‘13 Reasons Why’: A Mom of Teens on Why She Wishes Her Kids Never Saw It

Victoria Leigh Miller
Writer
Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker in ’13 Reasons Why’ (Photo: Netflix)

Warning: This essay about Netflix’s drama 13 Reasons Why contains spoilers. 

Netflix has greenlit a second season of 13 Reasons Why, and the series will once again center on Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), a teen girl who slashes her wrists in a bathtub and leaves behind tape recorded messages explaining the reasons why she ended her life. Series writer Brian Yorkey told The Hollywood Reporter that Hannah’s story is not finished, and the character will be “an integral part of whatever the next chapter of the story is.” Season 2 will pick up “in the aftermath of Hannah Baker’s death and the start of the characters’ complicated journeys toward healing and recovery.”

As a mom of two teenagers, I have very mixed feelings on another season of 13 Reasons Why. A part of me was hoping it wouldn’t happen — but now that the series is moving forward, I truly hope the second season will show viewers an an alternate view of teen depression, that there is help out there, and that suicide is not the answer. The young fans of 13 Reasons Why need to know that you really don’t get the last word after suicide, even if you leave your grievances on tape.

My daughter is 16. She’s a sophomore in high school, just like the kids on the show. Like almost every other kid she knows, she binge-watched all 13 episodes the week they premiered on Netflix. 13 Reasons Why is Selena Gomez’s pet project and her former Disney fans, my daughter included, thought they were grown up enough to see this dark side of high school life.

I had reservations about the series from the beginning and was planning to watch it before my kids did. I knew it depicted a teen suicide and would contain some graphic scenes — but by the time I had seen a few episodes and decided my daughter shouldn’t watch the show, she was already halfway through. So I sat down and asked her what she thought of the show. It was graphic, she said. Though she thought the series was well done, she was shaken by parts of it and didn’t think her 13-year-old brother should watch it — mostly due to the suicide and the rape scenes. You can’t unsee that stuff, she told me. So I made sure my son’s Netflix account was set to block adult content, and I told him not to watch 13 Reasons Why. He said he wasn’t interested in seeing the show, anyway.

And then something terrible happened. Real-life terrible, not TV terrible. A teen girl in our town committed suicide. The gut-wrenching details traveled fast through social media and text, and before you knew it every kid in the area was in possession of a vicious text message — sent to the girl by a boy at school — that made it clear she had been the victim of cyber-bullying. Hundreds of people packed the funeral services, prompting one of my daughter’s friends to comment, “So popularity exists even after you’re dead.”

Dylan Minette as Clay and Langford in ’13 Reasons Why’ (Photo: Netflix)

After the real-life tragedy, my daughter changed her mind about the depiction of Hannah Baker’s life and death in 13 Reasons Why. “I really liked the first couple of episodes because of the whole mystery concept, and you want to find out who said what. But as the season went on, I started to dislike it more and more,” she told me. “Towards the end when she eventually did kill herself, I thought the way they talked about it sort of made it seem, like, justified. I was talking with my English teacher about it, she agreed that it seemed to kind of like glamorize suicide a bit. They kind of put it in a way where it’s like, OK, she killed herself but, like, these are the reasons. So it’s OK that she killed herself.” It also upset my daughter that the girl who killed herself in our community had apparently watched 13 Reasons Why. “I’m not sure how big of an impact that had on her, but it definitely affected her because she posted something about it, she posted a quote about it [on social media].”

The timing of the tragedy deeply affected my daughter and her friends. I asked her if she thought the series gave an accurate portrayal of what goes on in high school, and the candor of her answer surprised me. “I can’t really speak for other high schools, but of course there’s some bullying in high school” but it’s not as “crazy and dramatic,” she told me. “The people smoking and partying seemed realistic, but there were just other parts that didn’t seem realistic.”

Like me, my daughter was most upset by the brutal scene where Hannah is raped by Bryce (Justin Prentice), and also by the very graphic suicide scene. “When she actually killed herself they made it look really real,” she said. “And having her mom walk in on it was really gross and I didn’t like that. I had to fast forward.”

Justin Prentice as Bryce in ’13 Reasons Why’ (Photo: Netflix)

Even with her mixed feelings about 13 Reasons Why, my daughter admitted she would probably watch the second season “just to see the hype about it.“ Plus, like a lot of fans, she has questions, like “Why Tyler [Devin Druid] was hiding a gun in his room. I’d like to know what happened to Alex [Miles Heizer], because apparently he shot himself and they didn’t explain that at all. And I’d like to find out if any charges are brought against the counselor or Bryce.”


As for Hannah, my daughter said the main character sent mixed signals to some of the people she blamed for her death, especially Clay (Dylan Minnette), whom she pushed away and then later called out for leaving her. “I didn’t really like her,” she said. “She dissed all her friends, she’s like, ‘Screw you, I’m going to put all my troubles and blame you, make you live with it for the rest of your life.’ I think she didn’t really mean [leaving the tapes] to be as selfish as it was, but it really was. What they did was wrong, but some of them didn’t even realize it. Like for Clay to have to live with that, and he loved her, it was just really awful.”

I asked my daughter if she thought 13 Reasons Why deserved all of the attention it was getting.“I don’t understand why there’s so much of a big hype about it,” she said. “I mean, I love Selena, but I hope she shows a different side [of the story] if there’s a second season.”

And I hope 13 Reasons Why producers are paying attention, and that they’ll make sure the second season shows kids that there are alternatives to suicide, and that not all guidance counselors are as clueless as Mr. Porter (Derek Luke), who dismissed Hannah when she went to him for help. While the show did open the door for parents to have a discussion with their kids about bullying and suicide, I still worry about the young viewers who may not have a trusted adult to talk with.

Incidentally, my son did watch 13 Reasons Why — he managed to change his Netflix settings to unblock adult content. He later confessed to it on his own (and his settings have been switched back and the password changed.) I asked him why he decided to watch the show after I told him not to, and his answer was simple: “Because everyone else watched it.” And with that, he didn’t want to talk about it anymore. He said it was “dumb.”

I’m a little heartbroken that my kids watched 13 Reasons Why. Maybe the Netflix access was a parenting fail on my part, but even if I’d had iron-clad security, they would have found another way to watch. My son’s reaction has me worried. Were the images so upsetting to him that he doesn’t want to talk about it, or is he just desensitized? There’s no good answer here.

In the aftermath of the media firestorm over 13 Reasons Why, Netflix has placed additional advisory warnings about the content of the series ahead of each episode. I appreciate that. I do. But unfortunately, for some kids, it’s too late. You can’t unsee the stuff they already saw.

13 Reasons Why is now streaming on Netflix.

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