If you are a parent, if you work with children, if you care about the teens in your life, you need to watch 13 Reasons Why, the new Netflix series based on a popular young adult novel by Jay Asher.
If watching it is too difficult — as it almost was for me — at least become knowledgeable of the content. Though the work is fiction, there are uncomfortable truths that we can't afford to ignore.
Here are 13 reasons why we need to talk about 13 Reasons Why.
1. Preteens and teens are watching it without you. If you have a Netflix account or if your kids' friends have a Netflix account, they may have already binge-watched all 13 episodes.
Yet the content in this show is too intense and disturbing for children to watch without guidance and the opportunity to discuss and process. My 11-year-old daughter will not be watching the series anytime soon. She and I can discuss themes and situations, but she does not need to carry the burden of the show's violence. My 15-year-old son and I will watch together. (He's read the book already.)
2. Suicide is the second-most common cause of death among American teens ages 15-19. Ignoring the problem doesn't make it go away. The narrator of the series is Hannah, a teen who kills herself but first records audiotapes that describe her reasons. Her spirit is absolutely broken, and she craves the emptiness of death more than hopefulness of life.
3. There is nothing glamorous about killing yourself. There's warranted controversy about the bathtub scene in which Hannah slits her wrists. To be honest, I didn't watch the whole scene. I hid behind my hands. It was too real -- and yet isn't that what we need? Don't we need people to understand the horror of taking your own life?
4. We all make mistakes. Sometimes we think we'll never recover from our mistakes. We can't see beyond the mistake and the consequences. We can't forgive ourselves. We need to practice grace — for ourselves and the people who love us and the people who watch us and model our behavior.
5. We need to understand the power of technology and social media.One ill-timed photo can lead to an avalanche of unfair rumors. Our ability to send and receive information — and disinformation — instantly can have devastating consequences. How often do you talk with your child about appropriate social media use? Do you know which accounts your child uses? Do you know what content they see daily? Ignorance is dangerous.
6. We need to talk about sexual assault. It is never acceptable for one human to force his or her body on another human. Our children need to hear us say this often.
7. We can't afford to allow underage drinking and drug use.I live in a community that rationalizes substance use and abuse. "It's OK as long as they're not driving." "They're going to drink anyway. They might as well do it at home." Yet teens under the influence make really stupid decisions. Their brains aren't fully developed. They seek unnecessary risks. They hurt themselves and others.
8. Teens need to feel comfortable talking to adults and advocating for themselves. If your child were sexually assaulted, would he or she feel comfortable telling you? If your child made a terrible mistake, one that might even be illegal, do you trust that he or she would confide in you?
9. Teens need to root their identity in something stronger than their reflection or their peers. I was struck by the complete lack of religion in the series. There is one teen who off-handedly mentions he is Catholic. Another reads tarot cards. That's it. No one talks about God or a faith-based value system. No one wrestles with decisions in the context of a greater good or spiritual purpose.
10. Authentic relationships can save lives. When we know one another intimately, we notice struggles and out-of-character behaviors. When we are vulnerable, others feel comfortable being vulnerable.
11. Trust your instinct. If you're worried about someone, say so. If something doesn't feel right or sound right, investigate with compassion.
12. We can't underestimate the impact our interactions have on others. Our tone, our words, our body language, our availability — it all matters. We don't always know who is struggling, but we know everyone struggles at some time. Let's model a culture that values positive interactions.
13. Kindness is never wrong. When in doubt, opt for kindness. Every time. As the character Clay says in the final episode, "It has to get better, the way we treat each other and look out for each other. It has to get better somehow."
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.