In March of 2017, Netflix released a television series called 13 Reasons Why. There has been much buzz and controversy about this show. Some believe the show needs to be watched to talk about all the important topics it addresses, but these topics need to be talked about without watching the show too. Whether or not your teen has watched or will watch the show is at your discretion, but these conversations with your teen are critical either way. Dialogue needs to be open, honest, and ongoing. Please consider not if, but how you will engage with your teen on these topics. Below is a resource for you to utilize in talking through some of the topics the show addresses.
As you talk through all of these heavy topics with your teen, please know that there are resources available to you. If questions come up that you don’t know how to answer or if something becomes a little too personal for one of you, or you just need another voice, reach out to your pastor or another church worker. If they don’t know how to help, they will know who to refer you to. What’s most important is your teen understanding that you are available to talk to them about hard stuff. That you don’t shy away from real issues. The Bible certainly doesn’t, and we as Christians can’t, either!
Thirteen reasons why you should have a conversation with your teen about “13 Reasons Why”
- It is graphic in nature showing nudity, rape, and a suicide along with other graphic scenes.
Talk through what graphic images your teens have seen and how those images have impacted them or might impact them in the future.
- It covers many important topics like suicide, bullying, cyber-bullying, sex, rape, drugs, guilt, shame, stalking, violence, gossip, betrayal, grief, blame-shifting, lies, fat-shaming, underage drinking, and revenge.
Talk through each of these with your teen including their experiences with these things (and maybe some of yours) as well as how a Christian can face these challenges of life.
- It reinforces the FALSE notion that many millennials hold: “Your life is only as valuable as you think it is.”
Talk about how the value of life is not determined by self or by any other person. It’s determined by the Author of life and the One whose image we each bear, God Himself.
- It portrays depression and mental illness in a FALSE light—that if everybody would just “be nice,” no one would be depressed or suicidal.
Talk about how mental illness doesn’t work that way. Depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and all other mental illnesses are not dependent on how other people treat you. Often, depression is still present even if many in one’s life are “being nice” to them. Have a frank discussion about mental illness.
- It does not show that there is help for those struggling with suicidal thoughts.
Mental illness tricks your brain into thinking that there aren’t people who really care about you. Together, list the people who care and communicate over and over to your teen that those people will care regardless of circumstances or thoughts or health. Talk about the fact that there is help. Always. Talk about where your teen can go if they or a friend of theirs is ever struggling with suicidal thoughts. This is not a shameful process, it’s for their health. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK
- It communicates that one’s own version of the truth is the only one that matters (in this case, Hannah, the main character), whether it’s the whole truth or not. She believes she was wronged irrevocably. She believes she was denied justice at every turn.
Talk about how truth doesn’t work that way. The truth is, people can be impacted very differently by the same event, but it doesn’t change the facts of the event itself. Use examples from your teen’s life or your own life to show that, even if a situation hurts one person really badly and not the other, the events are still the same.
- Moral definitions are continually blurred throughout the series (i.e. lying and deception are just part of teen life and never questioned as the norm).
Talk about the fact that while evil will always exist in our sinful, fallen world, morality isn’t defined by circumstances. There is an ultimate authority on right and wrong and that’s God as revealed in His Word. Talk about what things are always right and always wrong and how we know that. Talk about how to handle when morality seems fuzzy.
- It lacks grace and focuses only on vengeance and delight in taking revenge.
Talk through what a vengeful response can do to you and others involved. Talk through what a grace-filled response can do. Talk through how to respond appropriately even when we don’t really want to.
- It invites viewers to really take a hard look at how they treat other people and what the impact of their treatment might be.
Talk through how we, as people who claim to follow Christ, should be aware of the victimized, the hurting and the overlooked because we are called to do so in the Scriptures. Talk about how we can care for the hurting and overlooked. Talk about what to do if one has a friend struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts. (Click here for more resources.)
- It paints the future as only bleak and without hope.
Talk through how we know that we have hope and a future because of Christ. This doesn’t mean that people struggling with mental illness will always be able to see this, but it does mean that there is always real hope to be shared.
- It romanticizes suicide as a viable option for life struggles. Suicide is often referred to as “Hannah’s choice” and painted as a perfectly legitimate choice for a person to make.
Talk through how we know that suicide is never a choice worth even considering. Talk about why this isn’t a viable option as it doesn’t alleviate the life struggles. Talk about how to handle the struggles of life.
- It focuses on the victim mentality rather than Hannah being the victim of injustice. The victim mentality is letting other people rule (or ruin) your life.
Talk through what influence others really have on our lives. Talk through how to “let them” have influence versus how to take control of what we allow them to influence.
- It raises more questions than answers or solutions.
Talk through what we do when we see questions that are seemingly unanswerable in our world. Where do we turn to find solutions? What do we do if we can’t seem to find solutions? (Click here for some questions and their answers from a Christian perspective.)