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13 Serious Issues Parents Can’t Ignore From "13 Reasons Why"

The show raises important issues and conversations for both adults and teens that can help us all be better versions of ourselves.

13 Reasons Why has become one of Netflix’s most talked about original series, and not simply because of its captivating plot-lines. Parents, school boards, and kids everywhere are speaking out about the show and its controversial content. The story, based on the book by Jay Asher, is about fictional character Hannah Baker, a high school junior who commits suicide. Instead of a note she leaves behind cassette tapes to pass along to the people who influenced her decision to take her life, to explain their role in her suicide.

I watched the show last week, and although my children are only five years old, I found it raised many important conversations that I can have and incorporate into my parenting right now, even though it’s unlikely my children will watch the show for close to a decade.

Whether you are a parent of an infant, a tween, or a teen, there is no doubt that this show covers many issues that you’ll want to talk about with your partner and your child and continue to discuss it as they grow up. These issues aren’t just important for teens, they're for everyone. Here are 13 serious issues parents cant ignore from 13 Reasons Why that you need to have; whether you eventually allow your child to watch the show or not!

13No Means No

If I told you that you should begin talking about rape culture and consent with your children from infancy, you might ask, ‘How can I have a conversation with my toddler who can barely talk?’

First off, actions speak much louder than words. We can do so by showing our children that they must ask for permission before touching or hugging a playmate or family member (and not forcing them to give hugs and kisses to relatives when they don’t want to).

“No” and “Stop” are very important vocabulary words to teach young children, and show kids that these words should always be taken seriously and respected right away. As kids age we can talk to them about socially acceptable ways to make their feelings known. When people wait until they’re so upset to speak up (like Hannah yelling at Zach in the cafeteria) it can create a much more socially awkward situation than addressing things right away.

12A Rumour Is Just The Beginning

Think that bullying is a problem for teens? Think again, research has revealed that bullying behavior starts as early as three years old. As a child growing up in the 1980’s and 1990’s I always thought bullying was more of a physical act like hitting or name calling, when in fact it is so much more than that.

In 13 Reasons Why, gossip is one of the most subtle yet impactful forms of bullying, which leads to isolation. Bullying can be as simple as excluding another child from play and be completely hidden from the eyes of adults.

It's crucial to talk to your kids about tactics to cope with bullies (avoidance, walking away, not letting the bully get to you etc.), and help children who have bullying tendencies to develop empathy skills. Share your experiences with bullying growing up (even if you were the bully) to create an honest dialogue.

11A Safe Can Be Opened

Firearms in the home are a big issue for our children’s safety, one that is more subtly, although definitely, apparent in 13 Reasons Why. Jessica’s character proves the common misconception that many parents have in thinking that their children don’t have access to guns that have been locked away. Many kids know the combinations to their family gun cabinet safes or have been able to break in.

A study conducted by NVIS of firearm suicides in children aged 17 and under revealed that 82 percent of children used a firearm belonging to a family member, most often that family member was a parent. Take note that youth suicide is the lowest in homes with no firearms whatsoever. If you need to own a gun, ensure safe, locked storage with unloaded weapons. We can teach our kids at any age what to do if they find a gun or witness someone finding a gun, and to never, ever play with it.

10How Close Is Too Close?

13 Reasons Why has very explicit scenes surrounding sexual assault which has made many adults concerned, particularly since triggers or tertiary trauma can happen to those who have been exposed to these very realistic scenes. Don’t be afraid to open up with your children about how these scenes make them feel, how to create personal space boundaries, and how to keep safe (and how, if they find themselves in an unsafe situation it isn’t their fault).

Reports from Child Protective Services agencies documenting cases from the period of 2009-2013 show that 63,000 children each year were victims of sexual abuse. Eighty-two percent of all victims of sexual assault who are under 18 years of age are young women. Victims of sexual abuse are four times more likely to experience post-traumatic stress as adults, and three times as likely to have major depressive episodes in their adult lives.

9Censorship Can Cause More Harm Than Good

We can only keep the real world away from our children for so long. Sitting down and watching something with your child (or both watching it independently) and then having an open discussion about it after, can be a great way to talk out about issues that don’t directly impact your child (since it’s fiction).

As a parent, it’s hard not to fear that our children will see a glamorization of suicide portrayed in 13 Reasons Why, but this is a great starting point with teens and tweens to take note about how important kindness is in our daily interactions, learning how to stand up and not simply standing by.

Don’t rush them into mature content, but don’t forbid them from watching the teen version of “water cooler” fodder just because it makes you nervous. Talking about how other characters react to something together can give your child the distance from a problem they need to engage with you about it in a very real and positive way.

8What Is Self-Harm?

Cutting isn’t a suicide attempt, even though it may look that way, and it freaks a lot of parents out. For some kids, cutting is a way to help cope or control emotional pain. While some believe this is a problem that starts in the teenage years, kids as young as nine to 14 years old sometimes participate in cutting.

