Netflix thumbnail of their blockbuster “13 Reasons Why”: Katherine Langford plays the role of Hannah, a young woman who takes her own life. Two weeks after her tragic death, a classmate named Clay finds a mysterious box on his porch. Inside the box are recordings made by Hannah — on whom Clay had a crush — in which she explains the 13 reasons why she chose to commit suicide. If Clay decides to listen to the recordings, he will find out if and how he made the list. This intricate and heart-wrenching tale is told through Clay and Hannah’s dual narratives.
“13 Reasons Why” is one of the most highly watched Netflix series that compellingly depicts the underbelly of teenage life in today’s society. This show even has a Facebook page with 3.5 million likes. Why? Because it shows how a whisper of gossip can lead a well-meaning girl to commit suicide.
Although graphic at times, to the point where parents may find it too explicit, this series pulls back the veil and shows just how acutely pressurized and demeaning life can be for today’s teenager. For more sensitive, internalized, kinder – and thus more vulnerable – teens, the world has become not just unfriendly but downright traumatizing.
Here’s the gut wrenching reality: our teenagers must survive a deplorable and sensationalistic 24/7 “news cycle”, where a whispered rumor becomes a forceful reality within minutes. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and texting all allow any impulse to spread like wildfire.
Many of the adolescent girls and boys I work with talk about 13 Reasons as if they are fascinated by it. Why? Because it is so spot on about how much power scurrilous rumors take on, even meritless and insidious rumors.
Life for teenagers has become as graphic as this show, whether you as a parent want to recognize this or not. Taking your child to church is not going to save them from this everyday reality. Yes, you need to teach your child moral values. But today’s world requires parents to do much more than any generation of parents has ever done in terms of how closely you have to monitor your teenager.
The main character in this show is Hannah, the girl who ends up committing suicide, and she asks a visceral, poignant question during one of the episodes that I personally cannot forget: “Can a butterfly wing cause a hurricane….?”
What happens as this series unfolds is Hannah becomes the subject of tawdry gossip which results in her continually being pelted by inappropriate and sexually charged comments. There is no doubt this girl makes some bad decisions that do not help her situation, but what is gut wrenching about this series is how a butterfly wing (initial gossip) about this girl turns into a hurricane force of sexually inappropriate comments and perceptions about this girl. This gossip goes from a category 1 hurricane to a category 5 eventually.
Before this girl slices her wrists and bleeds to death, she sits down at a desk and lists out the 13 reasons why she committed suicide before she does the act. And then she makes recordings of this and leaves them for those around her to find.
The series travels backward in time from there – whereupon one of her friends named Clay becomes obsessed with figuring out what actually happened to lead to this.
Hannah is in many ways a kind soul who becomes the victim of a set of very bad circumstances that are beyond her control to some degree.
As parents, our worst nightmare is a child of ours committing suicide. I am here to tell you that suicide among teenagers is becoming more common, and the key reason why is so many parents are falling asleep at the wheel and not closely monitoring their teenagers social media, as well as what is happening in terms of any gossip that may be occurring at school.
The job of being a parent was never harder than it is now. But if you rise to the challenge, by becoming that parent who is keeping up with exactly where your teenager is, you will raise an amazing child who will understand that no matter what is being said on social media, you will always be there for them.
And the gift they will give you, is instead of taking their own life, they will reach out to you and tell you about the most painful parts of theirs.
Let be honest: It’s not easy to retain a connection with a teenager, and often it can feel like you are chasing them as they are always morphing into a different person with stormy moods. You have to be the parent who is willing to reestablish that connection through a combination of humor, empathy, and when you don’t know what to do, you consult a professional who can give you tips.
PARENTING TIPS to KEEP YOUR TEENAGER SANE IN A WORLD OF TECHNOLOGICAL INSANITY:
— You need to vigilantly monitor any social media your child is on, always having their username and password to every single social media mechanism they are on.
— If your child is having significant emotional or behavioral problems, you should strongly consider having their contact with the social media world be limited or even terminated for certain amounts of time. Consult a professional. Social media can only exacerbate certain kinds of psychological problems such as depression or anxiety, or body image problems or eating disorders. Example: If your child has autism, their exposure to social media should be a major topic of discussion with a psychological professional.
— If you come to hear about your child being the object of gossip, you need to be proactive and determine the extent of the situation with due diligence, quickly. The pace of social media travels at the speed of light, and so must you. We don’t live in a world where you can simply wait until that night to talk to your child, especially if the situation is more serious.
— If the gossip seems to be significantly affecting your child’s reputation, you need to meet with the school and discuss this with them. DO NOT assume the school is on top of this situation. A lot of time schools avoid dealing with these issues because they are scared of upsetting parents.
— You need to regularly be checking in with the school counselor and/or those teachers that know your child best to find out how your child seems to be doing.
— Some of the best questions to ask school personnel are not academic in nature, but rather questions like “How do they seem to be doing at lunch time?”, “What kinds of peers do they tend to gravitate toward?”. Be on the lookout for when your child seems more isolative or seems to be struggling to find a peer group.
—You CANNOT be lax with issues related to gossip. If your child does not seem willing to talk to you, you should have them meet with a child professional whom they feel comfortable with. Often suicides are the result of concealed thoughts and feelings that are shared with very few people.
— Make sure your child has a peer group that accepts them outside of school, such that they do not have all their self-esteem resting on what people at school think of them. This is especially important for girls. It is critical that your child have an activity outside of school where they feel successful.
— Do not hesitate to consult a child professional if you have concerns about your child. You can always simply do a consultation with a professional. It does not mean you’re starting up treatment. You don’t want to be the parent who has regrets because they did not trust their gut feeling about something they had been worrying about. My most common experience of parents is when I asked them when they first perceived there is a significant problem, they will say “years ago”. DO NOT be that parent.