Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…
It has to get better. The way we treat each other. They way we look out for each other. Clay, 13 Reasons Why.
My daughter and I finished watching the new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why together last night. I first heard about this television show when I read an article that talked about why parents should not let their kids watch this show. I watched the first few episodes by myself to determine if my kids should watch it.
My daughter came home talking about others at school who were discussing this show. Classmates had already binge watched the whole season, and I decided since kids at school were watching and talking about this show that it would be good to watch it together.
Last night after we had watched the entire series, I saw a couple of more articles on Facebook about why the show was damaging to watch. The actress who played Barb on Stranger Things warned that the show could be traumatic especially for those who had been sexually assaulted. Relevant magazine’s article The Dangerous Message of 13 Reasons Why stated,
13 Reasons Why is bad because it tells an important truth, but only part of it. It takes us to a terrible place, and leaves us there.
I would agree with the author of this article on this point. The show indeed takes us to a dark place and leaves us there. The truth is people can be really cruel to one another, and something needs to be done to stop it. However, with the exception of students confessing some truths about what they’d done to hurt Hannah, and Clay understanding that we really needed to be more kind to one another, we did not get to see the ways this actually played out.
I didn’t conclude after watching the show, as the Relevant article did, that Hannah’s suicide was all about revenge, nor did I think her suicide was a legitimate choice.
We are meant to empathize with the harsh realities of cyber-bullying, victim-blaming and rape culture in the life of the American teenager. “Hannah made her choice,” the characters tell each other robotically, unconvincingly. In the audience’s view, Hannah’s choice is made out to be perfectly legitimate.
However, I recognize there is room for many different perspectives about the show, and a lot of teens are watching it, so we as parents need to be informed. The violent, graphic depictions of rape and suicide are definitely something to be concerned about. We chose to forward past these scenes. And be forewarned, the language is terrible, too.
Watching the show alone when one has a history of trauma, should certainly be taken into consideration, as well. Having a history of trauma, I found myself struggling with the emotions the show brought up, but I have been able to process my pain through counseling, and others may not have that option.
But after watching the complete season, the message that I walked away with the most was how important it is to care about each other and pay attention. Cruelty and abuse have the potential to destroy one’s identity, but love and kindness go a long in healing the damage that’s been done. Hannah made a terrible choice to end her life. Her actions were not justified. However, the pain she experienced from being abused is something many of us can relate to.
I did not have to work too hard to put myself in the character Hannah, who committed suicide, shoes. High-school was not a positive experience for me, and I found myself being thankful as I watched the show that we did not have cell phones and social media during that time. It was bad enough that others in my class treated me in demeaning ways while I was at school. I don’t know what I’d have done if they could have harmed me after school as easily as teens can now through social media.
One of the first events that began Hannah’s downward spiral was an incident where a boy took a picture of her while he was kissing her on a playground slide. He showed it to another boy who sent it to most of the school through a text message. It wasn’t long after that that Hannah made a list of having the nicest butt in school. One day while shopping at a store a fellow classmate walks up behind Hannah taking liberty to grab her backside. Hannah feels demeaned and humiliated.
I can still remember the laughter of certain classmates who found it entertaining to back me into a corner when the teacher wasn’t around and grab my breasts and butt. I can still hear their whispers from across the room during class trying to get me to turn my head and look at them exposing their body parts. I can still remember the humiliation when they poked a broom handle between my legs when it was our classes turn to clean the lunchroom. And I was not the only one who experienced this kind of abuse.
Like Hannah, rather than reaching out for help, I internalized my pain for too long. I even contemplated suicide standing by an upstairs bathroom window at school, but feared that by jumping I would survive and just become more of a laughing stock. And there were times that I thought if I could succeed I’d show all the ones who were hurting me just how wrong they were, so watching Hannah’s story definitely would have played on these thoughts. I realized on some level, however, how faulty that line of thinking was. If the ones who were mistreating me did not care about me alive, why would they care if I was dead? But it wasn’t this reasoning that kept me from jumping out the window or finding some other way to end it all. It was those few people who took the time to care that really made the difference.
It’s easy to get lost in being a victim. It’s a subtle quick sand we can easily sink into. When one suffers from abuse all alone, they are left to suffocate by the sound of their own painful voice. Not only was I abused by these boys for three years of high school, but I’d also been abused by a much older man who’d backed me into a corner my 8th grade year of school and when I was in the fourth grade by a teenage boy who lived next door to a friend. These are not things that even adults want to talk about. I’m certainly not comfortable bringing them up even today, but talking about them as a child and teen was almost impossible. I believe the more of us who are able to be vulnerable and open about our own stories of abuse, the more we invite others to do the same. Only when darkness comes out into the light can it be healed.
