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Dispatches From High School: Teens Talk 13 Reasons Why

‘It made me rethink the way I want to try to look out for other people’

Over the past few weeks, everyone has been talking about 13 Reasons Why, a new Netflix series chronicling the downfall of a teen girl who eventually commits suicide. After binge-watching the show over a period of 48 hours, so many thoughts ran through my mind. The one thought that stood out the most to me was that teens were going to watch 13 Reasons Why and immediately think that suicide is the way out.

Now, the National Association of School Psychologists has suggested that vulnerable teens not watch the show. In my opinion, every young adult under 25 is vulnerable. Virtually every teen in America has seen the show, and most parents and faculty don’t seem to know how to advise kids who are struggling to process the show.

So, should young teens be allowed to watch this thriving Netflix series? More important, does 13 Reasons Why glamorize teen suicide, or are the topics valid for teens to witness? We asked a few teens how the show made them feel.

— Alexa Curtis, 19-year-old blogger at Life in the Fashion Lane.

‘It made me rethink the way I want to try to look out for other people’
Image: Beth Dubber/Netflix

Olivia, F, 15

SheKnows: How did 13 Reasons Why make you feel?

Olivia: I remember before watching the show, I had heard a lot of mixed messages about it. The show takes on a lot of hard topics that are extremely realistic and events that teens face day to day. [Before watching it myself,] I asked some of my friends whether or not I should watch it because of its graphic images and such. But what they said to me is that even though it’s hard, it spreads a really good message that everyone should take into account. You don't realize what other people are going through and how words can affect someone in a large way. The show made me feel bittersweet at times, but also gave me a new mindset and message to keep in the back of my head.

SK: The show tackles a lot of difficult subjects (like slut-shaming, rape, bullying, etc.). Which of the issues presented are the most realistic for teens today?

Olivia: I think that all of the issues 13 Reasons Why tackled are extremely prevalent and realistic, though I think that one of the most realistic for teens today is bullying. Whether it's face-to-face or mean words said behind someone’s back, social media has had a negative effect on the way we communicate [because we] are able to spread words so quickly. Cyberbullying is extremely [widespread]... The internet makes it so easy to say something hurtful about another person. Things from words to pictures can be taken the wrong way and also put into a hurtful context. Like in Hannah Baker's case in Episode 1, she went on a date with a boy who she liked who ended up taking a picture of her going down the slide at a playground that showed her underwear. His friend sent that photo [to everyone] and said that [the boy] fingered Hannah that night. It wasn’t true at all, and Hannah was extremely hurt by this false message.

SK: Hannah committed suicide. Do you think she had other options? If so, what were they?

Olivia: I think that Hannah felt alone in the show and felt as though she had no other option. She felt lonely most of the time and had trouble opening up to the couple of friends she had. Also, though, the show never mentions her reaching out to her parents and/or expressing her feelings to them. She did not seem so close with her parents throughout the show on a personal level, so in that case, I think that Hannah could have let her feelings out to the ones she was close with most, as they did not see her suicide coming.

SK: In one particularly difficult scene, Hannah attempts to talk to her guidance counselor for help but finds the session useless. Do you think most kids have the resources to seek out help if they needed it?

Olivia: I think that most kids have at least one person that they are able to talk to, but it’s just a question of whether they are comfortable and/or are able to open up to that person. In Hannah's case, she tries to talk to her guidance counselor, who gives her some help and information that is not useful. Though I think that this question depends on the kid and their family/social situation. Hannah did not have many friends she could express her feelings to, but at the same time, the friends she had went behind her back and did not stick up for her like they should have. Her school also was not aware of the signs of suicide she was conveying, from her deep and dark emotional notes to her overall behavior.

SK: If you had a friend who was talking about/contemplating suicide, what would you do?

Olivia: If I had a friend who was talking about/contemplating suicide, I would first ask them why and what they are feeling and what is leading them to these thoughts. I would then let a parent know, either my own or the parent of the friend, without the friend knowing. Though that being said, the child might want to keep this thought of suicide away from their parents and letting them know first might provoke their actions. It is definitely super-important though to make someone aware and put the first priority to keep the child safe.

SK: How might the graphic nature of the more troubling scenes (i.e. the suicide, the rape scenes) have a positive or negative impact? Why?

OliviaI think that the show spreads an important message, though it contains highly graphic content, including suicide and rape. The rape scenes are very graphic and hard to watch along with the suicide scene, as it is very realistic and bloody. I would definitely not recommend this show to anyone younger than 14 because some scenes can be depressing and hard to process… You may have read the book and have been able to envision things in your mind, but once you see the actual images [on screen], you really can't unsee them. I would also recommend watching the show over a period of time [rather than binge-watching it] because the content is so heavy, and your mind should process it [slowly].

