We believe in “Plan A” – telling kids what to do and getting angry when they don’t. “Plan B” is a different way of dealing with kids. How often do we ask kids why they are behaving the way they are? Why do we assume the worst of kids?
This is 13 reasons why adults should watch the new Netflix show “13 Reasons Why”. I wish you were hearing my slow deliberate voice through an old cassette player but it’s a blog…
(P.S. There are some spoilers ahead, although I think I warn just before I say them each time. But you’ve been warned!)
1. Your kid is watching it
First off, I’m not here to say if this show is appropriate for teenagers or not. I’m a Youth Minister and I decided to watch this show for the same reason I went to go see The Fault in Our Stars, because teenagers are going to watch it. You may not let them, but they may still watch it and you are going to want to have seen it if your kids start asking questions! I think as parents, teachers, youth ministers etc. we need to watch what they are watching, especially when it involves emotionally heavy content like this.
2. It’s actually good!
I am wrapped up in the characters of this show, I think it is well written and gripping television. Now it can be a little “teenagery” but I mean that is what the shows about! Like any good show though when that Netflix countdown starts it takes every ounce of me to turn it off at 2 am when I’ve already spent too much time watching it! I can’t stop watching it and I am emotionally involved with the characters, the sign of a good show!
3. It’s real
We can live in a fantasy world or we can admit this is basically what high school is like. I asked a high school student if the show was an accurate depiction of high school and she said it was dead on… be horrified! Now some things happen that are a little over the top but I think that is on purpose. When you are a teenager everything feels much more dramatic than it actually is, everything feels like it is life and death, and it is to a teenager. The difference is in this show it just is that dramatic. Ask your kids if they think this is an accurate depiction of high school, prepare for a yes!
4. It reminds you what it feels like to be 17
Oh the drama that was involved in being young, if you want to feel those dreaded feelings again watch the show. If not, well suck it up and watch it anyway! Watching this show is hard for me because I relate so much with Clay, the main character. High school was hard and awkward and I always felt so different from everyone and I’m sure that is true for many adults looking back. This show feels like your in high school all over again, I think that feeling helps us understand what its like to be 17 again. Your kids are probably dying to hear about what your high school experience was like, tell them about it even if you have to leave out some details…
In the show Clay judges everyone for the things they’ve done wrong and he tries to right everyone else’s wrongs. Until he gets to his tape and says “I’m just like everyone else.” I was writing this right before that episode and I was disappointed Clay came out as clean as he did. No one is innocent. What he does realize is that inaction can be just as bad as actions. This show made me think about who I was in high school, I was a good kid who didn’t party, but I judged everyone else. I only realized much later how arrogant and conceited I was being. I was hoping Clay would realize this too. The point though is to help us take a good long critical look at ourselves, a good message to reiterate to your kids.
6. Feeling Alone
There is a lot of loneliness going on in this show, Clay, Hannah, Jessica, Clay’s Mom, Hannah’s Mom, even Justin. A key reason people commit suicide and/or suffer from depression is loneliness. We should become more aware of our own loneliness and other people’s loneliness so we can talk about it. When people are lacking solid social supports it leads to addiction, depression and just bad decisions in general. It becomes harder in high school when you don’t know who you can trust and when you and everyone around you are trying to figure out who they are. We care about the kids we parent or work with but I know they don’t always feel like it, we need to continuously remind them that we are there for them.
I think this show is bringing to light how important good communication is between parents, kids, teachers, guidance counselors…etc. When I was a high schooler I had no secrets with my parents… mostly because I was a loser who didn’t drink or swear… This show reveals the importance of honest and open communication by showing the suffering that comes with keeping secrets. In the show the teenagers keep secrets from adults WAY too much! Use this as a teaching tool, as an opening into better communication between you and your kids. I think this is the most important thing to come out of this show.
Suicide is real. Depression is real. It is happening more and more in teenagers and we need to be more aware of it and talk about it openly. However this show isn’t really about suicide or mental illness, it’s more about how our actions can hurt others, how doing the right thing at the right time can help in ways we may never see. A good person is someone who does the right thing even when no one is watching. This show reveals the worst consequences possible for making a bad choice. Talk to your kids about how every choice matters no matter how small we may think it is.
