Have you seen the new Netflix show 13 Reasons Why? It’s been causing a lot of buzz and an awful lot of controversy, with some schools and organizations going so far as to recommend that teenagers not watch it, because of the themes covered in the show.
When I had initially heard of the show, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to watch it. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I wasn’t sure if I should for the sake of my own mental health. I had heard the premise of the show dealt with the suicide of high-school student, and instantly, it was like I was 15 years old again.
Within the span of 11 months, between my Grade 10 and Grade 11 years (sophomore and junior for anyone not in Canada), my high school lost 3 young people to suicide. All of them were people I knew – an acquaintance that I had just spent half a year working with on the school musical, a friend whose locker was directly beside mine, and a good friend, someone who was a part of my close friend group.
I can still, 25 years later remember vividly being 15 years old, standing at my locker before school and seeing sad faces walking by without knowing. “What’s going on?” I asked a friend. “Kim committed suicide last night. I’m so sorry B, I know you guys talked every day.” I remember the feeling n of shock, the tears, the disbelief. I had just talked to her the day before, laughing and joking at our lockers. “See you tomorrow” we said. But we didn’t. The next time I saw her was at her funeral, in a coffin. Why? Why would she have done it? In the days following, the rumours started. Talk of a suicide pact that thankfully didn’t happen, someone’s sibling who was volunteering at the hospital when she came in, the whys that no one really knew. And then, just like she had never been there, life went on.
The next year, I was part of our school’s annual musical theatre production, which happened to be West Side Story. It was a huge undertaking for everyone – the cast, the crew, the musicians. He was part of the stage crew And I was part of the orchestra, so we saw each other a lot in passing but never really got to know each other well. He always seemed happy and loved working on the crew, so when, a few days after the final cast party, he decided to end his life, we were all full of questions. I still wonder, if I had reached out, could I have somehow known or helped?
A few months later, the biggest blow hit. I had a group of close friends, one that I had been a part of since my Grade 8 year. Candice was a part of that group. You know how group dynamics are when you are a teen – even within a group, there are people that you are closer too and ones who are closer to others. Our group was like that too. I was 2 years younger than everyone else, but only one grade behind, so sometimes I felt a little outside, but always valued as a friend. We were a bit of a ragtag group, not the most popular kids in the school, but an awesome bunch of kids who danced to their own drums. I never knew what she was struggling so much, and ever in a million years did I expect to hear the words “Candice is dead” that morning when I arrived at school. It’s like a movie in my head now – I can see myself standing in the hall, hearing those words, yelling “NO!” and my knees buckling under me. My friend who had delivered the news grabbed me, and I stood there, in those painted school halls and sobbed. I still, to this day, all these years later, hear “November Rain” by Guns n’ Roses without being back in that little chapel with my friends, wondering what we could have said or done, how we could have stopped this from happening at all.
High school is hard you guys. We’ve all been there, but do we really, really remember how tough it really was? Trying to navigate relationships with friends, figuring out this whole dating thing, the pressures to drunk or smoke or have sex. We had a program for teen parents in my high school, so we all knew fully well the consequences of some decisions, but still.
Now imagine throwing social media into that mix and you’ve got the potential for a pretty nasty concoction. It feels like kids are growing up so much faster and looking at a lot of what teenagers are like now brings me back to my university days. There is more and more pressure on them all the time, and it’s honestly no wonder this is still happening. I cannot imagine having social media and camera phones around to record some of the stupid stuff I did during my teenaged years. Who knows how reputations and friendships might have changed if they were? I don’t envy our kids having to deal with fears of inappropriate pictures, group texts and online bullying.
There feels like such a lack of communication too. I don’t just mean between parents and kids, but between friends, partners and other trusted individuals. People don’t know who they can trust anymore, and sometimes friends don’t turn out to be friends at all, especially when bad things happen.
That terrifies me.
We all carry our own burdens, but like with any kind of weight, proper distribution is key. We cannot leave our kids, or ourselves, to carry these weights alone. We, as the adults, need to talk to our kids. We need to be brave and share the parts of our stories that we can.
We need to listen.
Hiding shows like 13 Reasons Why from our kids does not do them, or anyone, any justice. This is the kind of show that we need to sit down and watch with our kids, then take a deep breath and talk about. We need to let them know that we are a safe place to fall, judgement free, if ever they need. I know it’s hard, but knowing that you are not going to get a strip torn off for a stupid decision that you already regret makes such a big difference.
Obviously, you need to *know* your kid, and honestly, given the subject matter covered, I probably wouldn’t watch it with Q for several more years. We have tried really hard to establish open lines of communication with him from a really early age, so that when the times comes that he does have to start dealing with issues like these, he will know that we are with him. Even though I didn’t tell my parents everything, I always knew that I could trust them with what I did tell them, and that they would be my safe place, no matter what.
If you just can’t bring yourself to watch and discuss with your kids, please, watch it yourself. Though it may be a fictional show, these things are taking place all around us, whether we like it or not. It doesn’t do anyone any good to stick their head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening. Educate yourself on the warning signs of mental illness and depression. Watch your teens and their friends for changes in mood or habits. Get to know their friends. Just don’t pretend it’s not happening, or deny kids an opportunity to talk with you about it. With all the buzz, you know they are just going to watch it anyways,so really, it might as well be with you, someone who can give correct information or figure out where best to find it.
As a parent, watching the reaction of not only the family of the deceased girl on the show broke my heart into about a thousand pieces. I cannot imagine, nor do I even want to, the pain of losing a child so suddenly and not knowing why. I dream that one day no one has to experience that kind of loss again, and it can start with just a conversation.
So please, don’t be scared off by the negative hype. Kids and especially teens, can be a lot more aware of the goings-on in the world than we’d like to believe and it is our duty to help them learn how to process the bad, and not just shelter them from it, as much as we might like to.
We are a part of the Netflix StreamTeam, and get to share some of our favourites with you each month. I felt that although much more serious than our normal StreamTeam sharing, this was extremely important to share. We do receive some perks from Netflix for being part of the team, however, all opinions and thoughts are our own, and as always, we’re sharing because we truly think you will enjoy it or hope it will be of value to you and your family.