Thinking back to those dark days in my own life I’m thankful for those who took the time to care. I’m especially thankful for my English teacher Miss Denise.
Miss Denise was a smoker during the days when second hand smoke was not considered dangerous to inhale. She ate her lunch regularly and followed it up with a cigarette in the teacher’s longue not far from the girls upstairs bathroom where I sometimes hid out during P. E. One day I made my way into the teachers longue and we struck up a conversation about something I can’t even remember. It wasn’t the content that mattered, it was the fact that Miss Denise shared some of herself with me and allowed me to share some of myself with her through our conversations. She didn’t see me as someone who deserved to be humiliated. She saw the real me and treated me as someone who mattered, and for her it was just natural. Even though I’m sure that her second hand smoke wasn’t good for me to breathe, the time I spent with her more than made up for any damaging effects from her cigarettes.
When Miss Denise was no longer around to talk to and another teacher came, I became overwhelmed by the abuse the boys continued to inflict. One day in the library when a boy came on strong bullying me, I grabbed a metal chair and threatened to strike him over the head. He backed away and finally left me alone, but later in the class when the teacher left the room another boy decided to start in. I remember being so angry that I shook all over. I didn’t think I could survive another day with what they were doing to me. I screamed for him to stop and fled from the room crying out I wished I was dead! I ran to outside the building where a female classmate followed me. She did her best to calm me down by saying that the boys were just being stupid and didn’t intend to bring harm. Her consolation brought little relief and finally I called my mother to come get me from school. On the ride home I didn’t tell my mom how bad things really were at school. I didn’t tell her that it was so bad that wanted to die. But I did relieve some of the pressure by telling her what the older man had done to me a couple of years before. She was shocked and angry and called a local state agency in to help. After speaking with a social worker, I decided that I didn’t want to press charges against the man who’d abused me. I didn’t have the courage to open up in front of a judge about what he’d done. I still carried so much humiliation from how he’d treated me and how the boys in my class treated me that I believed it was somehow my fault. Hannah believed this lie about herself, too. That somehow there was something about herself that brought out the bad in others. It was a lie she never heard the truth about, and that ultimately led to her giving up.
The way we treat others communicates how valuable they are to us. When we abuse with harsh words and actions, those being harmed can easily conclude that they do not matter and if the abuse continues to occur, some will even give up, especially if there is no one to help. Also, when someone has been sexually abused the shame these acts bring about saturate a soul with shame. For some it can take years to get past the damage that’s been done to their soul, and unfortunately others never do. But we should never underestimate the importance of kindness. When we look for opportunities to truly listen and to care, we communicate the worthiness of others, and we offer them the opportunity to heal and experience life.
Suicide is a terrible tragedy, a large majority of people who commit suicide are suffering from mental illness, and survivors of those who committed suicide should never blame themselves. Hannah’s parents never got a chance to help her. They obviously loved her and would have helped if she’d asked them to, but for whatever reason she chose not to tell them anything about what was going on. This frustrated and grieved me as a parent. My desire more than anything else if for my children to know that I am there for them no matter what.
I suspect that there are many like me who can relate to Hannah’s story and on some level felt their pain was heard as they watched the show. I pray that rather than mimicking Hannah’s actions that they’d see her missed opportunities to get help, and would reach out to those who care.
But the sad reality of Hannah’s story is that she was unable to see the value of her life, and she gave up. And that was such a waste. Suicide is a tragedy we should do everything we can to prevent, but sadly Hannah’s wasn’t.
13 Reasons Why is just a movie, and I didn’t l get to write the end. But I do hope for those of us who watched Hannah’s story that God would use it to open our eyes to the real life stories of those around us who are hurting, and that we’d be motivated by His love and kindness to help write a better end.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
If you are are looking for an alternative to 13 Reasons Why for your family to watch and discuss suicide To Save a Life is a great option.
If you are suffering, you don’t have to do it alone. Here’s a place to get help:
I’m not suggesting at all in this blog that parents watch this show with their kids, but if you do, here is a resource from JED and Suicide Awareness Voices of Education or Save to guide your discussions.