WHAT IS IT?
There is a good chance you have never heard of the Netflix series called “13 Reasons Why,” but if you work closely with teenagers at all then you probably have already started watching it. 13 Reasons Why is a Netflix series based on the 2007 Young Adult Fiction book sharing the same title. The book and Netflix series follows Clay Jensen as he uncovers why his friend, Hannah, committed suicide. Here’s the trailer for the series:
First, I must admit that the title of this post was too good to pass up and made me stretch my reasons to recommend teenagers not watch this series. The good here is that it caused me to do further research, talk to friends in ministry, and push to come with a full list of reasons. Even though the title was a little click-baitish, the post is intended to give you a full list of reasons to not recommend this series to families.
“I don’t see the need for a graphic depiction to be able to have a crucial conversation.”
Second, I am not condemning any parents or youth leaders who have recommended families to watch the series. However, I am disagreeing and saying I will not recommend this series to our students or our families. I don’t see the need for a graphic depiction to be able to have a crucial conversation.
Finally, a good follow-up post to this one would be 13 Reasons Why TO Watch 13 Reasons Why. I don’t think the series is inherently evil and trying to deceive our students. I really believe there are some good reasons to watch it, but I think very few of those same reasons should push us to recommend this series. Nevertheless, there are a LOT of good conversations that can occur if this show is watched in the right environment.
My 13 Reasons Why I am NOT Recommending 13 Reasons Why
13 Reasons Why deals with very mature themes. The series is rated MA and covers topics including rape, suicide, bullying, sex, drugs, and homosexuality. This should convince most of us to never recommend this to a middle school student. In my context, this causes me to never recommend something at this rating to any of my high school students as well.
There is plenty of profanity. It is hard for me to recommend any media that uses graphic language so profusely. There is frequent use of the F-word throughout the series.
Rape and sex is not just implied it is shown, including a picture of Hannah’s underwear, homosexuality, rape, and a male’s butt. This is all important to know, especially for those students and adults who struggle with pornography. This series should never be recommended for those who are struggling with lust.
Nearly every teenager is depicted negatively. I can say with confidence that this is not an accurate depiction of most teenagers. I know many teenagers personally who will speak up for those who are being taken advantage of, sit with those who are hurting, and report problems to adults. This might be a depiction of some teenagers, but not a depiction of most teens. This sets the bar extremely low for our teenagers and we should be hoping they are consuming media that is inspiring them and challenging them.
Lying and deceiving is simply second nature for the teenagers in the show. The morality of these issues is not discussed, rather they are embraced as a mere reality of the teenage lifestyle.
Suicide is romanticized throughout the series. In a culture of death, we must be extremely cautious to consume or recommend anything that treats suicide as a solution or even an option. All human life is sacred. This is not an opinion, but a biblical doctrine. Every human being is created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27; 9:6) and is known by God (Jer. 1:5). Need a lesson to teach to your students on this? Check out a free one here.
Quality conversation is not enhanced through the explicit portrayal of Hannah’s suicide. The reason that most parents and youth leaders are giving to watch the series is in order to bring up some very important topics. I agree! These topics do need to be brought up and if you watch this series with your teens, then they will inevitably come up. However, you do not NEED to watch this show to have these important conversations.
Hannah seems to delight in the guilt that her tapes cause. Producing guilt should never be the reason for any decision that we make and to receive pleasure from someone else feeling guilty for their action is incredibly deceitful and damaging.
Revenge is one of the central themes of the show. Scripture has a lot to say about revenge and how we are commanded to submit, not avenge, but 13 Reasons Why seems to glorify the satisfaction one receives in revenge by Hannah leaving tapes and getting the last laugh.
Not only does the theme of revenge and shame prevail throughout the series but the lack of grace presented is directly averse to the message of Christianity. We don’t just want to push people away from shame and guilt, we want to push people toward the grace held in the person of Christ.
The future is bleak. There is a lot of reason to see the future in pessimistic lenses and 13 Reasons Why paints this picture vividly. Even though the series could be a good reality check for those who don’t spend time with teenagers enough, it needs to be balanced with the hope that we have in Jesus Christ and the victory that has been provided in Him (1 Cor. 15:54-58).
Hannah’s suicide is depicted graphically in the final episode of the show. Wow, that is hard to watch, but the author of the book has defended his reasons here.
In the words of the author of the book, “the vividness of these moments and their focus on the victim allows those who do relate to Hannah to feel seen.” As people who claim to follow Christ, we should be aware of the victimized, the hurting and the overlooked because we are called to do so in the scripture. We don’t need a graphic show to see people affected by graphic realities. This is less of a reason to not recommend the show and more of a push to not rely on what is current in culture to notice those who are hurting.
WHAT DO I DO NOW?
There are a lot of good reasons to watch 13 Reasons Why, but I don’t believe that there are many reasons to recommend this to families as an effort to initiate critical conversations. However, you know your students and your children better than I ever will, so if you do make the decision to recommend 13 Reasons Why then please do one simple thing: WATCH IT WITH THEM. Do not let your student or child watch this show in isolation, but sit with them and talk about the heavy topics that will naturally come up. Go deep into the conversation and ask questions about the overall message, themes, subtle hints, and what Scripture says about these topics.