13 reasons why

Sheila and I recently spent some time binge watching the new Netflix series, 13 reasons why. As educators it made a lot of sense for us to get on this right away and see what was up. I found it to be really well done as a TV series, but also really well done in showing the reality of what life in school can be like these days.

What I never saw was this “glamorization” of suicide that I have seen reported in the news and reported by other school officials. I do see it as perhaps showing suicide can be used as a successful tool for revenge, which is scary, but it certainly did not glamorize it. The actual suicide scene itself was brutal. Hannah was in pain, her parents anguish was real. It was not something that you see and say “let me do it this way”.

My official title at work is “Crisis Intervention Specialist”. In other words, this is exactly the situation that I encounter in my work. I see the impact of bullying first hand more than almost any other person in the building. I have to find a way to help the students through this and to make sure I am not missing any important signs from students reaching out. It’s a tricky spot to be in, but one that I think I do a pretty good job with.

With that said,I want to throw my 2 cents out there in regards to this movie and students today. I graduated high school in 1999. The suicide rate has risen by a quarter since then. Specifically with adolescent girls. We, as adults raised in that era are consistently blaming the current generation of children saying things like  “kids are soft” or “I was bullied”  and they need to “toughen up”. That is not the message we should be giving.

Imagine your work environment for a moment. Every day at lunch someone knocks your lunch on the ground. Every time you were on your way to a meeting someone bumped you in the hall. Every time you went to the printer you found your report had been vandalized and it was you who got in trouble. You got drunk at a party and every office mate was passing a photo of you around. You slept with someone, as an adult, and every male in the office thought this was a freeway to trying to get in your pants.

I could go on.

The reality is, we would not accept this treatment as adults in the workplace. Yet we ask our youth, with raging hormones, stress of fitting in, and an uncertainty about who they are to “toughen up”. Where is the disconnect? Why do we believe we were so much tougher? Why is it somehow OK just because you were “tougher” to accept that a child has to go through the same trauma you went through as a child?

So some thoughts on this series.

  1. It’s not the movies fault if kids are hurting themselves. Our youth who self harm are in need for a variety of reasons. This movie is not one of them. The movie is not the cause of the pain. It is our responsibility to figure out what’s going on and help.
  2. The internet has added a wrinkle to teen life that most of us never would have dreamed of growing up. Every photo, every mistake, every break up or embarrassment on display for everyone to see. A place to bully without seeing the ramifications, a place to team up on someone out of the view of adults. We weren’t tougher, life was simpler.
  3. It’s not appropriate for kids to watch. If you want them to watch it, I suggest you watch it first, then watch it with them. Talk. Discuss. Use this as an opportunity to see the world the way  your child does. Listen. There are scenes of drug use, drinking, sex, violence, rape. Make sure you are comfortable with all of this and be prepared to answer questions or offer some information.
  4. It shows exactly what happens in our schools. This one is hard to admit, but it’s true. Kids are mean. Stand in the hallway in any school and hear how personal it is. Just the other day I counseled a student who was being harassed by kids because she is in foster care. Students were telling her “No one loves you, not even your mom, she gave you up”. If you think your child does not hear things like this or does not say things like this you are being naive. If you watch this series, realize that yes, all of these things do actually happen.
  5. It opened my eyes as a counselor to how easy it is to miss big issues. I saw myself in Mr. Porter telling a student “there is nothing more I can do”. What a lie. There is always more. If nothing else this movie will make me better at my job.
  6. Families are the first line of defense – If your child wants to watch this – Do it with them. If you don’t know what they are watching, you should learn. Quickly.
  7. Many parents know nothing (as the show points out) of what their children are doing in school. This is something that is becoming more and more of an issue as our dependence on technology increases. You need to know your child. Who are they friends with (do they have friends) what do they like, who do they like. All of these things matter.

Use this series as an opportunity. Discuss and listen. Reflect. Try your best to not project onto your kids and let them take this in digest it. This is an opportunity for you to be reflective as a parent. To set your ego aside and reflect on some of the points above. To take this quote to heart “A child educated only school is an uneducated child”. This is an opportunity as an educator to reset your vision in the classroom. Are you teaching students to be good people as often as you are teaching them to be good at math? This is an opportunity as a friend to ask who is reaching out, to figure out if you can be the difference in that life.

Life is full of opportunity, it would be a shame if we just continue to let them go.

For a few resources on this topic the movie has a link set up here http://13reasonswhy.info/#usa


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