SK: The show’s title is a reference to the 13 different reasons Hannah says she killed herself. After watching it, do you feel suicide is truly anyone's fault? Why or why not?

Olivia: This is a hard question to answer, but I think the events that lead up to Hannah's suicide most definitely had an impact on her decision. She was being hurt and traumatized in so many ways and in the end could not take it anymore, so [that] resulted in killing herself. I think that if those in Hannah's environment, including her friends and school, [had been more supportive,] her decision [might have been different].

SK: After viewing the series, what are your thoughts on suicide based on the show's depiction? Do you think that the show's creators were successful in their message? Why or why not?

Olivia: I think that the show’s creators were successful in spreading the message of how much words can hurt somebody. Everyone is going through things, whether it's big or small, and your actions can heavily impact those around you whether you see it or not. Hannah's death not only affected her family but also her whole school's community. The kids who had said hurtful things about Hannah became so sad and depressed by their actions that one even killed themselves and others considered suicide because they couldn't live knowing that they were one of the reasons why Hannah killed herself.

‘It made me rethink the way I want to try to look out for other people’
Image: Beth Dubber/Netflix


Ava, F, 16

SK: How did 13 Reasons Why make you feel?

Ava: I’ve only watched the first three episodes, but it made me feel annoyed because everyone was always mad at someone for something. It seemed just like a bunch of drama, which is really not that interesting to me… It just kinda made me feel upset, even though I never even got to the really graphic scenes. I have heard that it gets more intense in the later episodes, but I couldn't get through it. To me it just was not a very interesting or realistic show. It was kinda cheesy and depressing and that’s why I didn't continue watching it.

SK: The show tackles a lot of difficult subjects (like slut-shaming, rape, bullying, etc.). Which of the issues presented are the most realistic for teens today?

Ava: In my school, there is little to no slut-shaming. I go to a progressive school where it is really not a big deal to other people how girls express themselves. From what I've seen in my school, bullying is not a huge issue either. High school students can obviously be mean, but the meanness seems to exist inside friend groups. People don't go out of their way to be horrible to others because there will be consequences. Also, [in my opinion] the amount of rape is not hugely realistic. Rape is often talked about and discussed in my school, and I feel that these discussions have made people aware of what not to do and the consequences that come with it.

SK: Hannah committed suicide. Do you think she had other options? If so, what were they?

Ava: [Based on what I saw], she could have found help instead of pushing authority figures away. The show demonstrates that many horrible things happened to her, but it is not fair to blame someone for someone else’s suicide. Depression is a mental disorder that you need treatment for, and she should have really gotten some help… I am sure there was someone at her school that she could have talked to. If it was just the events that affected her and she was not depressed, she could have just gone to another school. Or she could have stopped worrying about everyone else and surrounded herself with good people, like the main character, Clay.

SK: In one particularly difficult scene, Hannah attempts to talk to her guidance counselor for help but finds the session useless. Do you think most kids have the resources to seek out help if they needed it?

Ava: I think certain kids do feel comfortable and other kids do not. I do feel comfortable asking certain adults in my school as well as talking to my mother, and have even asked to see a therapist in the past. I do know of kids that refuse to open up to adults for reasons I don't know… I wish the media explained that getting help in these situations is very important and really can help a lot. Kids who feel all alone feel like no one will understand them, especially adults. However, adults should always be contacted if something serious is going on.

SK: If you had a friend who was talking about/contemplating suicide, what would you do?

Ava: I would tell an adult as soon as possible.

SK: The show’s title is a reference to the 13 different reasons Hannah says she killed herself. After watching it, do you feel suicide is truly anyone's fault? Why or why not?

Ava: I feel like I can understand that suicide is never anyone’s fault. However, for certain viewers, especially younger ones, the show gives a really bad message. A girl blaming people for her death is a horrible concept for the show. Committing suicide is a serious thing and comes from mental illness not from things others have done to you. [In my opinion,] it is never, ever someone’s fault. I also know that [many people have said that] the show glorifies suicide, which is a horrible thing to do. Suicide is never [the only] option and should never be presented as such.

‘It made me rethink the way I want to try to look out for other people’
Image: Beth Dubber/Netflix

Maya, F, 15

SK: How did 13 Reasons Why make you feel?

