Monday, May 29, 2017

I'm a Teacher and I've Watched 13 Reasons Why. Here Are My Thoughts

(Image taken from: The Gospel Coalition Blog)

A lot of my students love the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, and it's understandable. There's a lot of drama, and it's one of those The Catcher in the Rye kind of moments that just SPEAKS to kids of a certain age. Like, it's so profound, man. Totally. Many of my students even go the length to say, "That's my show," when they talk about it. But after watching the 13 episodes of the first season, I've come to the conclusion that it's not the kind of program you say, "That's my show" to. It's not like The Walking Dead or other escapist programming that you can like for all its gory details, or its interesting characters. It's more a brutally honest show about cyberbullying, and how it could lead somebody to commit suicide. Let it be known, this show doesn't glorify death, which I know some teachers and parents are worried about. Instead, the actual suicide is very hard to watch, and what the victim in question has to go through (I won't spoil it here) plays out in such a horrific way that you're never really enjoying it. In fact, I actually dreaded watching every episode (Though I was certainly compelled) because I didn't want to see such horrible deeds being done to the girl in question.

That's not to say that it's not all very engrossing. In fact, it was difficult to watch the show in intervals since I greatly wanted to see how it all played out, since the story is told through the lens of a likable protagonist who himself is suffering. But none of it is actually enjoyable. If anything, it's probably the best cautionary tale I can think of for why young people shouldn't bully others at this very critical time in their lives. Sure, there's a lot of cursing and drug use and even sex. And would I want my own children watching it if they were old enough to understand it? Well, not without me present in the room, which I'm sure would taint the show greatly for them. But I definitely think it's the kind of show that every young person should watch. Do the adults and teachers seem aloof to the suffering of the girl who killed herself? Sure. It certainly doesn't paint a pleasant picture of parents or guardians. But I wouldn't say that it's inaccurate.

What the show (And probably the book, which I will read soon) gets right is that teen brains and adult brains are vastly different instruments. You don't feel like the parents in the show could have done more. The story is mostly insular to that of a few individuals, so you never feel like the adults don't already have enough on their plates. In fact, that's what makes the show seem so distant from being enjoyable as an adult, and why younger people might like the drama on the show. They don't see how helpless the adults truly are with their busy schedules and lives. In that way, I think the show is majorly successful in showing how all these cues might go unnoticed since what's important for an adult is not necessarily as important for a teenager, and vice versa, even though all adults were once teenagers.

For that reason, I think all teens should watch 13 Reasons Why, even despite the questionable (Really questionable toward the later episodes) material. I liken it to The Last Temptation the Christ. The Catholic church banned people from seeing the film or reading the book, but in truth, the book is probably the most spiritual thing I've ever read outside of the Bible itself. I think a lot of people didn't even read the book before they decided to ban it, and I think the same can be said of 13 Reasons Why. Adults are telling other adults that their children shouldn't watch it, when they actually should. The message is clear and one that teenagers can understand perfectly--Everybody hurts, and abuse occurs in high school, often from ones own peers. Look for the signs of depression and take action. Nobody wants to end up with a dead teenager because nobody was watching. That's a cross nobody should have to bear.

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