I spent the last week binging 13 Reasons Why, a new Netflix drama dealing with teen suicide and several surrounding social issues. I would not have watched this series, most likely, except I heard about it through the local newscasters last week, and then again in the national media a few times since. It became clear to me that teenagers are watching it voraciously, and concerned parents are trying to catch up with the teachable moment. The news even featured a pastor whose teenage son committed suicide some years back and found the drama to be insightful.
I am an old guy these days, it seems. At least in the eyes of teenagers, I am. I don’t get too enthused about the latest teen crazes anymore. I am no fashionista. I do, however, recall the 1984 Nick Nolte movie Teachers calling the bluff on the plastic fantastic social life of teen angst, and perhaps this series serves that purpose for a new generation. But this is like Molly Ringwald and The Breakfast Club meets Norman Bates or something. I don’t mean to belittle it at all, but the ending dramatic tragedy is gruesome and stunning.
Like most parents, I am behind the curve on this. We have a sixteen year old in our house who binged the whole series even before I heard of it – AND it’s only been out about two months! When I quizzed our teen, she said it made her depressed to watch it. Now that I’ve seen it, I will say, it made me cry.
For those with sensitive ears, let me warn you. The language throughout this series is atrocious. I am particularly stunned by the portrayal of foul mouthed teens speaking that way, not only in front of, but to parents, teachers and other authority figures. In fact, I am stunned by the meaninglessness of authority as depicted all through. The only sense of accountability I see in it is some nebulous sense of personal freedom that must be adhered to and the law suit which may or may not cost the school a lot of money. In this social world, the teens are having loads of sex, drinking and smoking dope at school, and bullying each other with impunity. There are a host of “issues” explored with suicide, rape, and bullying taking center stage, but with alcohol, drug abuse, and same-sex orientation coming through as sideshows with no sense of right or wrong about them. There is a really good chance the series will prove offensive to us older crowds.
Why would I feature this kind of post on a blog dedicated to Christian Homeless Ministry?
Well, for starts – because it is so important, in my mind, that Christian parents be made aware of this cultural phenom that is taking hold of your kids’ imaginations. This is a teachable moment for both you and them. And this is my chance to broadcast the news of it. I really think this series can potentially create meaningful dialog between kids and parents.
But then secondly, I think (in my warped way to be sure) that the series depicts a homeless culture. I mean seriously, folks, look at this series and consider, not only the moral decay, but the anchorless drift of human souls out there. Every day, our sixteen year old gets herself up in the morning, prepares herself for school, drives herself across town where she attends said school all day, then joins in the athletics and other social activities offered there and does not return “home” until about supper time. A lot of evenings her mother does not come “home” from work until 8 or almost 9 pm. Are we all sitting down to a nice home-cooked meal and sharing our lives doing that? Or are we treating “home” like a crash pad?
Meanwhile, that cruel world out there is getting all the more cruel to dump our children off into each day. We did not have “social media” when Molly Ringwald blew out her sixteen candles and a nerdy boy sold tickets to view her underwear in the boys room. But the girl in 13 Reasons goes to class one morning and takes her seat at her desk, presumably ready to learn the day’s lessons, while all her classmates suddenly receive copies of a suspicious and compromising picture of her on their phones. They all laugh at it under their breath while the teacher lectures on the subject of the day absolutely clueless about the silent social storm raging among her pupils. This actress really took me there. As a parent, I need to see that. I need to feel that. I need to know that.
The rape scene and suicide scene near the end of the series will stun you, and your kids. Very little is left to the imagination. And keep in mind, PARENTS, your kids have already seen this. You are the one out of the loop. The scene where the mother finds her dead child is so cruel, you will not sleep peaceful tonight after watching it.
Do you think we might oughta talk?
Yes. Definitely. We need to talk. And the end of the series offers a final episode that is not really an episode at all. It is a discussion of the story carried on by the actors, directors, producers and a couple of Psychology experts. Some of their debriefing is important, alright. But it lacks a Christian perspective completely. And I really hope you will pray on this and seek some wise feedback for yourself and for your kids. After all, I believe Jesus is the answer alright, but he is so much more than just a cliché we put on situations and issues and sucking chest wounds like a band aid.
So, if my words here make any difference in your plans for the next week or two, and if you want to discuss it further with fellow Christians to gain deeper perspective, I invite you to watch the series (preferably with your kids) and return here to make comments and ask questions. We have a chance to complete the discussion the actors and producers open up in our very lost and homeless culture. We have a chance to say some meaningful things to the young people who are being deeply affected by this series right now.