Maya: Thirteen Reasons Why made me think about the impact that actions can have on a person, no matter how small the actions may seem at the time. The 13 tapes illustrate how every little negative interaction adds up. I always hear my friends debating about who they think doesn't belong on the tapes, but even the smaller and less prominent characters contribute to Hannah’s inner pain. Each character is a piece of the puzzle; no matter how small, all of their actions pile up on Hannah and that is something everyone should think about in their own life — everything you do can have an impact that you never intended. There’s a domino effect. Take Sheri, for example. She got into a small car accident and knocked down a stop sign, but she didn’t stop to think about the consequences before driving away to avoid getting in trouble. In her mind, it was merely a street sign. Why should she risk getting in trouble with her parents? But then, without the stop sign at that corner, a terrible car accident results in the death of her classmate, Jeff. Thirteen Reasons made me rethink the way I want to try to look out for other people.

SK: How might the graphic nature of the more troubling scenes (i.e. the suicide, the rape scenes) have a positive or negative impact? Why?

Maya: Ultimately, while these graphic images were hard to watch, I think their effect was positive on the viewer. It was a very powerful and eye-opening way to show viewers that problems like rape and suicide exist and convey what a horrific [and common] experience they really are. The suicide scene didn’t glorify suicide at all, but instead showed how devastating, painful and permanent it is not only for the victim, but for everyone in their lives, as shown in the heartbreaking scene involving Hannah’s parents finding her body in the bathtub. The rape scene was equally brutal. Both scenes seemed very real and that realism is, I think, positive.

E.L., F, 15

SK: How did 13 Reasons Why make you feel?

E.L.: It made me feel unsettled, though I thought that [the concept] was not shying away from the very real problems of suicide and bullying in high school. But I do feel like they went about portraying it in the wrong way. The show really fetishized and fantasizes the idea of suicide by having: a "cute hand-drawn map," and each tape painted in pastel nail polish.

SK: The show tackles a lot of difficult subjects (like slut-shaming, rape, bullying, etc.). Which of the issues presented are the most realistic for teens today?

E.L.: Personally, I think sexual assault awareness is something that 13 Reasons Why brings very important attention to. Sexual assault occurs on a day to day basis and some people don't even realize it’s assault in the first place because of the lack of in-depth health education and with the only real sex education being the internet or porn. In the majority of straight porn, women are portrayed as weak objects that are thrown around, which is not a normal or OK thing. But because of the pretty disgraceful public school sex education, a very large number of people in the U.S. don't learn otherwise.

SK: Hannah committed suicide. Do you think she had other options? If so, what were they?

E.L.: Yes, I think there are certainly other options, and I feel like this is one of the [problems with] 13 Reasons Why. The show focuses on a specific narrative that implies that bullying leads to suicide. [It’s not any one thing that] leads to suicide. We also do not hear much about the psychological aspects [that might have contributed to] what Hannah was going through. Who was Hannah Baker before these experiences, and why did some of these issues hit her so hard?

SK: In one particularly difficult scene, Hannah attempts to talk to her guidance counselor for help but finds the session useless. Do you think most kids have the resources to seek out help if they needed it?

E.L.: I think it depends. My school creates a very casual, open environment in terms of talking to your adviser, teacher or guidance counselor about personal issues. But at many schools, people might be scared to speak up because [of] the fear of the counselor judging you, telling your parents or even the fear of the issues themselves. A lot of the time, you can just keep the thoughts in your head, but when you say them out loud to someone else, it makes them so much more real and can make you feel like there is something wrong with you.

SK: If you had a friend who was talking about / contemplating suicide, what would you do?

E.L. I would immediately tell my parents and contact their parents as well. The school psychologist and health teachers at my school are also equipped with advice on this subject, so in certain circumstances, I can see myself going to them for help.

SK: How might the graphic nature of the more troubling scenes (i.e. the suicide, the rape scenes) have a positive or negative impact? Why?

E.L. I understand that they were trying to bring awareness to these very real issues and not wanting to shy away from these topics. But 13 Reasons Why really does not give proper trigger warnings, even with the screen flashing for maybe five seconds, it really cannot mentally prepare you for something like that.

SK: The show’s title is a reference to the 13 different reasons Hannah says she killed herself. After watching it, do you feel suicide is truly anyone's fault? Why or why not?

E.L. Suicide is never one person’s fault or 13 people’s fault or anyone’s fault. There are so many things that layer into someone killing themselves, and what 13 Reasons Why fails to do is to properly portray the psychological aspect and the backstory of Hannah.

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