By Robbye Fox, Parent Educator
This week, it seemed as though I couldn’t turn on the TV or open my email without seeing some reference to the controversial Netflix Series 13 Reasons Why. I had just finished watching the series recently at the suggestion of my 20 and 23 year-old daughters, who know I work with parents of teenagers through my work with PEP.
My first thought while watching the series? Thank goodness I’m done parenting high schoolers!, followed by empathy for those parents who are still parenting teens, and those who will be.
My second thought? What an opportunity for parents everywhere.
While 13 Reasons Why is not a show that young teens should be watching alone, for many, that ship has sailed. Whether your teen or tween has watched the series or not, I encourage you to watch on your own or along with your teen.
As has been discussed widely through the media, 13 Reasons Why touches on a number of sensitive subjects, including (but not limited to) suicide, sexual assault, underage drinking, bullying, drug use, and drunk driving. Some of the presentation is pretty graphic—including staging of the actual suicide—which was a scene I could not bear to watch.
In an interview with the executive producers (one of whom is actress and singer Selena Gomez, who has openly discussed her own battle with depression), they said that they wanted to raise these issues for discussion. The scenarios played out in the series are happening throughout our country, and these issues should be addressed.
Some schools have sent letters home about the series. I applaud those schools for their timely communication to parents—it was a risk since it involves students’ life off campus—but by notifying parents, they opened the door to communication about so many topics that are scary for everyone.
So the door is open, what now?
Based on what we teach in our teens classes at PEP, the following tips may be helpful as you dive into discussion with your child:
1. We each have 2 ears and 1 mouth, so remember to try to listen twice as much as you talk.
2. Practice your poker face—sometimes teens will test us by saying something to shock us. No matter what they might say, avoid judgment, criticism, or lecturing.
3. Initiate the conversation with open-ended questions that start with “How?” or “What?” These questions usually require our teens to use their decision-making and problem-solving muscles and also do not put them on the defensive, which can happen with questions that start with “why?”
4. Sitting down face to face can be intimidating, so try initiating the conversation when you’re engaged in an activity side-by-side, like driving or cooking.
5. Teens are often more talkative late at night. A double bonus may be that this is the time of day when you’re out of words and more likely to listen. Lie down on their bed beside them and see what comes out.
6. Don’t feel as if you have to know all the answers. Our teens can be encouraged knowing that they’re not the only ones who are having trouble figuring this world out. The important thing is that they know they don’t have to do it alone. When discussing sensitive subjects, it can be more important to know what questions to ask rather than what answers to give.
Some questions to start the dialogue:
1. What about this show seems unrealistic to you? What seems realistic?
2. Which of these scenarios could you see taking place at your school?
3. How do you think Hannah could have handled things differently? How about Hannah’s Mom or Dad? The other characters—Clay? Jessica? etc.?
4. If you were in the position of one of the characters, what steps could you take that may have led to a different outcome?
5. What character traits do you look for in a friend?
6. How did technology affect the scenarios?
While I am grateful to no longer be parenting a high schooler, I can’t imagine how it would feel to be a teenager in today’s world. I empathize with today’s parents, but my heart aches for today’s teens who are navigating an amazingly complicated adolescent world. Our children need the very best active and approachable parents that we can offer.
Other Resources for 13 Reasons Why
Parent Encouragement Program
10100 Connecticut Ave.
Kensington, MD 20895