8 reasons to not worry about 13 Reasons Why


When it comes to TV shows like 13 Reasons Why, don’t be afraid and reactive; be present and proactive.

Working with girls for over 30 years and having read a lot of history books has given me a different perspective than most people when it comes to teen issues like sexuality, grades, or the latest hot topic to arouse angst; in this case, the TV series 13 Reasons Why.

For those of you who haven’t seen the series, the basic premise is that a high school junior, Hannah, leaves behind a series of 13 tapes to be read by peers who in her mind had caused her enough grief that she took her own life. The show is a series of flashbacks to events that conspired to drive her to suicide. She is teased, cyber bullied, slut-shamed, treated as a sexual object by guys, excluded by friends, witnesses a friend’s rape, and finally is raped herself. Her parents are distracted by a failing business and money worries, and her teachers and school counselor miss the signs displayed by Hannah and other students who are suffering thru bullying and harassment. The series is intense, at times hard to watch, dark, and extremely sad.

The following are my reasons why parents don’t need to freak out and overreact to this series, and how this show can be valuable vs. harmful.

  1. Don’t allow kids to see it until they are in high school. Middle school kids don’t have the emotional maturity to really handle the most intense scenes. On the other hand, most girls in high school know someone who has attempted or completed suicide, and they know people who have been a victim of sexual harassment or rape, or they may have experienced it themselves. I out of every 4-6 women in the US have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape, with women ages 16-19 being most vulnerable.
  2. Watch the series with your teen and use it as a vehicle to discuss tough subjects like bullying, sexuality, sexual harassment, depression, and self-harm. 22% of females ages 15-24 have experienced suicidal ideations. It will become an opportunity to hear your daughter’s experience, how she views such issues, and also to share your experiences growing up. An adult’s nonjudgmental perspective is critical to make sure teens make the best sense of shows like this.
  3. You have an opportunity to talk about how your daughter can stand up for herself and her friends, to be a defender vs. a passive bystander. Make sure she knows how to be assertive, strong, and clear with her boundaries.
  4. Parents can use the show to educate girls about the importance of being aware of and trusting their intuition when it comes to risky situations, especially with dating partners.
  5. Discuss what parts of the show are realistic and what parts are overdramatized. Let your daughter describe what really goes on in the hallways of her school and how she takes care of herself. Open your eyes to her world, and how she maneuvers it.
  6. Use the harmful events experienced by Hannah to discuss what she could have done differently to advocate for herself, utilize resources, and take care of herself. There were many people who did care about her and who could have helped her through her difficulties. Discuss people and resources your daughter has available to her.
  7. This is a chance to encourage your daughter to get clear about her dating and sexual boundaries when she is most clear and not being pressured. Confident, assertive girls with clear boundaries tend to get pushed less than girls who are lonely, discouraged, and vulnerable.
  8. Adults have the perspective of knowing that even the most painful episodes in adolescence are overcome with time and taking the time to process through experiences. We all survived the heartbreak of breakups, and they will too.

Use stories in the news, books, movies, and TV shows like 13 Reasons Why to more deeply understand where your daughter stands on issues, how she takes care of herself in the sometimes toxic environment of school and in her friendships, and to problem-solve ways to deal with challenges and tough times.

When it comes to TV shows like 13 Reasons Why, don’t be afraid and reactive; be present and proactive.


4 thoughts on “8 reasons to not worry about 13 Reasons Why”

  1. Thanks for addressing the 13 Reasons series! I was worried as my daughter has been through much in HS. My intuition did what you suggested…I was proactive ,present but I also perseverated! I couldn’t wait till series was done!

    1. Tim Jordan, MD

      I’m glad my blog and the series were conversation starters for you and your daughter :)Tim

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