Last weekend I binge-watched Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why. If you’re not familiar with the series, here’s the low down. The series recently launched on Netflix and features 14 episodes about a high school student, Hannah Baker, who commits suicide. Before her death, Hannah records 13 tapes in her own words detailing the reasons why she decided to take her life. Each tape is devoted to someone who hurt her or failed her. The show is seen through her classmate Clay’s eyes as he listens to the tapes and tries to make sense of her death. Hannah details the isolation, bullying and assault she endured while trying to adjust to a new school. She has crushes, she loses friends, she’s betrayed, she’s violated and repeatedly let down by the people around her—kids and adults.
I’d heard rumblings about the show on FB and Twitter, but really missed coverage of it on the news. The Today Show apparently featured a few segments on 13 Reasons Why, but I haven’t watched them since they did Tamron Hall dirty earlier this year. #BlackGirlLoyalty When Hope’s high school sent out an email to parents about the show last week, I thought perhaps I should sit down and watch it. The likelihood that Hope would watch was low since there are no Kpop references, and it’s in English, but on the off chance that she wanted to watch it, I thought I’d preview it.
I’m glad I did. There’s a lot to unpack and I won’t go blow by blow, but I thought I’d share some general thoughts about the show and urge parents of tweens and teens to watch before they let their kids watch.
Where the hell are these kids’ parents???
A few episodes in I just kept thinking where the hell are these kids’ parents? Are parents supposed to trust teens this much because I don’t. My parents certainly didn’t, and my sisters and I were supposedly “good kids.” Parents for some of these kids were completely missing in action, and it is interesting that the more affluent or the more poverty stricken the family, the more absent the parent. Parents were leaving teens alone for weeks and weekends. Kids were climbing through windows and spending the night. WTH?
I was watching like:
My parents were on me like a second skin, and we didn’t even have cell phones back then. I remember one time a friend and I were going to see a movie, and the early movie sold out early so we bought tickets to a 9pm movie. I fed the payphone (remember those???) some quarters to let my parents know I would be late; to this day I remember hearing my mother’s side eye through the phone and being chastised for not skipping the movie all together and coming straight home. I had never missed a day of school; I was 17, stayed on the honor roll and still got the side eye over going to a 9pm movie.
But the kids on this show? Only the families with parents who were middle class seemed to have some kind of parental engagement. What is *that* about?
Minimal parental supervision leads to kids pretending to live adult lives.
These kids are running around town as they please acting like they are living adult lives. #nomaam All the access to booze and drugs they could want. I’m hardly naïve; I’ve had to install a lock on my liquor cabinet recently, and I know it’s not hard to find someone to score from or for you, but the ease with which these kid characters came and went as they pleased acting as though they were grown? Nah.
I admittedly thought to myself, “Um, is this a white kid thing?”
The show has some diversity; there Hispanic Tony, Bi-racial Jessica, Asian adoptee and sexuality questioning Courtney, Black Sheri, Asian Zach and Black Marcus.
Tony is a gay, Bruno Mars doppelganger with a sweet ride lives on the “other-side of town,” read as wrong side of the tracks and can be seen working on cars in the yard with his dad.
Jessica is a potentially substance abuse problem having, military kid whose father is black and mother is white and likes to use a Crockpot; her milkshake brings all the boys to the yard because #prettyhair and #eurofeatures.
Courtney is the in the role of model minority but struggling with being a lesbian because her gay dads have already had to deal with the “gay thing.”
And Sheri is a possibly wig wearing girl (cause that ain’t her hair), presumably from a good family who lets her use the car but doesn’t notice any damage from when she ran over a stop sign; despite this she is worried about her present Black father’s reaction to her serious traffic violation that resulted in the death of another student.
Zach is an Asian jock, who is smart, seems to want to have a kind heart but follows the douchebag crowd he runs with.
Marcus is the student body president and is expected to be valedictorian at graduation, but he’s also a cool nerd, plays sports, runs with the cool-douchey crowd and will do anything for self-preservation.
So yeah, we’re diverse, but we’re not bending over backwards to bust all the stereotypes; the show keeps a few presumably to keep it real, right?
So that leaves the dirt poor (Justin), middle class (Clay) and upper middle class (Bryce) white kids to drive the story line. Sooooo, is this a white thing (stereotype intended)? Wha? Maybe? Yeah? Nah? I don’t know; I’m still mulling this portrayal. I’m supposing this has something to do with the routine of having white folks always drive the narrative, but I’ve got questions.
Sure teens are eager to try on adulthood, that is kind of the developmental point of the teen years, but all the freedom portrayed in this show had me shaking my head. I discussed it with a colleague who lives near a tony neighborhood nearby, and he confirmed that this portrayal of kids on the show is definitely a thing and close to reality for more than a few families on his side of town.
Huh. Interesting. Hope had best not get any ideas ’cause:
Where did the school counselor get his degree from? Kindercare?
I screamed at the TV, you’re doing it wrong, all wrong. I know you’re overwhelmed and stressed and there are so many kids, but do you hear this one kid? This one right here is telling you she doesn’t want to live anymore?
She actually said she didn’t want to live anymore and that she survived a sexual assault.
