Tuesday, April 11, 2017

13 Reasons Why you should watch with your kids.

I haven't read the book, 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, but I'll be purchasing a copy at our local, independent bookstore, "Let's Talk Books", this week. The Netflix series is haunting, raw, and painful to watch. To say I'm glad I watched it would be inaccurate because it was uncomfortable and heartbreaking, but it was absolutely a worthwhile experience.

I have four kids - two still live at home and are about the same ages of the characters involved. They talk to me about their lives, their struggles, their friends, their dreams... but they don't like to share the grittier parts of wading through high school. The parts we "got through" and expect our kids to "get through", too. The parts that involve alcohol, lying, cheating, drugs, gaming, risk-taking, sex, rape, love, need, depression, anxiety... suicide. The parts I know I've tucked into the dark recesses of my mind, hoping my kids will never know any of these horrifying aspects of life. The parts I don't talk about because, until recently, I didn't think my kids needed to know the details of my high school experiences, whether they were first-hand or not.

But they do.

Not because they need examples of what or what not to do--they've already sorted most of that out on their own, no thanks to the adults who think they're helping when it's possible they aren't. They need to know because even though we remind them regularly we were once teens, we forget how specific examples and detailed stories lend credibility. Maybe they would trust us a bit more if we stopped sugar-coating our teenaged experiences and started telling the raw truth. Maybe they would talk to us more if we weren't so all-knowing and simply admitted we don't have the answers, leaving off the "but together we can figure it out" because they're so far ahead of us on that.

Together, we can figure it out but not necessarily in the perfect-world-kind-of-way and not so blatantly as to make our kids go running in the opposite direction.

I watched the series with my kids. We talked about the actions and reactions of the characters and the events that transpired, but we didn't give input into what we might have done differently because I don't think we could have. They gave me insight into what I have forgotten between the layers of redesigning myself into this thing called adulthood. I gave them insight into how adults think and admitted I don't always know, or even want to know, how teens manage their intricate lives, their stresses, their social circles, their own development into adulthood. That was probably one of the most difficult things I've ever admitted, both to them and myself.

And let's be honest - it's not because I don't want to know; it's because I'm afraid to know.

I used to think we had solid relationships. The tell-me-anything kind of rapport that only happens in the most open-minded, communicative, non-judgemental kinds of families. I never dreamed that my kids kept secrets to protect me because they inherently know adults are fragile, too, even though we're supposed to be their safe spot to land. And while the series, and I'm sure the book, emphasizes that you can't go back--you can only move forward--you can certainly look back to see where you've been and how you got to where you are so you can figure out if you need to change directions.

We're doing okay--so far. My kids are pretty amazing, incredibly resilient, just as I was in my teen years. This show didn't change our lives, exactly, but it did. It opened a different, darker, more honest kind of communication.

It's hard to revisit where I've been and how I got to this moment because it's uncomfortable and heartbreaking, but it's absolutely a worthwhile experience.

Here are my 13 Reasons Why to watch this series with your kids and read the book, if you haven't already:
  1. It's difficult, and we should do difficult things together so we aren't facing our struggles alone
  2. It provides an opportunity to talk about things that really matter
  3. It addresses rape culture
  4. It addresses social stigma
  5. It shows how painful a small, seemingly benign action can be 
  6. It illustrates the distance between teens and their parents and other adults who are supposed to provide support and be positive role-models
  7. It deals with bullying when it doesn't look like bullying
  8. It touches on the damaging effects of social media
  9. It shows how we're all connected, even when we think we aren't
  10. It tells us that any action is better than no action, regardless of how imperfect it might be
  11. It tells a universal teen story, and that's terrifying
  12. It forces you to look at yourself, your kids, and your interactions with them and their friends
  13. It's absolutely worthwhile, even if it hurts or brings up painful memories so you can do better