The heart of this show is about doing the right thing no matter the consequences. It is also about the consequences of not doing the right thing. Some things are less serious than others but everything in the show has the cumulative consequence of Hannah killing herself (oh and spoiler alert: Jeff). Some things that happen make you wonder if any real wrong was actually done. Like when Zack doesn’t do anything after getting a note with a pretty deep confession from Hannah. Our actions matter and even our inaction can have huge consequences. 13 Reasons Why teaches us to say the things we need to say. Talk about consequences and about what “doing the right thing” means with your kids. I think they will surprise you with the depth of their thoughts on these big questions.
10. Sexual Assault
Spoiler Alert! A sexual assault takes place in the show. We hear increasing accounts of this exact thing happening in colleges and in adult life. We would be naive to think that this is not happening in high schools too. This is yet another issue that this show brings to the forefront and forces us to deal with whether we want to or not. Guys learn to be misogynists and, as a guy who was once in high school I can say, it starts in high school. Talk to teenage men about what kind of a man they want to be and what kind of man you expect them to be. Talk to teenage women about being safe and avoiding dangerous situations.
I hate the term “bullying” because it has become meaningless. When I was a kid a bully was the kid who wore dirty clothes and stole your lunch money. Now we use it to describe everything from teasing to joking to a look. The one truth about human beings is that people are often terrible to each other, it’s a fact of life. It doesn’t matter how old you get or where you are in life some people are going to be awful to you. Clay’s Mom asks him “Are you being bullied at school?” I just want to ask her if she has ever left the house? Ever met another human? Everyone has been both bully and bullied. We are all guilty at some point in our life. The key is, cut the people who consistently treat you bad out of your life and hold on to the ones who treat you well. It took me a long time to figure this one out and I still feel the effects from the “friends” who treated me terribly. Talk to your kids about how to deal with people who are mean to them and how to treat others with respect. If we leave out the latter then we act as if everyone is a victim but everyone acts as the victim sometimes and the bully at other times.
12. It’s important
The issues addressed in this show are so important and relevant to our society and we are talking about them in simplified and cliche ways. Having real, deep and honest discussion about these issues with your kids is as difficult as it is necessary. If we don’t talk about these things, they will get worse and then they will happen to more and more young people. This show is all about paradigm shift, changing the culture by going against the grain. Even if you never watch this show, talk about this stuff at home, in classrooms, in churches etc. The heart wrench you feel when watching this show is what your kids are dealing with every single day.
13. Your kid is watching it and it’s real!
In the last episode you watch Hannah Baker kill herself in the bathtub. It is devastating. I do not think it is a good idea to let a teenager deal with the gravity of this show on their own. That’s what this show is trying to say. You will probably say something stupid or wrong or insensitive… Talk anyway. Your kid probably won’t want to talk about rape, depression, suicide, loneliness… Talk about it anyway. Don’t look at this show as another thing you have to deal with. Look at this show as a fantastic opportunity to open some discussion about things that are real in your kids life. This is scary stuff but its a reality for them.
You’re not ready, I get it. You feel inadequate, I hear ya! You don’t know what to say, mhmm. 13 Reasons Why is a show about saying what needs to be said. It’s about doing what is right. It’s about not being a spectator. So parents, teachers, youth ministers, quit reading and go for it, and maybe say a prayer first!
Below is from a blog I read, the italics are my thoughts and the application in youth ministry, the rest is not mine. I only took the part about Adolescence because I think it is particularly important. They go through each age group. The bolded bullet points and underlining are done by me to draw special attention to them. To read the full blog, please click the link here, it is a great read!
- Friends will be more important than family. You’re still important, but there’s something they have to do – find who they will be when they step into the world as a healthy, independent adult. Just like you had to do at their age.
One of the best things a parent can do for their teen during this stage is give them opportunities to make and build good healthy friendships. The church is a great opportunity for parents to allow their teen freedom and independence while not having to worry about the risky behaviours that get mentioned below.
- What their peers think of them will be a source of stress to them for a while, peaking for girls at age 13 and for boys at age 15. They might go to extra lengths to try to fit in with their peers. This might involve making silly decisions or putting themselves in risky situations. Breathe. It will end.
- They will become more argumentative and will push against you more. This is perfectly in keeping with their adolescent adventure and their experimentation with independence.
Youth Ministers (both volunteer and a CYM) can be an excellent catalyst by simply listening to teens complain about their parents while reminding the teen not to be too hard on their parents. Well formed volunteers can be the stepping stone between parents and teens so that teens feel an adult is hearing them and taking them seriously but not joining them in blaming everything on parents. It is dangerous for people in youth ministry to take sides but important that teens feel they have an ally.