OMG, did she need to write it on her forehead?
I’m in my daughter’s school counselor’s office regularly. I know she sighs to herself and shakes her head with pure annoyance when she sees my name in her email box or listens to yet another voicemail from me. I know I get on her gotdamn nerves. And I like it like that, and she knows I like it like that and intend to keep it that way until the day Hope graduates, ’cause what she’s not going to do is act like she doesn’t understand the words coming out of Hope’s mouth when she goes to see her.
Bullying is real and it’s awful.
Information spreads so very fast these days. I think I wrote one time about how a neighbor’s mom sent my mom a Hawaiian postcard with a topless Polynesian woman on it and somehow someone said I said it was a picture of my friend’s mom. It took a good 2 weeks for that rumor to work its way through my neighborhood to my closest crew of friends. Nowadays, kids hit a send button and everyone in a class of more than 100 kids knows about some BS. It’s crazy.
A few years ago, Hope was being bullied on the bus. I complained to the school; they didn’t take it seriously initially. I bullied them into responding and the kid never messed with Hope again. Kids can be so trusting and so naïve about technology; they willfully ignore the warnings until it’s too late and people are hurt and reputations are in tatters. I’m constantly reminding Hope to be careful about what she puts out into the world. Sometimes I fret about how little she might trust me and how much she will trust an app; I try to coach her about being a responsible user with her and other people’s information. I don’t let her use certain apps or she can use things on my phone instead, but it’s so different now days to stay on top of how quickly things progress.
Overall the show made for pleasant Saturday afternoon binge-watching, but it’s not something I will let Hope watch without me sitting next to her for constant discussion. Teen suicide is real and foster kids and adoptees are far more likely to consider suicide than their counterparts. The show made me feel better about being so nosy about Hope and I am SUPER nosy. She knows I monitor her closely; she knows what things bring consequences. She knows I want to give her freedom with guard rail protections. She knows that I monitor her life online (which is also why I now lock up the Chromebook at night because someone is sneaky), but that I am low key about it. She knows I want to know the parents of kids she hangs with and that I care about where she’s going and with whom.
Even as Hope should be blossoming into her independence I want her to know I’m her parent. I am not her friend; I’m here to protect her. I’m here to love her and care for her. I’m here to guide her as best I can. I won’t always be right, and I won’t always give great or even applicable advice, but I care about how she’s feeling and if she’s at risk for hurting herself and others. I only saw some of this from a few parents on the show. I know the show is seen through a particular set of lenses. My goal with Hope is to be in the frame. I want her to see me in her lenses and know she’s never alone; she’s got me and I will always help her no matter what and if necessary, no questions asked.
The show reaffirmed this goal for me. It also reminded me how much middle and high school sucked. You couldn’t pay me to go back to that BS.
I love Hope and I aspire to give her the love, support and resources to have no reasons at all.
May 4th, 2017 at 9:34 pm
It is frightening close to a lot of what M1 sees each day. She complains regularly that I have the “oh heeellllll no” attitude in my house but I am terrified for her and yes child of mine I will breath down your stinking neck so just suck it up. So tough glad you got to see it though as no doubt Hope will at least hear talk.
May 12th, 2017 at 8:02 am
You are so good at being a protective mama!
May 5th, 2017 at 12:53 pm
I asked my 13 year old if she heard anyone talking about this show. She said she doesnt want to see it because “it makes no sense, how could someone want to kill themselves” and “it is way to scary for me” and “just sounds dumb”. So, OK then!!
May 5th, 2017 at 12:53 pm
May 5th, 2017 at 1:21 pm
I watched it with my son. I totally get what you were saying about the portrayal of teenage social life. I’m white but I grew up in a more rural setting, so I thought it had more to do with the urban kids versus the rural kids. Maybe it’s urban white kids? Either way, it wasn’t how I was raised and not how I’m raising my children. My son talks to me every day about lots and lots of things in his personal life. I’m not naïve, I’m sure there are plenty of things he keeps to himself, but I don’t think if he were going through something as distressing as Hannah, I wouldn’t know about it or sense that something is wrong. I’ve been slowly loosening my grasp, but I still do periodic gut-checks because he’s been through a lot and because there is a lot he can get into here in town. It is definitely a show to watch with your kids because it opens the doors to discussions that are so important. At one point I was crying my eyes out and I grabbed him in a bear hug and told him it didn’t matter what it was that happened, he could always, always come to me with it and I would listen. Of course part of that is being willing to listen now to the mundane dramas of the teenage life so when/if something big happens that pathway is already there. I feel fortunate that my son trusts me enough to talk to me, to tell me things. He’s a pretty open kid and we have a pretty open relationship. Here’s to hoping I can say the same thing about the little ones when they get to this age!
May 12th, 2017 at 8:01 am
I love that you have this relationship with hope. I felt the same way watching this show. Parents probably can’t know everything but we can darn well try! I feel like it’s so important to teach our kids to come to us with anything. Teens may not want to but in a crisis? They will if they trust you. Also, I’d like to drop kick the counselor like a ninja! He blamed the victim. He’s lucky he isn’t real and hasn’t met my ninja alter-ego!!!!!