What’s the 1 reason why you need to talk about 13 Reasons Why?
Because you’re the parent.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a bit of context.
In 2007 author Jay Asher wrote a book titled 13 Reasons Why. It didn’t dominate conversations and news feeds until Netflix adapted it for a 13-episode series and released it on March 31. The fictional show tells the story of teenager Hannah Baker’s suicide—both the events that led up to it and its aftermath. Viewers follow along as Hannah shares 13 recordings on cassette tapes, addressing each person who she says played a role in her decision to kill herself. Those 13 reasons range from cyberbullying to rape, from rumors to rudeness, from humiliation to lack of help.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third-leading cause of death among Americans ages 10 to 24. In addition, 16 percent of students reported seriously considering suicide, and each year about 157,000 youths between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries at emergency departments across the US.
While you think your kids might be too young to think about such heavy topics, students in middle and high school are already discussing them. That’s why adults need to join in. It’s important, though, that this isn’t a lecture or interrogation.
As much as we might want to tell them what they should think, we first need to discover what they do think. So ask them—gently.
Then take the discussion from there.
Talk about the topics. The 13 reasons Hannah listed are serious issues that our teens might be facing. Ask gentlly, “Has this ever happened to you or to your friends?” If they have, a “How can I help?” would be a great start. If they haven’t faced them, talk about resources available if they ever do.
Talk about people. Encourage your kids be the helpers. “Do you know any kids who might need someone to reach out?” and “How could you be that person?” You could also discuss that while it wasn’t fair for Hannah to have left behind tapes so people had to carry a lifetime of guilt for her decision, we do have accountability for our actions. “Is this a wake-up call for how you treat others?”
Tell your story. Many of us know a friend, relative, or acquaintance who has committed suicide. Share that true story. Acknowledge the gaping hole felt by those left behind. Talk about how friends and families face the pain every single day.
Talk about the future. You probably also know someone who survived a suicide attempt. Share his or her story of hope, how that person grew up, finished school, contributed to society, got married, had children. What feels hopeless isn’t actually hopeless.
A few final thoughts . . .
If your child is struggling and needs help, please seek help. And seek help again if the first counselor or therapist isn’t a good fit. The issues in 13 Reasons Why are serious, and if your child has experienced or is experiencing them, professional help is vital.
If your child hasn’t seen the show or read the book and wants to, use your wisdom and discernment. You know your child best. No is a fine answer. So is, “Yes, and we’ll watch it together and talk about it.”
If you aren’t a parent, you are still crucial to tweens and teens. They may reach out to you, so be prepared to support and encourage them.
Linda Buxa is a writer, Bible study leader, and retreat speaker. She’s praying that parents don’t panic over this topic but stay informed, have a conversation, and always show the love of the Father, who loves us all perfectly.