As a therapist, the novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, was introduced to me by a 16-year-old client. She suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts. This particular client is also a writer. So, I decided to read it. Reflecting on the events in the book as a therapist and a parent, I felt it was powerful.
On March 31, Netflix released the series, Thirteen Reasons Why. After a week of hearing my teenage clients discuss it in my office, I decided to watch it. Most of the teens I have encountered have binge watched the series. So, I decided to do the same as to experience it similarly to them. I found myself anxious to find out what was next. It took me two days to watch all thirteen episodes. I have read numerous blogs and articles that point out the negatives of the series. However, what I took from it was more positive. In addition, two of the executive producers of the show are Selena Gomez and her mother, Mandy Teefey. Every teenager knows the struggles Selena has had and how vocal she has been about mental health.
First, from my perspective, Hannah never blamed anyone for her suicide. She clearly outlines a series of events which took place that contributed to her choice. It seemed she wanted each individual to know how she felt after those events. How does this differ from a suicide note? The only difference I could see was that it was audio recorded.
Secondly, the show is just that…a show. There are parts of it that are dramatized, but what television series are not embellished? The reality is the events in the series are not far from the truth. Any teenager who is open with you will confirm this. I hear it daily in my office. Teenagers have drama. It is all a part of growing up. It’s not the drama, but how they choose to cope with the drama. As parents, it is our job to support them and help them learn to navigate the negative feelings that surface on a sometimes daily occasion.
What can I do?
This is a very important question that needs to be addressed. Each one of us is responsible for our own thoughts and actions. I believe that this was the message that Hannah was trying to get across. It is the responsibility of each of us to be aware of how our actions affect those around us. For teenagers, it is normal for them to be self-centered. However, as parents, we need to encourage them to expand their thoughts to include others. Remember, children model what they see.
It is my opinion the show opens up the door to an extremely difficult conversation. Luckily, most people will never have to deal with suicide. However, the negative self talk and negativity portrayed in the media can break a person down. For example, one of my kids recounted a story about an incident that occurred at school to one of her girl friends. The friend had her dress pulled up by another student and was humiliated. Now, if this were to occur to a child with depression, self-esteem issues, or anxiety it could have a completely different outcome. Luckily, this friend has an amazing support system and is able to cope with the incident. However, she shouldn’t have had to have the experience in the first place.
As parents, it is imperative to create a climate where your teen child feels safe to come to you about anything. Some examples could include having a code word that signals to the parent the need for a safe conversation. During this conversation, it would be the parent’s job to listen and not consequence or try to solve the problem – help them to learn to regulate the emotions they are feeling. While Thirteen Reasons Why had some areas where they could improve, it is a platform to use to have some very difficult discussions. I am going to end on something the show pointed out – It was Hannah’s reality. It may not have necessarily been entirely true, but perception is reality. Just something to keep in mind.