Many believe this is more common because kids see it on TV (such as the character Skye Miller in 13 Reasons Why) and imitate it. Wendy Lader, PhD says of those who self-harm, "Many are sensitive, perfectionists, overachievers. The self-injury begins as a defense against what's going on in their family, in their lives. They have failed in one area of their lives, so this is a way to get control."

Parents should watch for small linear cuts that appear particularly on the arms and sometimes legs. Direct communication, without punishment, for your child and help them in seeking help.

7The Gut Feeling Is Usually Right

Parenting is complicated because as we socialize our children we teach them to push down some of their instincts in order to “be nice”. Because of this many of us are guilty of ignoring that little voice in our gut also known as our instincts.

Teaching our children how to listen to their “belly voice” may help them get out of dangerous situations before they ever begin. We also teach our children to respect adults, which can make it difficult for a child to know what to do when an adult acts inappropriately.

Victim blaming often makes this worse, particularly for teens who are at parties where there is drinking or drugs. These social situations are where lines can blur with friends and romantic relations for all of us. Kids and adults are socialized to act as if everything is okay when it isn’t. We can help them learn to speak up at the time and afterwards without judgement or blame!

6Don't Dismiss Mental Health

Don't believe that mental illness is going to impact you or your family? Reports from the Centre For Addiction and Mental Health indicate that one in five people in Canada will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives. Over 70 percent of these illnesses begin in childhood or teenage years.

What can parents do? Make sure your children understand that mental illness is a real disease (like diabetes or epilepsy), remove the need surrounding secrecy and a diagnosis, provide reassurance that mental illness is no ones fault, and reach out for support when needed

There is a great amount of alarm as to how Hannah does not reach out to anyone surrounding her suicidal thoughts. When she does, the counselor dismisses her, which many feel this sends a terrible message to teens, since this experience with guidance counselors is not typical (or at least we hope not).

The show has gone on record as saying, “We worked very hard not to be gratuitous, but we did want it to be painful to watch because we wanted it to be very clear that there is nothing, in any way, worthwhile about suicide.” Talking about mental health and not dismissing it is imperative for our children.

5Know The Warning Signs 

13 Reasons Why is a really tough show for some parents to swallow, but even if people don’t agree with it, it’s doing something really important; it’s getting us to talk about suicide and other huge topics.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for kids aged 10-24 and four out of five teens who have made suicide attempts have shown clear warning signs. Will you recognize them? Can you help your child learn to recognize them in their friends?

Vocal warnings includes talking about being a burden to others, of feeling trapped, having no reason to live, and of killing themselves. Warning behavior, on the other hand, includes: increased drinking and/or drug use, reckless and risky behavior, withdrawing from things they used to love, giving away their possessions, and visiting or calling others to say bye. Another thing to consider is previous suicide attempts, family history of suicide, and major stressful life events.

4How To Cope

My son is anxious; he has been since he was a toddler. We’ve worked on breathing exercises and songs to help him calm down when he’s feeling overwhelmed, and it’s worked really well.

By building these coping skills and participating in programs that focus on this from a young age, we are giving our kids the tools they’ll need when they’re older and want more independence.

We tend to forget that our teen’s brains are still developing, so even temporary stressors can feel permanent and emotionally crippling. Stress management isn’t something that is taught formally, but we need to work on it by removing any shame from those who look for professional help and by not blaming others for their illness. Being an empathetic source for dialogue will help your child get their voice heard.

3Indifference Is Damaging

Teaching our children the ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes can help them more in life than memorizing their times tables ever will.

Children don’t have the cognitive capacity to truly understand empathy before eight or nine, but that doesn’t mean that little kids don’t want others to be treated well and fairly. Label feelings with your child and talk about basic emotions like sadness, happiness, anger, and surprise, and as they get better at understanding, talk about more complex ones like jealousy or feeling nervous.

Talk about your feelings, when you’re disappointed, scared and worried, and also talk about how you cope. Praise kindness and apply these labels “you sure made Billy happy when you shared your ice cream after his fell on the ground.”

These are the building blocks for future behavior.

2When To Speak Up

Many administrators are very unhappy about how the school counselor was portrayed in 13 Reasons Why, even though the show itself aptly points out that the warning signs really can look like nothing.

Children need many life lines in terms of resources for help. The saying “it takes a village” comes to mind here. Providing a support system of people you trust outside of the parental units will give them people to go to when they don’t feel comfortable going to mom or dad; start this support network from birth.

Helping your child understand the difference between privacy and a secret, particularly when a friend has confided in them with something important (like they're being abused) will help your child know when to speak up, even if their friend will be angry.

1Listen Before Judging

13 Reasons Why will gives any aged audience member many things to think about in terms of sexual assault, suicide, rape, bullying, gossip, and discrimination. The most supportive thing we can do as parents is to listen and respond to our children when they come to us with problems and never ever trivialize them.

How you react to something when your child is just six or seven can determine whether or not they’ll connect with you in the future. Take a moment to talk and think about modelling positive behaviors to lead by example.

Are you a gossip or a bully? Do you and your spouse name call? If you do, odds are your child has taken note. What are some of the negative behaviors and languages that get used in your home? How can we correct them?

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