler. A lot easier to navigate. I love how Netflix modernized the series to make things a little more relevant to issues faced today.
Anywho…without spoiling too much of the plot, I would like to share why everyone – especially if you’re an educator, work with students, or are a parent – should watch this show or read this novel or maybe even both, like I did.
- Drug & alcohol use is everywhere: this show depicts drug and alcohol use among teens. Many of the high school students that are in this show experiment with drug and alcohol use – as do most high school students around the world…so seeing this in mainstream media is important for visibility – and partying. In addiction to shedding light on minors consuming drugs and alcohol, this show depicts broken homes and families because of drug use. I love that this show really emphasizes the fact that you don’t know what is happening in someone else’s life and what it may be like for someone behind closed doors.
- Bullying and cyber-bullying happens all the time: I feel like bullying is on the rise in today’s day and age of increasing social media and technology. Bullying has always been depicted in the media for as long as I can remember – cue the cartoon character being shaken from his feet for his lunch money – and it is still an issue today. I cannot believe that the world that we live in is just now starting to engage in conversations about bullying. But this show speaks to the nature of bullying, cyber-bullying, and the way in which people’s stories get twisted as they get shared across media platforms, texted, tweeted, and snapped to the world. It’s messed up. This amazing show finally sparked some chatter about this important issue. Get out there and engage in these conversations.
- It’s OK to not be OK: In the field of work that I am in, we CONSTANTLY talk about the importance of mental health, raising awareness and advocating for it to be OK to not be OK. People struggle. People go through crazy traumatic experiences. People deal with emotional issues. Depression and anxiety are real. And they are no joke. This story is about a web of young people who deal with anxiety, depression, and emotional trauma. The way in which all of this is portrayed is so authentic and genuine. But it is so important. I love the fact that this show did not shy away from these big topics and that they are making these issues visible to the world of Netflix.
- It’s time to start talking about suicide: Alright y’all, we talk about mental health stigmas and the importance of raising awareness and getting help for the ones we love. But even with the increase of these conversations, the stigma surrounding suicide is still prevalent today. WHY? Of course suicide is a tough topic to talk about, but if we aren’t having these conversations, no one is, and those suffering from mental health issues and self harm/hate don’t have anyone to turn to if there is no one who is comfortable with and open to talking about this. Show some empathy, look for signs, and reach out to those you love, even if you don’t think anything may be wrong, you never know who needs a smile and a hug today. If some of the characters in this story – and more people in real life – had spread love instead of hate, lives could have been saved. I don’t know about all of you reading, but I have seen too many young and beautiful lives lost too soon. This has to stop. Spread love, people!
- Because no one seems to know what consent is: You see this in the media ALL THE TIME. It is the reason that Vice President Joe Biden worked with Its On Us to create initiatives on college campuses to combat sexual assault and relationship violence. The message given to young people today is that it is awkward to ask for consent when instead the message should be that it’s sexy to ask your partner if what you’re doing is OK. The “hook up” culture that has somehow become the norm today, has taken consent completely out of the picture. And because there is so much gray area, there is an ungodly number of sexual assaults occurring. And what is worse is that no one even knows that they’re committing this horrendous act because all the lines are blurred and no one knows what’s right anymore. It’s disgusting. It’s on us to stop sexual violence! 13 Reasons Why brings light and visibility to this important and heavy issue. It may be one of the first media showings of something of this kind and it adds so so so much to this incredible story.
- Love is love and should be shared: It’s 2017 and the fight for love has been long fought and unfortunately continues to be fought today. The media is bringing couples of all different variations to pages, screens, and earbuds everywhere. No longer are the days of the traditional family. In 13 Reasons Why if people were more willing to be vulnerable and express love to one another, it would have made things a lot better – same is true in real life. What is a story about high school students if there isn’t relationship drama or some sort of love twist? Nothing. But in today’s world dating and love as a high school student is complicated and confusing. This story portrays the confusion of many characters in their pursuit for love. 13 Reasons Why brings visibility to almost every possible romantic couple that you can think of, and in today’s world it is so important to be visible for others of whatever community you belong to. It’s tough to navigate this world of love, but the underlying concept is that everyone is looking for it. Who cares? Just love and never stop.
- Shaming (body, slut, victim, etc.) of any sort is so not cool: Yes, everyone judges. We all have our inherent biases and prejudices that we can’t control – but we can work to overcome and grow out of them. The fact that it is so easy, so common, so accepted to shame someone based upon the way they look, the people they sleep with and the acts they engage in, or for being beaten or raped is screwed up. This story shows examples of shaming and it’s honestly repulsive. But we have to see this stuff in media to see how gross it is in real life. It has to stop. Things have to change. And this is the message told in this wonderful story.
