Opinion: The positivity behind “13 Reasons Why”

Feature Photo By: Mya Johnson – A student poses as if she is watching the Netflix Original Series 13 Reasons Why. Many students at Rangeview have already watched the show. 

By: Mya Johnson, Review Staff

13 Reasons Why. Whether you have binge watched the show, read articles about it, or read the book, most everybody knows about the new Netflix Original Series focused around teen suicide.

The show chronologies Clay Jensen (played by Dylan Minnette) listening to 13 cassette tapes in which Hannah Baker (played by Katherine Langford), a sophomore who committed suicide prior to the beginning of the show, explains the 13 reasons why she ended her life. Each episode, covering one tape, exposes one person that affected the life and death of Hannah Baker.

The show is based off the novel, 13 Reasons Why, written by Jay Asher and follows the book only slightly. The premise of the show is still the same, but many changes were made to add more depth to the characters and to the plot.

Teens across the nation have watched 13 Reasons Why and have fallen in love with many of the characters, but the show has caused quite a bit of controversy. Parents are outraged that this show is targeted to teenagers and news outlets write about how the show glorifies, and even promotes suicide.

On Sunday, April 30, APS students and parents got a call and an email concerning the show. The email reads:

 

APS Parents and Guardians:

We are writing to let you know about a TV series that some students have been discussing with their peers. Netflix recently launched the series called 13 Reasons Why. It is based on a popular novel with the same name. The series is rated for Mature Audiences (MA) and is also available to watch on other streaming websites. The fictional story is a cautionary tale about a young girl’s suicide and covers sensitive subject matters in graphic detail. Psychologists warn that the show glamorizes teen suicide and may encourage self-harm.

We are sharing this information with you so that your family can make an informed decision about your children’s media use.

If your children have seen or are talking to you about the series, we have some talking points posted on our website at aurorak12.org/parents. You may also ask your child’s school for a copy of the talking points.

If your student needs additional support, please contact your student’s school.

Thank you for your support.

 

The phone call was along the same lines.

 

While I am extremely thankful that APS is reaching out to students and parents to address the heavy topics of bullying, assault, and suicide, and definitely agree that some students in our district, namely elementary and middle schoolers, should not be viewing the show, 13 Reasons Why is not a huge influence on the things that students are dealing with. If anything, the show portrays the importance of reaching out to someone, like a parent or other adult, when in distress.

A viewer discretion warning appears on the screen before the last episode of 13 Reasons Why. Many episodes have warnings and Netflix is in the process of adding one before each episode due to backlash. (Mya Johnson)

The fact of the matter is, the students who wanted to watch it have already viewed all 13 episodes or are wrapping up the show now, so APS telling parents to monitor their student’s media use (like watching the show) is not going to help. The show is rated TV-MA for its heavy content of sexual assault, self harm, and suicide. Viewer discretion is advised at the beginning of several episodes so that audiences who cannot handle the topics covered in the episodes know to turn it off or to view at their own risk.

APS is not alone in their concerns for the show, though. Other school districts have expressed their unease and many psychologists have explained how the show glorifies mental illness and suicide, creating a toxic virtual environment and planting harmful thoughts into vulnerable teens.

After I binged the show, it did put me in a weird and unfamiliar mood, but I think that was the point of it. It creates this unease in the audience that makes them really think about their impact on others and how their actions and words can truly be deadly.

The show also starts a conversation that no one feels comfortable addressing, which is a problem in itself. The show discusses heavy topics as I said before, but 13 Reasons Why opens the door for a discussion between parents and their children.

Yes, many teens do not feel comfortable talking to their parents about bullying and mental illnesses, just like how Hannah Baker kept most things in her life from her parents, but this Netflix Original almost forces parents and kids to address these problems.

The portrayal of high school in the TV show is terrifying because of its accuracy. Students I know have been bullied or assaulted by other students, and there are hundreds of teen suicides everyday. The generation of students that are in high school right now are experiencing these traumatic events at a young age and many parents are unaware because students do not talk about these things out of shame or fear.

The Suicide Hotline is open 24 hours a day. You can call, chat, or look at their resource page. (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline)

To add on to that, our parents attended high school in a time where technology was not a tool to abuse others and bullying was not as severe. I don’t want to make it sound like our generation is just victims, but plain and simple, we have it worse than most of our parents ever did in high school.

Many contributors to the show, including executive producer Selena Gomez and actor Dylan Minnette who plays Clay Jensen, have defended the show, saying that these topics need to be addressed and it opens a door for that discussion to happen.

The whole point of 13 Reasons Why is not to entertain audiences with suicide and assault, it is to help teens and their parents talk about the problems that far too often get left in the dark or pushed aside.

We need to be talking about mental illnesses; we need to be talking about bullying; we need to be talking about assault; we need to be talking about suicide and prevention; we need to address the problems that most teenagers face before they even graduate.

Most of us do not have enough life experience to process the trauma that happens to us and it causes us to shut down. We need someone to turn to, and 13 Reasons Why has shown us that we need to turn to someone or things will only get worse.

Parents, understand that this show is a very serious one, but conveys a very necessary message. The events that pan out are startling but real, and if we continue to ignore them, the problem will only grow.

If you need help, call Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255  or chat on their website: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ 

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