New England Yearly Meeting

A community of Quakers and Quaker meetings across New England.

Thoughts for Parents on 13 Reasons Why

May 12, 2017
Gretchen Baker-Smith

Dear JHYM Parents and Friends,

As many of you know, there is a trending Netflix series called 13 Reasons Why, based on a young adult novel by Jay Asher (same title), that is raising some significant concerns and topics. The storyline revolves around a 17-year-old who takes her own life and leaves audio recordings about why she killed herself. Each of the 13 segments represents a tape that depicts painful events involving one or more of 13 individuals whom the main character says played a role in her decision to end her life.

I have seen it, start to finish, and agree that it is very powerful and compelling. While there is lots of material embedded in the storyline for much needed conversations between parents, schools, teens, and society, the series unflinchingly depicts suicide, bullying, rape, slut shaming, depression, and grief in ways that may be very harmful for young people who are either not emotionally ready or who are already struggling. If you are the parent of a middle schooler and are not familiar with it, I would urge you to take a few minutes to learn a little bit about it—and find out if your child has seen or heard about it.  

I know that some of you have watched some or all of it—with, or without your middle schoolers. Some of you have been having loving and honest conversations with them about issues and emotions raised from this series (some long before the book was written). Some of you have read more material than I have about this, either as the result of your own research or via outreach from school systems or mental health experts. And some of you have been the nudges I needed to watch every moment of the series as well as the trailers. I am deeply, humbly grateful to all of you.  

I agree with those professionals in the field who are expressing alarm for the affect watching this series may have on young people—especially young teens—who are struggling with urges to self-harm, who are depressed, or have a history of trauma. For many teens, particularly those in middle school, a healthy ability to intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually respond to the storyline and images requires more maturity than they have. The cautions outlined by both the JED Foundation and NASP (see links) ring true for me. It may even be too difficult for adults to watch. Survivors of rape, or survivors of suicide may find it affirming or too painful—depending on the day, their inner resources, and where they are in their healing recovery.  

At the same time, I do believe that it raises some issues and realities that need to be talked about and addressed. The depictions of how the two victims of rape each respond are spot on; bullying is widespread.  Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among teens in the U.S.  There are a lot of young people for whom this series gives voice to their lives.  

Whether you watch the series or not, you might find some resources helpful for ongoing conversations with your teens. Below are a few resources that I have found particularly helpful in case you are looking. If you only have time for one thing, read the Concise Talking Points.

Concise Talking Points for 13 Reasons Why from the JED Foundation and SAVE.

Point of View Article from JED Foundation

Handout from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP):

4/28/17 Boston Globe article on the high alarm around the series' popularity

I hope this is helpful. Let me take this moment to thank you for being part of this blessed community. It has been an extraordinary year in JHYM, and I am so grateful for each of the dear hearts in our circle and all of your love, support, prayers, and assistance. I am holding all of us in the Light as we continue to nurture and support every young person into adulthood whole, healthy, and rooted in a Love that surpasses understanding or measure.

If there are ways that I can be supportive, don't hesitate to be in touch.

Much love to you,

Gretchen Baker-Smith

JYM-JHYM Coordinator, NEYM

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