Sarah Warner, M.S.
13 Reasons Why, a controversial Netflix series released on April 1 of this year, has sparked a great deal of discussion amongst teenagers and adults alike. The show’s main character, Hannah, is a junior in high school that commits suicide after a slew of unfortunate, but sadly somewhat common, teenage experiences. She leaves a package full of cassette tapes explaining the reasons she killed herself. All 13 of the reasons she provides are people that were involved in her life.
Psalm 101:3 “I will not look with approval on anything that is vile. I hate what faithless people do; I will have no part in it.”
Despite having sparked controversy and discussion in the secular world, it is even more important that Christians strongly consider the implications of allowing their children to watch this show. The show contains many graphic scenes, from reckless underage drinking and drug use to sexual violence between teenagers. These scenes can be extremely emotional for teenagers to watch, which can be a doubled edged sword. It can reinforce the need for our youth to make good decisions and choose not to be in places that put them in compromising situations, but it could also desensitize them to these behaviors, and may imply that “other kids are doing it.” There is also concern that suicide and self-harm is somewhat normalized and even glamorized in the series.
One of the most important facets to consider about this series is that the main character blames 13 other people for her suicide. Suicide is a mental health issue, and as Christians, it is our duty to help one another in times of need, and to pray with one another for peace. It can be very difficult to be a teenager, but help is available through periods of mental and emotional difficulty. Although many situations hurt the main character, no one person was at fault for her death, though she blatantly blames each of them with intent to make them feel guilty and helpless.
Unfortunately, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year, according to the CDC. For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. Over 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost 7 percent have attempted it (Bullying Statistics). This show may spark guilt in today’s teenagers by making them question their role if anyone they know has committed suicide. It is important that if you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, or feeling depressed, that you get help immediately. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also talk to someone you trust, or schedule an appointment with a therapist.
Another important topic that is brought up in this show is teenage drug and alcohol use. Although youth are no doubt going to be exposed to these behaviors on television, it is important that we as Christians do our best to not only monitor what teenagers put into their minds, but also discuss with them exactly what these behaviors mean and the destructive paths they can lead to, and the importance of keeping our hearts pure. Philippians 4:8 says “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Another huge trigger point of discussion in the series 13 Reasons Why is the depiction of rape and sexual violence. There are two scenes in the series that depict a high school boy raping two different high school girls, one of whom is Hannah, the character who commits suicide. These scenes are graphically depicted, and can have a huge impact on teenagers that choose to watch the show. In the series, neither of the girls initially comes forward to seek help and counseling for being raped. Ultimately, one of the girls does come forward, only after being urged by others who were made aware of the situation through the tapes. Unfortunately, rape often goes unreported. The US Department of Justice reports that nearly 70% of sexual violence goes unreported. Awareness of the facts is one of several preventive measures that can be taken to assist you in making better decisions to keep you and someone you know safe.
Our youth need to know that help is ready and available if they have experienced sexual violence. If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, absolutely do not hesitate to seek help. Many Christian counseling centers provide trauma therapy for such cases; the victim of rape is never at fault, and should not have to carry that burden alone. The Sexual Assault Hotline is also available 24 hours a day at 1-800-656-4673. Rape is an exploitation of the differences God created in males and females; from the very beginning, God intended for women to be protected and valued.
Isaiah 41:10 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
It is critical that young Christians know that they can turn to God, a trusted friend or counselor, or a pastor, rather than using substances as an attempted coping method. In the show 13 Reasons Why, more than one of the characters are shown as coping with the death of Hannah by using drugs and alcohol. At one point, the more “popular” teenagers pressure another teenager to drink alcohol with them behind a gas station. He does not want to engage in this activity, but he feels vulnerable and as though he must in order to avoid negative social consequences. As Christians, it is imperative to teach our children to be strong in the light of peer pressure, and know how to avoid situations that would put them in a tough spot such as that in the first place.
One of the most critical things to consider about allowing Christian youth to watch 13 Reasons Why is that suicide is presented as the only answer to Hannah’s problems. Adequate help for her depression is not presented as an option in her opinion. Suicide is presented as a glamorous permanent solution to Hannah’s temporary problems. The series does depict all the people around her having to cope with losing her, but because the show walks the audience through tapes narrated by Hannah, she is depicted as somehow still present. This belittles the wreckage left behind when a person commits suicide. Many teenagers feel as though their problems will never go away, but the Bible tells us in Ecclesiastes 3 that there is a season for everything, including a season to mourn, but also a season to dance. 13 Reasons Why has a motif of hopelessness throughout the series, both for Hannah and for those around her. In God, there is always hope and prayer for a brighter tomorrow if we seek Him and His guidance.
In conclusion, we urge you to carefully and diligently consider these topics before allowing your children to watch 13 Reasons Why. It is encouraged that you discuss these issues with your child if you choose to allow them to watch this graphic series. If they have already seen the series, discuss with them earnestly how they felt about it, and if they or anyone they know is struggling with any of the issues that are portrayed. If they are, do not hesitate to get help. Utilize the resources in your community, national hotlines, and your local Christian counseling agencies, which typically offer trauma counseling and counseling for other mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. There is so much more to life than one negative season. Life is difficult, but that is part of what makes it beautiful. The hard times we experience as Christians help us appreciate the beautiful times that follow.
Blog Post By: Sarah Warner, MS Genesis Counseling Center