- May become more emotionally distant from you (don’t worry – they’ll come back but maybe not until they leave their teens).
- Might not want to be seen in public with you – however cool you are.
This is the most important point for churches to hear. According to the NSYR (National Study of Youth and Religion) teenagers said they want to spend more time with their parents. However it is important to note they do not want to be seen in public with their parents. This is key because we can promote family ministry without focusing solely on family events. Our desire to promote family ministry can cause us to do only “Family Events” which alienates teenagers. This is the exact reason why High School youth groups are still relevant, given the NSYR. If we are connected to a teen’s parents, if we encourage communication between teens and parents, then we are achieving our goal of family ministry without alienating teens by doing only “Family Events”.
- Will experiment with their image, their identity, and the way they are in the world.
- They may become sexually active.
- They might be impulsive and they might start taking risks. (For a full explanation of why they do this, see here.)
- They will be more creative and will start to think about the world in really interesting, different ways.
- They will act like your opinion of them doesn’t matter but it does – as much as ever.
- They will often misread your emotional expressions – reading anger, hostility or disappointment when you feel nothing like any of that (See here to understand teenage emotional flare-ups).
- Their sleep cycle will change. Their circadian rhythm will move them about three hours past where they were as kids. This means that they will fall asleep three hours past the time they used to and unless they are completely exhausted, it will be biologically very difficult for them to fall asleep earlier. They will need about 9-10 hours sleep so will need to sleep in for later.
- Will want to make their own decisions about the things that affect them.
What to do
- Don’t be judgemental or critical – they need your love and connection more than ever.
- Understand that they need to find their independence from you. Give them the space to do this. Over time, their values will be likely to align with yours.
Youth group is a safe space for teens to grow in their independence while under the supervision of responsible adults and in an environment that promotes positive values.
- Know that your teen isn’t rejecting you, but is finding their own way in the world – it’s an important, healthy part of being an independent adult – even if it feels bad.
- Let go of control and go for influence. The harder you fight to control them, the harder they will push against you. The truth is that when it comes to adolescence, we have no control – they will decide how much they involve you in their lives, how much they tell you, and how much influence you have. Make it easy for them to come to you when something happens or when they need guidance.
- Give them information, but don’t lecture.
- You may or may not know when they start to become sexually active, so it’s important that they have the information and guidance they need to stay physically and emotionally safe. See here for an age by age guide for what they need to know.
- Don’t buy into arguments – ask them to state their case and talk to you about the pros and cons of what they want. By nature, teens will overstate the positives and underestimate the negatives. Encourage them to tell you some of the cons – nothing is ever black or white.
- Be the calming force – breathe and wait for the wave to pass over you. It takes 90 seconds for an emotion to be triggered, to peak and to start to fade, provided you don’t do anything to give it oxygen.
- Help them to plan ahead and see around corners, but without judgement.
- Encourage their social connections and give them space to strengthen their relationships. An important part of their development is to decrease their independence on the family tribe and to do this. To do this, they will feel an increased need to strengthen their affiliation with a friendship tribe. Encourage and support this wherever you can.
Youth groups are a safe space for kids to strengthen their friendships and make new friendships. We would assume the friends they are bonding with, and new friendships, are with teens who have similar values and morals and are (hopefully) not going to lead other teens into risky behaviour. However there is never a guarantee that any friends they make will not lead them into risky behaviours. Don’t assume because a teen goes to youth group they are not into risky behaviour. With church events, teens can be one person at a youth group and another person outside of it.
- Help them find safe ways to take risks such as sports – competitive and non-competitive.
Meeting new people is a risk, a positive and relatively safe risk . Parents should encourage their child to make new friends, especially in a positive environment like a church youth group.
- Let them know you will always do whatever you can to collect them from any situation when they want to come home – regardless of the circumstances and how late or far away it might be.
- Let nothing be off limits when it comes to what they can talk to you about.
Many times parents don’t give teens the freedom to talk about anything or the teens don’t FEEL that freedom is there even if it is. Youth groups help to give them a safe place to talk about anything. If we are connected with parents and encouraging that type of “no limits“ communication with parents, the youth group can be a real asset in this area.
- Wherever possible, let them sleep in to catch up on sleep deficits.
- Listen more than you talk.