This blog post is written by Sara Borgstede, mom of 5 children (including 3 teens) and a foster and adoptive mom of children with complex mental health issues.
13 REASONS WHY is an original Netflix television show giving a fictional look into the life of Hannah Baker, an American teen who is struggling to navigate the complexities of high school. At the start of the show, she has committed suicide and her voice narrates through a series of cassette tapes she left behind for the 13 people who influenced her decision to commit this ultimate act.
I was interested when this show came up on my Netflix queue because I first read the novel 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher a couple years ago at the recommendation of my teen daughter, Kiersten, who read it for a high school Language Arts class. While I remember being impacted by the book, I wasn’t planning to watch the TV show immediately.
Then I began seeing blogs such as these roll across my Facebook screen:
Why I Wish I Didn’t Watch 13 Reasons Why
Stranger Things Star Advises People Not to Watch 13 Reasons Why
I sat up and took notice.
Why NOT watch 13 REASONS WHY? Well, HERE’S why not.
Considerations for Teen Viewers
Note: Spoilers about the show below.
Is it okay for teens to watch 13 REASONS WHY?
There is no question about the graphic nature of 13 REASONS WHY. Topics delved into on the show include suicide, stalking, bullying (internet, social media, and in life), drug use, homosexuality, swearing, nudity, sexual content, self-harm, cutting, and rape.
While ultimately a judgment call for parents, ideally this is a show to watch with older teens and discuss together after each episode. After watching all 13 episodes, I hesitate to recommend this show even for older teens primarily because of the graphic nature and also because of the unrealistic portrayal of a person with mental health issues.
If you have an older teen who wants to watch the show, as a parent I would not forbid it, but I would absolutely watch it together with them and discuss it after each episode.
Some episodes of the show are incredibly graphic. Two different rape episodes are fully shown in close-to-pornographic detail. In the suicide scene, Hannah is shown deeply cutting her wrists and bleeding to death in a bathtub. I had to turn away in stomach-turning horror during these episodes. For people who are tempted to cut themselves (an act that has risen in popularity among teen girls in a almost fad-like manner in recent years), this scene is considered triggering.
Is the show realistic? In ways, yes. My teens tell me these topics are realistic. The issue is that 13 REASONS WHY is overly dramatic. One of my daughters rolled her eyes and left the room during one episode saying, “Oh good grief!” Remember this is a Hollywood version of teen angst that is hyped and condensed down into 13 jam-packed episodes.
One of the biggest slams of the show is that it glorifies suicide, and there is truth to that. The main character gets her say, almost revenge, in a grand and glorious way all the show long, but at the end she is after all – dead. This is important to point out to teens many times over, because their brains don’t always compute that reality.