Let me start by saying I find the acting in this series to be phenomenal and the way it’s shot is great. But I have some serious issues with the way the message is delivered. I think it’s fantastic to have a show that teaches teenage boys that objectifying girls is NOT ok and teaches all of us that to be kinder in general. Everyone is fighting his or her own battles and little kindness goes a long way. My problem with the show is that it seems to justify the fact that people generally suck and that high school years are sometimes unbearably tough, with suicide. That’s NOT ok. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in people 15-34 according to the CDC.
Here are my issues with the show.
1- Your Actions Are NO ONE’S fault but your own
Hanna, commits suicide and there are “13 Reasons Why.” These are 11 people she blames for what they did and two people she blames for what they didn’t do, as the reasons why she killed herself. Yes, people are cruel. Men can be dense. Situations get misinterpreted and they explode in your face. People deliberately hurt you, they lie, they use you and oftentimes they don’t even care that they’re causing incredible pain. But if you hurt yourself, if you commit suicide, it’s YOUR fault you’re dead. You cannot blame anyone for your actions. YOU chose to kill yourself. No one is at fault but you. When people suck, and they most definitely do, it’s YOUR choice to either let it go, defend yourself, be the bigger person, bring in an adult (more on this later), seek professional help (more on this later, too) but you do NOT blame others for hurting yourself. You chose to do that, no one made you.
2- It Depicts Teen Girls and Petty and Weak
Slapping your friend over a boy? Letting a guy grab your butt without even saying a word? Freezing in pretty much any stressful situation? No honey. I have worked with children and teens for over 14 years and I know some very strong girls and “no nonsense” young women that carry themselves accordingly, not letting heartbreak or gossip or anything else lower their self-esteem of affect their self worth. Hannah is so easily thrown off by everything that happens to her and her solution is suicide. That’s not the right message for our teenage girls. The character should empower our girls not make them feel like if they’re not heard or understood in life, they might have a voice in death.
For the record, if guy sexually harasses you by grabbing your butt, trying to put his hand up your skirt, or in any other way you go ALL OUT and make him suffer all the consequences of being a lowlife disrespectful piece of trash. You don’t let it happen and then blame the guy for feeling poorly about it. You make him suffer the consequences. Your body is yours. No one has access to it unless you decide so.
3- The show doesn’t give alternatives to suicide.
According to Netflix, the goal of the show was to start conversations about the topic between teens and their parents. Noble cause and much needed. But the problem I have with the series is that it doesn't show another option that isn't suicide and the counselors and adults portrayed the show are all incompetent and incapable of understanding her. That's neither realistic nor always the case. Any teen, or adult for that matter, who is currently at risk and watches this show might feel as though suicide is the answer and it's not. Suicide is never the answer. The show doesn't have a PSA or contact information for those who watch and are at suicide risk (both of which you can find below). It also doesn't teach viewers what they can do to prevent suicide.
4- The message, while great, is poorly delivered.
High school can be rough when you’re not in the popular crowd. Heck, it's tough even when you are. But you need to be stronger. In the show Hannah gives up and blames everyone for it. Now, I’m not naïve enough to think that teens always openly talk to their parents about absolutely everything, but why reinforce that in the show? Clay’s mom makes herself available over and again to talk to him and be there and he makes little to no attempt at talking to her or confiding in his parents. Why not deliver the message the to trust your parents and talk to them, tell them what’s happening instead of perpetuating the “parents just don’t get it so why bother telling them anything” mentality? These series are a tool we can use to positively influence our kids and improve our society.
While many of the characters did speak to the school counselor at some point, they were often frustrated and shut down. Sharing only half of what was going on and expecting the counselor to just know the rest. Boys and girls, let me tell you something no one “just knows” anything. If you want someone to understand something, you need to explain it explicitly. Don’t assume that because it makes sense in your head, because of your experiences and perspective, that situations translate the same way for everyone else. SPEAK!
To be clear, I am not an expert in any of the topics addressed by this show. But I am definitely familiar with Hannah’s emotions and the difficulties being a teenager who’s not in the “in crowd.” I was an outcast in high school and I was bullied in middle school. I was ridiculed for being a “balsera” despite not having come here on a raft (which takes mad courage by the way) since I am a Cuban immigrant. I spoke broken English so I was the butt of every joke and came home with gum in my hair at least once a week, to mention just a few things.
Yes I was hurt. Of course I was angry. I used all that to fuel and empower me to be the best me I could and to reach great heights to show those bullies I was better than they gave me credit for. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it sucked. But you find allies, you make new friends. If those friends suck too then you find other friends. You don’t let it break you. You can’t let anything ever break you. Never. You give yourself a moment to feel the hurt then you get it together and move forward. You talk to your parents, if they don’t get it you talk to a counselor, if he/she doesn’t get it you talk to another counselor, or your aunt or your grandparents. There will always be someone who gets it and can help, you just need to be strong enough to sustain and endure until you find that person or find the inner strength. Quitting is not an option.
Don't ever measure your self-worth by what people think of you. You are great and you need to believe it with all your heart. And always measure yourself only against yourself, not against anyone else. Be a better you today than you were yesterday.
Parents, you can also visit the following websites for more information if you think your child is at risk. Or better yet, visit anyway and maybe you'll realize your child is at risk and you didn't know.
Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide http://www.sptsusa.org/
You can also check out the National Suicide Prevention Online Chat. Just click the link and then the on right hand corner.