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


  1. Jennifer: Thank you for sharing this. It's never easy to know where to draw the line between what might be useful and what might be hurtful, especially when your audience is in the middle of something themselves.

    Both my sister and I were raped by our father as infants. That was a very long time ago, but my sister developed MPD (mulitiple personality disorder) and died as a result of medical complications when one of her 'people' committed suicide. Her symptoms became outwardly apparent only after she discovered her husband had been sexually abusing their children. He had his own abusive past; a child often learns what s/he is taught.

    The saving grace is that she was able to leave that relationship and get herself and her children to safety before essentially self-imploding. Both of her children are now in long-term, stable relationships and one is a mother of a happy child who has loving parents. Would it be helpful to him to know of his family's history? He's not yet a teenager or even a tween so we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

    For me, it took a lot of years before I was willing to open those doorways into my past, and some of those years had their own attempts at suicide (fortunately, perhaps, I was never fully committed to it but I understand only too well the overwhelming feelings of anger, despair, pain and grief that can make one think there are no other options). Once I pried the doors open it took me more than a decade to root out, discover, heal and finally embrace ALL that I am. I had to do this myself, but I can state unequivocally that I would not have been able to undertake that journey without the unquestioning, unyielding support of the one person who remains the love of my life.

    I used to think that it was important to be able to sympathize with others who were moving through their own pain. It's common to want to say, "I know how you feel" but that's impossible. The best we can reach for is, "I know how I felt when I was in a similar situation." Now I believe that it's more important to be the one with the strength to listen, truly listen without feeling obligated to advise, to love without censure or judgment, to advise self-forgiveness, to be and to give form to the light at the end of the tunnel. It's not what I experienced that formed the best of who I am today, but who I choose to be, Now, in every moment.

    My 2¢.

    Love and hugs,

    P. S. Posting this anonymously only to protect the innocent.

    1. Thank you for reading and taking the time to post a response.

      Each time I start to reply, I'm taken aback by the honesty with which you wrote. Each person is on their own journey, but we aren't alone in this world. As you said, we can only know the emotions of what we've experienced; we can also be the strength that someone else needs. In the interest of protecting my own kids, I can't say why they needed to know my experiences, but I do understand that not all situations are the same. We are all imperfect creatures, but we're all capable of so much love and caring, and sometimes it starts with a conversation.

      Thank you, again, for sharing. I appreciate your insight into a delicate situation.