“Did you like [13 Reasons Why]?” she asked.
“I don’t think this is a show you can like,” I said. “But it’s powerful. Whoa.”
I’m not sure anyone can truly like a series that includes bullying, rape, and suicide. But they can certainly be moved by it. Touched. Impacted. Changed. Awakened.
If the goal of 13 Reasons Why is to start a conversation, they succeeded. There are questions from this series that beg to be asked. Conversations that demand attention. The show pokes holes in the unfortunately common public school administration, shows how harmful an ineffective high school counselor can be, sheds light on the toxicity of the jock environment that thrives in many high schools, and urges parents to not shy away from uncomfortable conversations with their kids.
Clay Jensen’s character asked a common question after suicide, “Did I kill Hannah Baker?” We all want to know if we contributed to their pain. Everyone wonders if there’s something they did that contributed to the end of a person’s life, or something they should have done to save it. But I think there’s a question that’s even more important.
The show demands that we, every single one of us, become proactive in asking, “Who am I killing?”
Who am I killing? With my words? With my actions? With my inaction? All of our lives are sermons. We are all preachers. Whether we have a faith or not, we’re all selling something. Even the Bible encourages us to be “living epistles.”
What message are we sending to the world? Is our sermon that physical beauty is the ultimate goal? Are we preaching a message that women only exist to meet the desires of men? Do we shout to the world that athleticism creates heroes and might makes right? What’s our sermon to our neighbors, our children, our students, ourselves?
Don’t assume, just because your child (or loved one) seems to have it all together, that they aren’t secretly dying inside. In my own situation, I was faking it. Faking life, faking confidence, faking that everything was okay. No one – not my best friend, not my mother, my pastor, or any of my teachers – knew the depths of my despair.
No one knew when I wrote suicide notes for the first time at the age of 19. I sat on my bed in my parents’ basement and had it all planned out. I would end my life the same way my Aunt did, with a garden hose, hooked to the exhaust. No one suspected the church youth leader and class president longed to die because he was so ashamed of his own childhood sexual abuse. No one felt the dampness of my tear-soaked pillow as I begged God, night after night, to take my pain away.
13 Reasons Why is needed. It is a phenomenal opening dialogue to a discussion many are desperate to have. But the show, by itself, could also be incredibly harmful. I would not allow any child to watch this alone. I wouldn’t want any adolescent to view this series without adult supervision. And in fact, I would highly encourage parents to sit and watch this with their children.
But don’t leave it there. Have the conversations. Ask the questions. Sit with the tension. Let the sorrow and anger and turmoil wash over you. Be drawn in by the voices of depression and angst, shame and despair. Let yourself be present with those you care about. And don’t you dare walk away from the experience without asking your loved ones if there is anything they need to talk about.
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
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