To Watch or Not To Watch; That is the Question: 13 Reasons Why You Might Not be Able to Control What Your Kids Watch, But You Can Control How They Process It
By: Mary Miele and Gina Rotundo, The Evolved Education Company
If you have not already heard about it, 13 Reasons Why is a series on Netflix that many young people are watching. In the series, a teenager commits suicide and she blames 13 people in her life. The mystery of how she came to her decision is revealed in a series of tapes she leaves behind. The series has been banned in places like New Zealand because adults feel it is too graphic and too upsetting to young people. The series is based on the New York Times bestselling novel by Jay Asher. It has been translated into 35 languages and is also an International Best Seller. It has been on my bookshelf for a couple of years. I knew it was a mystery about a girl’s death, but never knew it was about a suicide. It’s no wonder my daughter never read it.
In NYC, schools are sending messages to parents warning them to not allow their children to watch the series. For many families, though, this warning is too late. They have already watched it, and the story is becoming part of their thoughts and most intimate conversations among friends. Its message connects with many of our young people. Teenagers in the movie engage in social ostracising, bullying, undeage sex and drinking and rape. The story could be unfolding in any high school, in any part of the world. It could be any of our kids.
Suicide is final. Controversy around whether she had a choice or made the right choice is what all the kids are talking about. Were there signs? Are the 13 people really responsible? And now there is an off-spin trend – kids are now making their own lists of 13. “If you were to do it, who would your 13 be?” Apparently, everyone has a list. My daughter asked me if I had made MY list. Apparently, if you have seen the series, you ought to have a list.
At the end of the last episode the directors and cast are interviewed. Watch it. They all agreed the film needed to be made and that important conversations would happen as a result. Selena Gomez is the director. All the kids know she is open about her struggles with anxiety and depression. She is the face of our kids’ generation – they are self-aware; these issues matter to them; and, they want to talk about them all the time.
We are not here to tell you whether you should or should not let your kids watch this show. That boat has sailed. The truth is, they are already watching it. If you have banned it, they are most likely watching with friends, on their phones, or when you are asleep. I remember Judy Blume books were banned from my elementary school because she talked about menstruation in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. What book did every single 6th grader have hidden under her bed? Yep.
Here are 13 reasons why you can’t really control what your kids watch, but you can control how they process what they consume:
1) Understand, where there is a will, there is a way.
Students will be talking about this series in school, and everyone will be curious. Where there is a will, there is a way. No matter how closely you watch your child, there is a way for them to view this material. Peers are often the window into these kinds of experiences. You want them coming to you with these difficult conversations first.
2) Know what happens when mom and dad say no.
Teenagers are in a position to test limits and to question authority. It is actually an important part of their development. They will likely not respond well to “no” or “don’t do this,” without explanation. It might even encourage them further. Offer to watch it together.
3) Recognize that social ostracization is the worst for a teenager.
Everyone is talking about it, and when a teenager can’t be a part of the conversation, this can be very painful. It’s important to give your child a WAY to be included, even if they are experiencing the scenario in a different way…which leads me to #4.
4) Empower you kid.
Talk with them about 13 Reasons Why. Ask them if they’ve seen it. If they haven’t, ask them if their peers are talking about it. Open the lines of communication.
5) Make it a teachable moment.
Watch the show and teach your child HOW to handle different issues that come up. Talk about “what if…” and discuss coping techniques for how to handle the situations which came up in the show. You might be surprised. My daughter and her friends were ANGRY at Hannah’s choice to commit suicide and blame it on her classmates. They talked about all the things she could have done differently. They were also disappointed in Hannah’s guidance counselor’s inability to see the signs. A wake-up call for adults that work with kids!
6) Be proactive, not reactive.
If you feel your child is NOT worried about these situations, remember that your child is spending 6-7 hours away from you each day. Your child is speaking with friends who may not have involved parents. The topic may come up. It is better to be proactive instead of reactive. Speak about the issues before they become an issue for your child. As a wise person once said, “You might be too early, but you don’t want to be too late.”
7) Give your teenager a WAY to be included.
If your child’s peers start talking about 13, what do you want your child to do? Leave the conversation? Engage in conversation? Show concern for their friends? Think about this and then give your child a game plan. This is what the show is about, these are the characters, this is what happens. It’s sad. It’s dark. It’s difficult. If you haven’t seen it, you can still engage in the conversation by asking your friends questions about how they are feeling.
8) Role play important conversations.
Even elementary school kids are talking about it, especially if they have older siblings. My 10-year old knows my 15-year old has anxiety and although I didn’t let her see the series, she knows what it’s about and has begged her older sister not to kill herself. As a parent, that is SO HARD to hear; but, it is impossible to ignore. I watched the entire series in one day. Yes, I binged it and I am certain some of your kids are binging too.
9) Don’t assume your child knows everything presented in the movie to the sophistication that you do.
The issues that are presented in a series such as 13 are complex and sophisticated. It is easy for a teenager to miss nuances and hidden layers within a story. You should watch the show and make a list of all of the points of view and underlying meanings you notice. Be ready to have open conversations about these tough issues and answer questions honestly.
10) Understand they will know someone who suffers what Hannah and the others suffer.
The truth is that these are real issues our kids are contending with or know of someone who is – depression, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, social ostracization, sexual assault and suicide, just to name a few.
11) Know the signs.
We pay a lot of lip service to this, but do we really know the signs of depression in teens? How is it different from their everyday mood swings? Do your research. Ask a therapist. Watch the series.
12) Create your village! Surround your child with trusting adults, reach out to them and learn from them.
Spouses, partners, siblings, parents, aunts and uncles, babysitters, friends, therapists, tutors, guidance counselors, coaches, advisors, teachers – you would be surprised at what your child will share with others that he or she will not share with you.
13) Be curious, not furious.
If you have banned 13 Reasons Why and your child has watched/read it anyway, be curious – ask questions and listen.
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