- Self-love is key: It is so important to love yourself and to be proud of who you are, no matter what anyone else thinks about you. You are valuable, you are beautiful, you are original and one of a kind. Love yourself for that. Love yourself for who you are. Continue to love yourself and never let anything or anyone take your love away. If Hannah, or any of the other characters in 13 Reasons Why had given themselves a little more love, other people would have given it to them too. People feed into confidence and self-worth, and it is crucial for young people to be surrounded by others who are both self loving and givers of love. Keep this in mind as you work with young people – and everyone else for that matter.
- It takes a Community to raise a child: It seems like everyone in this story is somehow connected. Oh wait, they are. That’s because in a community, everything and everyone is effected by the actions of others. If we remember that we are always part of something so much bigger than ourselves, maybe even when the people right next to you aren’t treating you so well, you will realize that it gets better. There is a community for everyone and it takes a community to raise an individual. You simply have to find your community. So never give up, strive to find a community that you belong to and always strive to make it better.
- There are two sides to every story: 13 Reasons Why does a fantastic job with this one. You hear Hannah’s view of things from her tapes. You see Clay’s view of things as he is the character that is focused on most frequently. And then of course you see the view of every other character who is in the tapes as well. Some think Hannah is lying. Some don’t know the truth. Some change things around so that they look innocent or someone else looks guiltier than they are. But the underlying issue is that there is always two sides to every story and you don’t always know both sides. Tell your version, but hear out other people’s perspectives. Everyone’s lived experience is different so their perspective is going to be slightly altered from yours. Take this into consideration whenever you encounter a conflict.
- The role you play as an administrator is vital: Everyone viewing this show hates the counselor, am I right? He didn’t do his job, and he told Hannah to move on from something that she didn’t have the strength to move on from at the time. She reached out for help and he didn’t do his job. He shoved her off, made her a victim – yet again – and carried on with his busy day. I’m sorry, but if you’re in a role as an administrator of any kind you are viewed as a lifeline to many. Whether you’re a teacher, a counselor, a principal, a professor, or like me an adviser to students, your actions validate the thoughts of the young people around you. So if you don’t do your job right and you brush something off as unimportant, these young minds are going to tell themselves that you’re right and that they need to move on. But what if they can’t? Then it’s on you my friend. Listen. Listen. Listen. It is so important that you truly take the time to get to know your students and listen to what they’re going through. It’s so important that you act when someone comes to you for help. You’re an administrator for a reason. You’re a role model, a mentor, someone who has been there. So just listen. And act accordingly.
- Teenage thought process & experience is accurately portrayed: Being a teenager, an adolescent, and even a young adult is so hard. It’s awkward. It’s confusing. And yet it’s so simple. The thought processes expressed in this show are the same thought processes that you and I went through when we were growing up. If you’re a younger reader, you may relate to these characters on some level now. That is OK. We’ve all been there. This is a pretty accurate portrayal of what it’s like to be a young person. Never think that you’re the only one who is feeling like Hannah, or Clay, or Justin, or Jessica, or anyone else. There is always someone else out there feeling the same way that you do. So hang in there pals!
- 13 Reasons Why is really great storytelling: Because I refuse to end this list on a negative note and a call to do better, I thought I would end with something positive. If you watch this series for none of the reasons that I listed above, watch simply because it is really great storytelling. It is exceptionally cheesy – as are all high school dramas. There is intrigue, a bit of a mystery, a handful of crimes, love and emotion, and many elements that make great stories. Give it a shot. It you don’t like it that’s fine. It’s pretty controversial, so I get it. It’s real and raw and doesn’t shy away from pretty intense things. If you don’t think you can watch it. OK. It’s all good. Just know that the buzz about this show is for good reason. If you work with young people chat with them about this series and get some conversations started. You never know where good storytelling like this can take you.
Side note: even though I loved this show and I thought that it did a very good job bringing up hot button items and issues, I do have to make note that I don’t agree with how glamorous Netflix made the act of suicide. This show presents suicide in a kind of intriguing way. Suicide should never be an act of revenge or spite like it was in this series. This series makes it seem like the message is “if you’re going to commit suicide, then go out with a bang and make it flashy” but that shouldn’t be the message that viewers receive. So if you’re watching this and that is the perception that you have…I feel you. I agree with you.
Sorry that this post was a little more intense than what they usually are. Thank you for sticking it out and reading the whole thing! I appreciate it. I just feel passionately about these issues because they are things that I see my students facing everyday. They’re topics that I talk about and read about for class. They’re headlines in college newspapers across the country. This show hits close to home for me and a lot of people in this world so keep that in mind next time you find yourself judging someone, using a derogatory phrase, sharing something on social media, or you’re out at a party.
Sending all of my love to everyone effected by any of the issues mentioned above. I am always here for you. You are not alone.