My innate gut response to 13 Reasons Why were similar to quite a few of you, “This is silly! It minimizes and glamorizes suicide!” I was upset and frustrated that a series would be produced to make light of something so serious. Reluctantly, I sat through every episode. I shifted in my seat with discomfort, saying to myself how exaggerated the entire story line was. I arrived to the end of episode 13 only to feel a somber emotion come over me.
I asked myself, “Why are you actually upset about this series?”
I thought maybe the source of my frustrations were because I’ve personally had countless moments of suicide ideation and was triggered. Yes, that was it. I was triggered and because I was able to relate to the suicide aspect of the series I was uncomfortable. But that reason wasn’t enough, I dug deeper into the crevices of my mind to finally hear myself say, “Because this happens every day.” I grew even more frustrated. As my eyes began to swelter the cold truth of our society hit me like a ton of bricks.
Every day we encounter people, sit with friends and either minimize, ignore, or choose to be blind and/or deaf to their issues. 13 Reasons Why depicts the bystander effect, rape culture, bullying, sexual assault/harassment, misogyny, victimization, classism among peers, and the list goes on.
This is our everyday reality.
Without fully understanding the teenage brain it’s easy to brush off the content of 13 Reasons Why and say, “They’re just being emotional teenagers.” Clearly we’ve all forgotten the personality disorder that is the teenage experience. Your executive and cognitive functions are still developing, emotions are light switches too far out of reach to control, you change masks as if every day is a masquerade ball, friends become the family you choose only to discover they’re actually frenemies, you hate your family but secretly love them, and no one understands you! Remember that period of confusion? Oh and let’s not forget our hormones and identity being in a constant boxing match — Mayweather vs Pacquiao, our real identity never had a fighting chance!
Let’s take a moment to stand in some truths.
Raise your hand if in any shape or form you were one of these characters in high school:
Bryce: The wealthy, entitled, manipulative, and popular athlete that everyone adored. Parents were always out of town so you were your own guardian. The world was yours, no meant yes and yes meant fxck yeah. And a good time or having fun meant drugs, alcohol, and sprinkling some wealthy entitlement with a dab of manipulation as leverage to get what you wanted.
Justin: Not as wealthy as Bryce, dysfunctional family, parents abuse alcohol and/or drugs, and were also emotionally and physically abusive. You weren’t the sharpest crayon in the box but your color was unique because you played a sport really well. You were always Robin and never Batman, in the shadows constantly screaming to be chosen; to step towards the front of the stage but family issues, lack of wealth, and insecurities kept you in a box. You were your own worst enemy.
Jessica: The pretty girl that became popular overnight. Huxtable like family but you were the rebel without a cause. So much potential but the attention from being popular kept you from being comfortable with just being you
Hannah: You were a great girl and just as pretty as all of the other girls. But insecurities wouldn’t let you believe that. You searched for a group to belong in. Reinvented yourself for others to accept you; incessantly searched for the light in the darkness. You were significantly impacted by the thoughts and actions of others only to eventually throw your hands up and surrender.
Must I continue? Didn’t think so. The ever changing exploration of identity, emotional, academic stress and pressure on an individual can have a significant impact on their self-efficacy. 13 Reasons Why shines a light on what that looks like in high school. Unfortunately, for some of us our adult selves are somewhat of a refined version of our teenage selves. Some of us never process the source of our dysfunction. Many of us never find peace through the early life events that planted seeds to the garden of PTSD symptoms we struggle with in the present. So, if 13 Reasons Why caused you discomfort, anger, frustration, if your skin itched throughout every episode then this series achieved its goal. It raised awareness to the tough issues we so often sweep under the rug. 13 Reasons Why gives a voice to the voiceless. 13 Reasons Why is someone’s reality right now and we shouldn’t ignore it. 13 Reasons Why is the truth and if you can’t handle the truth, this series isn’t for you. But if you find freedom in the truth, share your truth.
Stand boldly in your experiences to encourage someone else. Your story has the power to silence someone else’s internal screams. Speak up when you witness and or know of something wrong occurring. If someone is in danger of harming themselves or others, say something. Be kind and courteous to others. Let someone know that you are there for them. Do something nice to show you care even if it’s as simple as offering a shoulder to lean on.
For goodness sake, don’t just do nothing!
And for adults engaging with young people daily. Don’t forget you were once a teenager. There are things you can do to help alleviate some of the daily stressors the young people around you are facing.
- Create a safe space: Be transparent and authentic with young people. You were once in their shoes. Share your experiences.
- Find and share resources: If you’re unsure on how to address the issues a young person is dealing with, allow google to be your GPS. Educate yourself and share resources with young people and other adults that will further advance the conversation.
- Be present and consistent: Some of our young people are too familiar with consistent inconsistencies. Keep your promises and engagements with them. Engage in meaningful conversations that give them a sense of belonging.
- Become a mentor: One-third of our Nation’s young people don’t have a caring adult to turn to outside of their immediate family (MENTOR, 2015). Think about where you might be without those caring adults who helped you along your journey. In the words of former President Obama,
“Each of us are only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us.”
Wherever you are, stand up for someone somewhere.
Help someone choose to stay here.