Media Mindfulness Blog

Sister Helena Weighs in on "13 Reasons Why"

Sister Helena Weighs in on "13 Reasons Why"


This series got me very, very depressed. The full-on suicide was horrific. The filmmakers rejected the advice of experts to not represent the suicide without cutting away. (Rather than being irresponsible, I think they probably put artistic license before humanitarian prudence--thinking that brutal "art" could "save.")
Suicide is the #2 killer of teens today in North America. There are always copycat suicides after popular depictions (or news stories covering actual teen suicides) of teen suicides: this is exactly what happened after "Dead Poets Society." The copycat suicides are hushed up by first responders and news media, or they used to be, JUST for the fact of even more copycats.
I think the verdict is now out. The wildly-popular, or at least widely-seen Netflix series "13 Reasons Why"--(based on the book by the same name) about a teen girl who commits suicide--may actually have the reverse effect of its intended purpose. The purpose of the book/series was to prevent teen suicide by graphically depicting one, as well as the events leading up to it, all narrated by the deceased girl herself.

I'm going to recommend the 5 articles below and one audio interview--which all urge great caution in the viewing of the series. Adults should certainly see the series so they can talk about it with teens who have seen it (or may have seen it secretly).  It is vital to just start talking with your teens about the series, about teen suicide and about the many, many other issues brought up in the series. Teens WANT and NEED to talk with trusted adults about this series.
--Netflix Series Shows No Options To Help Address Suicidal Thoughts [beyond a website at the very end of the entire series and an epilogue by the filmmakers urging students not to kill themselves]:
--"Ontario Schools Warned To Avoid TV Series on Teen Suicide--Ministry Says Show Romanticizes Suicide and Makes Victim Seem Heroic"

--Parents Should Be Scared Because "13 Reasons" Shows How Little Parents Know About What's Going On In Their Teens Lives (On- and Off-line):
--EXCELLENT! Relevant Radio interview with experts:
What I would really love is to hear from teens themselves (those at risk for depression, suicide, etc., and those who are not but may have friends who are) as to how they are processing it all. Some are saying it is helping them to realize they need to be kind and little things can hurt a lot. Other young people are saying that they don't see any hope in the series--even though most people watched it all the way through waiting for something hopeful, some solution! Some teens are saying: but that's not real life! There IS hope!
Adults may want to begin watching the series with the very last episode which is actually an Epilogue with actors, director, producers and psychologists speaking about the making of the film (with clips of scenes). But it is not enough to watch this one episode. Teens have seen the whole series: you need to also.
The filmmakers had the best of intentions, but for all their filmmaking and teen-brain expertise, they failed to see that you cannot control/direct how the majority of teens may very well process this super intense, super dark, super hopeless drama.
And when you're a teen, who are you going to side with: adults telling you NOT to do something? Or a teen rebelling against everything around herself and keenly and articulately going on and on and on giving reasons for her suicide for hours and hours of the series so that she has the last word and is in final control of the situation?
Hannah Baker, the new girl at school, is lonely and suffering. A series of events, including sexting, rape, male objectification of females: physical/emotional/verbal, teenage drinking, teen sex, bullying, a fatal car accident she inadvertently and indirectly "caused," betrayal of friends, etc., lead her to give up on life. Before she kills herself, she meticulously records 13 old-school cassette tapes to explain her "13 reasons why" she killed herself. Each of the 13 reasons are a person that she effectively blames. One young man in particular, Clay Jensen--as sweet and genuine as Hannah, with whom she began a romantic relationship--is taking it very, very hard, of course. Due to his shyness and awkwardness, he wasn't always "there for her," and so he is majorly blaming himself.
There are 3 teen deaths: Hannah's suicide (slit wrists), Alex's suicide (gunshot to head), and teen boy in car accident.
The series is realistic, gritty, and goes into the many heavy issues facing teens today. The dialogue is in-depth. It is very rich because of dealing in depth with so many teen topics. I'm sure teens will feel honored by the very fact that someone cared enough to show the world what they are really facing (although, certainly, most teens aren't facing all of the issues portrayed). But that's not good enough. There is only one glimmer of hope at the very end when Clay reaches out to another isolated girl. But that's it. One psychologist is calling this "negative flooding" or "exposure therapy" which can actually work to make young people COMFORTABLE WITH SUICIDE. The negativity is soooo overwhelming.

There is so much I want to say about this series. I took 10 pages of notes! Hopefully, I will begin slowly adding topics/subsections to this blog post. But for now, I concur with the 6 resources above.



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