13 reasons is a Netflix show centring on reasons behind the death-by-suicide of Hannah who narrates through a series of suicide tapes. In each episode the tapes reveal more of the events leading up to her death. Unfortunately, it would appear that no mental health, suicide prevention guidelines, or ethical concerns made any part of the show development process.The show is developed from a book of the same name, but deviates from that on number of levels throughout the series. Most notably in its depiction of suicide which was dramatised and shocking.
The series attempts to address serious topics like bullying, misogyny, relationships, rape, social media, privacy, mental health, and even suicide, with mixed results…What is does open up are opportunities to talk about it… so let’s start with some.
- Suicide has many causes, and is not usually the result of one event, but one key aspect in suicidal thought is believing that your loved ones would be better off without you in their lives.
Talking point : Tell others how much you need them in your life, how nothing they do is ever a reason for them to not be loved, accept them, and remind them of how important they are in your life.
- Privacy : I grimaced when Hannah’s mother came in her room, grabbed her phone and talked the person on the other end, along with the threats of loosing her phone, this for me is a big no no.
Talking point : Ask what it feels like when privacy is invaded. This opens up a larger question around who has access to your information online, and nothing online is secret. Ask if they know about how much of their private data is recorded online, and who has access to that information. Try this internet privacy resource from Mozilla as a way to open up the conversation.
- Trust – if you want to establish trust with teenagers, invading their privacy, taking their contact point (phone/tablet/etc) is not helping to open lines of communication between you. Setting limits on phone use while a good idea in theory, but rarely results in 100% compliance, from young people OR adults, but being able to talk frankly and openly about it helps.
Talking point :Instead of taking a phone, ask them how many hours they are spending on it (in a non judgemental way –remember this is about acceptance and honesty, if you don’t want to know then don’t ask) and ask if they feel their lives would be easier/less stressful if they took a break now and again, often agreeing some sort of ‘lights out’ policy to aid sleep is of use. Click here for an article on the sleep problems associated with tech use at bedtime
- Communication : I think this is the biggest message of this show is the failure to communicate clearly by every single character in the show, this may be a combination of dodgy acting and poor writing. None the less, in almost every instance, Hannah’s problems were worsened by lack of communication.
Talking point : Ask not ‘where did it all go wrong’ ask ‘ where did she fail to tell somebody something important?
- Communication – Part 2 : You and them, at no stage does Hannah talk to her parents about any of this…while young people may not always turn to their parents, it starts with point 1 above, can you listen when its really hard to hear? Taking care of things in a calm, kind way is the second part of this…using materials and supports from trusted organisations.
Talking point : Can you learn to listen and accept anything your child might tell you without over reacting? If so tell them that and practice it.
- Communication Part 3 : The tapes are a wonderful storytelling device, but an overall dangerous message for the following reasons. When a person dies by suicide, that’s it, there may be a note, or in this case a set of tapes, but that is the end of their voice, their presence, their perspective, and them. The tapes used in this show, are a plot device – try talking about how likely this is, that everything gets fixed, that everyone realises their flaws and mistakes, that the world does wake up, after you are gone. This, in my opinion is the most flawed aspect of the show, the ghost of Hannah putting
all wrongs right…nope, she’s dead, and the dead can’t fix anything.
Talking point : Suicide is a permanent cure for a temporary state –sticking around, asking for help, asking for help again, and again, accepting help, things change, and can change, no matter how dark it seems.
- Truth or TV – This is not real – this is not how most suicides happen, there is pain, and more pain and long term sufferings and problems for everyone that was a part of the person’s life.
Talking point : Ask if this show is like real life, and where it might differ, and how much pain others are left in afterwards
- Revenge or release? While people did awful things to Hannah, her suicide in this show is presented as a revenge tactic, literally setting up a murder, with a long litany of post mortem allegations. Suicide is an act committed by an individual, they decide to live or die, and its not other peoples fault.
Talking point : Life is not fair, bad things happen to good people, no matter how hard you try or how good your idea was sometimes you fail, and thats okay. You can’t control everything. You are not responsible for how others act, behave or think.
- Those left behind : Is Clay treated fairly in this show? From what I can see Hannah has selfishly placed a huge burden on him and its likely to impact the rest of his life. Talk about how Clay is left, with nothing, and nobody, just this massive burden, his life is negatively impacted by this.
Talking point : Talk about how those left behind after a suicide will deal with it, how it does not improve their lives, and how they might be supported?
- Mental Health : At no stage in 13 reasons does anybody mention mental health, or wellbeing, or stress, or balance. Talking to friends, social activities, exercise, eating well, sleeping, we know the things we should do to maintain mental and physical health, however sometimes we need help or support. If brought low by a physical problem we don’t hesitate to go to a doctor, but reluctance to attend for mental problems is still systemic.
Talking point :Ask what Hannah might have been suffering from, find out about symptoms of depression and talk about them, recognise the difference between depression and feeling sad, and what you could do if you or a friend felt like that.
- Young peoples lives : 13 reasons brings up a load of contemporary problems in a small group of people. While the main theme is suicide the events leading up to this effect a persons feelings of self worth, coping ability and trust that life can get better.
Talking point : Talk about the other aspects of the show – rape, social media, bullying. Ask open questions, ‘has anything like that happened in your school’ This is an American show, and while the themes may be similar, discuss how they might also be different here.
- Consent : Talk about consent with your sons, its never too early, talk about how language and behaviour contributes to a culture where this behaviour is acceptable or tolerated.
Talking point : Ask them to point out parts of the show where women were mistreated and what they might say if they found themselves a group who acted that way.
- Educate yourself, know what social media is, how its used (for good AND not so good) be willing to talk without judgement about the various aspects of online lives. The internet is not going away, but values of honesty, openness, and acceptance in your house will create a safe space to discuss these things.
Article by : Ann Cronin is the Hive manager and a psychologist with interests in digital technology. Ann researches positive uses of internet technology for learning and social good. Ann also thinks Jessica Jones was a far better Netflix show for you and your teenagers to watch together :). Hive Dunedin professionals are available to discuss all aspects of online safety, responsibility and positive use of the internet with schools, groups and individuals.
Common Sense is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology.