There’s been a lot of hype surrounding the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” that debuted on the internet streaming service on March 31.
The 13-episode drama takes on a dark and taboo topic as it explores in the deepest of details the tapestry of events that led to a female high school student taking her own life.
I’ll stay away from any direct details on the show’s plot other than to write that the teenage victim leaves behind a series of audio tapes for various students to listen to that takes them into her perspective and shines insights into her horrible choice.
A lot has been said and written about the series, which some counselors caution could have negative effects on teenagers who might watch it, particularly those who are struggling with depression or could be susceptible to suicidal thoughts or actions. Most of them also acknowledge there are good things that can be gleaned from the fictional story that is based on a 2007 novel by Jay Asher.
I’m not qualified to have an educated opinion on whether or not there are legitimate concerns about the series. I do believe it’s worth watching for adults and for older teenagers, perhaps best in tandem. It’s also worth pointing out that there are references to alcohol, drugs and sexual assault that make the series suitable only for adults or young adults — not those at an age below where they lack suitable background on those issues.
If you’re not familiar with Netflix or how its original series work, they are released entirely at once instead of a new episode every week or scattered throughout a calendar year. That leads to what is commonly known as “binge watching” — taking in multiple episodes back-to-back.
I’ve binge watched several series over the years, some Netflix originals and others just seasons of older shows I had missed when they debuted on broadcast or cable TV. It’s a relatively modern, but also quite common, phenomenon.
One thing about binge watching I’ve experienced is that it can really take over your mind, particularly for a night or two. Imagine watching a six-, seven- or even 13-hour movie that eats up half of a day and then processing all of that. When it’s a topic as serious as the one in “13 Reasons Why,” it’s even more intense.
Through the mind of a 38-year-old that has had some life experiences, a show like this one has an impact. I can really only try to imagine what it would have been like to be a teenager and watched it. So, I do share concerns with people who wonder if it could be negative for teens to watch, especially alone.
But with all that said, there is one extremely compelling reason for people to "press play." I can sum it up in one word: Consequences.
I think we all go through life knowing that our actions have consequences. On a very surface level, it’s obvious and not all that revelatory to say that what we do and the decisions we make impact and shape our lives.
What may be less evident is how the choices we make each day affect other people. That’s where this fictional tale of human sorrow shines and ought to be embraced as a lesson unlike any other I’ve ever encountered. It succeeds in connecting dots. Not just the thickly painted ones, but the faintest as well. How we interact with people matters to them in ways we may not consider in the moment. Who we scapegoat, judge or scar — in whatever subtle ways — may find that those seemingly small things pile up in their lives and become heavy things they truly struggle with.
Keeping in mind that the character in this show clearly has deep issues and responds to life in a way many people would not is essential to understanding it. But watching those dots connect, often in common instances we can all relate to, is some combination of enlightening and uncomfortable. However, I don’t think anyone who watches this will be the same afterwards. We can preach to our children (and heck, to ourselves) about how we should treat other people. To see the fabric of someone’s life concurrently woven and stained by the actions of others is a lesson well worth the associated risks.
I encourage parents to ask their teens about this television series. Find out if your kids have seen it or heard about it, and consider making it a part of a conversation in your own home. There’s enough good in it to have a positive impact, and there’s enough bad in it that the guidance of a parent or close adult will maximize its benefits and minimize its risks.