by Sara Keag
As a high school counselor, I found it necessary to watch 13 Reasons Why, the emotional story of a teen suicide. After finishing the Netflix series, like most, it hit me hard. I didn’t cry as I was told I would, but my stomach reached up and picked my heart like an apple from a tree and swallowed it whole.
Each episode is hard to watch. They’re dark and raw. The series, which has been renewed for a second season, has the potential to make a huge difference, while teaching us that even what seems like a trivial poke at someone can change the course of a life in ways we could never predict.
I worry, however, about the potential negative impact on those who are already vulnerable, seeing 13 Reasons Why as a glorified revenge story. I’m also concerned that the explicit scenes can trigger something new in those who have already dealt with trauma. Other than a 14th episode, which was added by the producers following the controversy the series sparked, there are no resources listed or discussions for those susceptible and lonely.
It’s vital for educators and parents to watch 13 Reasons Why knowing that teenagers are binging on 13 Reasons Why. If we’re going to discuss the show with our youth, we need to be armed with knowledge of the content. We MUST take this opportunity to remind teens that suicide is NOT the answer. Help them see that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
An article was brought to my attention regarding students at Oxford High School in Michigan. To give a positive twist, a dean came up with a plan for students to give their “13 Reasons Why Not” in memory of a freshmen student who committed suicide four years earlier. In an attempt to help students realize that they’re important and their actions matter, 13 students volunteered to discuss rough times in their lives and name individuals who helped them. Their videos played during daily announcements for the entire student body. Instead of blaming people, which occurs in the 13 Reasons Why, it allows students to thank someone.
Good or bad, 13 Reasons Why has us talking. I encourage educators to do what I feel is the point of this series, be mindful of our actions, words and not stick our heads in the sand. It is our job as educators, parents, coaches, family members, bosses, neighbors and anyone in contact with teens to talk to them.
If it allows us to think about our actions and communicate, then it’s a series well done. Otherwise, I worry about the fallout of the troubled teen navigating it alone. Conversations about trauma, depression, self harm and suicidal ideation are never easy, but are so much better than the alternative. Really listen to what kids are telling you and don’t ever be afraid to ask uncomfortable questions.
Sara Keag is a high school counselor in the Clinton Unit School District #15 (IL). She’s also the mother of two children and the wife of Ryan Keag, Gaggle’s National Strategic Account Manager.