‘If you’re listening… you’re too late’. That’s the tagline for the new hit Netflix show 13 Reasons Why. Recently renewed for a second season, the programme has provoked intense online discussion about its portrayal of suicide, sexual assault, and contemporary teenage life.
It tells the story of 17-year-old Hannah Baker, who commits suicide. Her suicide ‘note’ is 13 cassette tapes telling the story of her life – and death. Each tape blames a different person for contributing to her death.
Despite being certified 18, thousands of teenagers are binge-watching this programme and discussing it on social media.
I am not recommending that you watch this programme for entertainment. It comes with heavy trigger warnings, and contains graphic depictions of rape and suicide. There are reasonable fears that it will lead to copycat suicides. It is intense and at times overwhelming viewing.
The fact is, however, that teenagers are watching it. And although its tagline is that ‘you’re too late’, we are not too late to begin talking about the issues it depicts, especially those which are often overlooked or downplayed elsewhere.
Although the issues it portrays are troubling, more troubling still is the way that 13 Reasons Why deals with them. It fails to suggest a viable alternative to suicide should a teenager identify with Hannah’s experiences. There is no discussion of mental health, or where to find help.
Throughout the series, there is little semblance of hope. Where hope is present, it is false. It conflates redemption and revenge, implicitly suggesting that redemption involves seeking revenge on those who have wronged you.
This programme raises serious questions we should be discussing with our young people.
A world without true hope is one in which many people live. It is one which our teenagers rub shoulders with every day. We must equip ourselves and our children with the truth of the hope that we have that is not of this world. We must begin conversations about these issues, but show that there is hope to be found, no matter what.
So is it too late? No. If your friends are watching 13 Reasons Why, use it as a conversation starter. If your teenagers are watching it, consider watching it with them and talking to them about it – ask how accurate they feel it is. Introduce the gospel into it, and be prepared to give an answer for the eternal hope that you have, despite the problems this show presents as insurmountable.
Other helpful articles to read:
13 reasons everyone’s talking about new Netflix Drama 13 Reasons Why (BBC)
13 Reasons Why: what you need to know as a parent (selfharmUK)
13 Reasons Why: the what’s what (selfharmUK)