Enter Netflix’s most popular recent release and you have ’13 reasons why’. Smashing records of the most mentions on social media, the new series following Hannah Baker is making waves; be it for better or for worse. Here are some reasons why it should be on your youth worker radar:
It deals with some pretty heavy material. For those unfamiliar with the show, it follows the story of Hannah Baker’s suicide; before which she recorded a bunch of tapes on which she lists 13 people (reasons) why she committed suicide. We are shown flashbacks of the incidents mentioned in her tapes. These bear all, including some intensely graphic scenes of rape and her actual suicide.
The show worked its way up Netflix’s popularity ratings at break-neck speed. This meant thousands of young people have witnessed Hannah and her 13 reasons. Whilst the March 31st release date wasn’t long ago, many young people have already made a clean sweep of the entire series.
13 Reasons Why is a double-edged sword. It’s brilliantly raw in bringing up difficult issues but also teetering on the edge of what we feel comfortable with young people watching. If you hear your young people talking about the show, it’s a brilliant gateway to open up conversations that can otherwise be difficult to engage in.
A Stark Reminder
The show is a stark reminder of what can go on behind the scenes in teenagers’ lives and in schools. In it many adults are outside of the circle of knowledge. Many of the young people’s issues fly beneath the radar of parents, teachers and neighbours. With suicide being the leading cause of death amongst young people, it reminds us that this is a very real issue we need to be aware of.
Whilst many would disagree with the show’s portrayal of Hannah’s decision to rest much of the blame on her peers, it does depict the unseen impact of our actions on others. It gives an insight into how what we say and do ripples out amongst the people we come into contact with. A slow trend, borne out of the show, has risen in certain areas. If a person feels wronged or hurt by someone they will respond with ‘welcome to your tape’ – a subtle nod to Hannah’s tapes. This trend is undeniably uncomfortable but displays how the show has caused young people to think about the impact of actions.
Various organisations working with teens have quoted the show as being a warning trigger for ‘at risk’ and ‘vulnerable’ young people. Whilst many people watch the show to soak in the suspense and drama, there is the very real risk of some people perceiving the show as relatable and as providing some kind of ‘answer’.
Again, many critics have claimed the show portrays suicide as an answer to life’s problems. The alternative provided is displayed in a stark scene. A girl shows that she has been self-harming. She says “suicide is for cowards, this is what you do to not commit suicide”. These cannot be the only two options young people see as viable in response to their problems.
Whilst many teens will binge-watch the show as pure drama, let’s be aware of what this generation are soaking in. However unsettled this show made me feel, it only solidified the feeling that we need to let young people know they aren’t alone in their struggles. There may be things bubbling under the surface we are unaware of. Let’s keep praying for, investing in and letting young people know that, although the world is tough, there’s a God who loves and cares about them.