I'm not a parent of teens...yet. But it was quite apparent on social media that the Netflix original, "13 Reasons Why" was causing quite a stir.
I saw a lot of people posting, even boycotting the series. Personally, knowing the premise of a young girl who encountered sexual assault and committed suicide, I was not interested in watching the series. I generally don't watch series rated TV-M which was another reasons I wasn't compelled to turn it on. But I also saw something interesting as I read the comments on social media defending the series and encouraging parents to watch it and discuss with their children. I'm not here to make an argument one way or the other about letting your kids watch it, not letting your kids watch it or watching it yourself but not letting your kids watch it- I'll leave that to parents and experts. For my children, this is a non-issue at the moment as they are all too young to be watching this series and I've chosen not to watch it but it is hard to ignore the attention "13 Reasons Why" has garnered.
One of the remarkable stories coming from "13 Reasons Why" is the reaction of a group of seniors at Oxford High school in Michigan. They've started a project, "13 Reasons Why Not" in memory of a fellow schoolmate, Megan Abbott, who committed suicide in 2013. The students have recorded themselves sharing stories of difficult experiences and pointed out a single person who has showed kindness to them - someone who has contributed to making life worth living. So, while the series has garnered a lot of negative attention, it has, in turn inspired teens to work at suicide prevention. It also has people talking about serious and troubling problems facing youth. If anything, parents have probably been led to have difficult conversations with their children. Does "13 Reasons Why" help or hurt these conversations?
As I said earlier, I am not a parent of teens yet. But the thing is, you have to start talking to them now about age-appropriate challenges. You have to have age-appropriate discussions about hard things. Keep talking. And talking. I've had countless discussions about body parts and inappropriate touching because they are never too young to hear those things in an effort to protect them. As they grow, so will your tough conversations. My 10-year old has a laptop this year along with all the other kids in his school. That gives him access to things I don't necessarily want him to have access to. Innocent searches on Google can put images in his path that I don't want him to see. So we talk about it. And we're going to keep talking about the issues that pop up as he gets older.
Back to the tough issues in "13 Reasons Why" - suicide, sexual assault, bullying. Whether we like it or not, this Netflix series has started a conversation. Whether you watch or don't watch "13 Reasons Why", here are 4 shows on Netflix you should watch with your teen that tackles the same tough issues.
Audrie and Daisy
This documentary is about two girls with similar stories of sexual assault and the resulting bullying and shaming that the girls endured through social media. This heartbreaking documentary addresses some of the same issues in "13 Reasons Why" but it comes from interviews and real events. In my opinion, this documentary is an excellent conversation starter and can be used as a tool to help your kids face tough issues. Be aware that suicide and sexual violence are both topics of this documentary. Please see the parent's guide for help in discussing topics with your teen.
Beyond the Reasons
Even if you decided not to let your teens watch "13 Reasons Why", this short follow-up to the show, "Beyond the Reasons" does discuss the themes and topics in the series. The actors and creators sit down to explain what the purpose of the show was and describes there intent. It's an excellent way to decompress after watching and a way to continue or start the conversation with your teen.
This documentary may not directly address suicide or sexual assault but I recommend watching this with your kids. The documentary addresses women in media. Teens are surrounded by media (TV, movies and internet) and the messages that are being sent are influencing them. Looking at how the media sexualizes women and girls is an important part of understanding the world that your teens must face. Although it focuses on women and media, don't shy away from watching this with your boys. It is important to explain why these media images are damaging to both girls and boys. Be aware that the film shows images of women in sexual situations and some strong language.
Our culture is not just one where our kids will face slut shaming but body shaming. Before your teens fall for the constant barrage of images of perfection, watch this film. The documentary is an excellent look at how to redefine and your body image. Girls, especially will be brought up with images that will influence them and this is an effort to prevent the sexualization and the objectification of women. Women and girls should not ascribe to unattainable and unhealthy ideals to fit into what is supposed to be the image of the perfect woman. Be aware that this documentary includes non-sexual nudity, disclosures of sexual abuse, images of women in sexualized situations and some strong language. See the parent's guide for more information.