Thirteen Reasons Why

At the bidding of my 17 year-old daughter. I’m watching the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.”  WOW!! What an amazing series! It’s based on the Young Adult novel of the same name by author Jay Asher about a girl named Hannah Baker who commits suicide and leaves thirteen cassette tapes explaining why she did so.

As amazing as the story is, the premise of the plot is disturbing. How many of our students in schools across this city and this nation are being bullied to the point where they are contemplating suicide? In the novel 13 Reasons Why, an unflattering photo taken out of context does irreparable damage to the main character’s life. What happened to Hannah is not far-fetched.

School and social media create the crux of most young people’s lives. Once something is online it’s there. It lives there. For all to see. Forever. When I was in school a generation ago, if you had a problem with someone, it ended when you got home. You may have had other issues to deal with at home, but school drama could be kept at bay at least until the next day.  

That’s not true anymore: If a student is bullied, it’s 24-7. Your bullying can “trend” and become a popular conversation shared on the timelines of strangers….and their friends….and their friends’ friends. Imagine something that you did something that you are ashamed of — perhaps a lie — and it is shared on a large forum without your consent or approval. This is what this generation of students is silently enduring.

Adults tend to trivialize the issues, pain, and trauma that teenagers experience. What are minor things to us, with our adult brains, life experiences, and deductive reasoning skills, are perceived quite differently by teenagers for whom a rumor can be  a life-altering, never-ending experience. As a teenager, you just don’t have the foresight or the experience yet to be able to see that this, too, shall pass.

Girls, in particular, face a lot of pressure to fit in, be popular, and be pretty. All it takes is for the wrong guy to say the wrong thing about what he did or didn’t do to you and your reputation can be damaged forever. Slut-shaming is an all too common occurrence.

According to Sonali Kohli,

Slut shaming is the practice of punishing or making character judgments about people, usually girls and women, based on their sexual activity or on assumptions about their sexual activity. Those assumptions can be based on what they wear, what they look like or rumors about them.

Slut shaming starts early. A national 2011 survey from the American Association of University Women found that slut shaming is one of the most common forms of sexual harassment that students in middle and high school endure. A third of all students experienced “having someone make unwelcome sexual comments, jokes, or gestures to or about you” in person; forty-six percent  of girls experienced it and twenty-two percent of boys.

I’m so glad that my daughter Cereta encouraged me to watch “13 Reasons Why” and that we discussed it together over this Spring Break.  I knew about this novel for several years, but never took the time to read it, much less teach it. I feel badly about that. When I asked Cereta if there was anything she wanted to share about what she learned from “13 Reasons Why”, this is what she said:

Parents need to be more involved in their kids’ lives because that was one of the biggest issues that I noticed. There weren’t enough parents around. They were there, but they weren’t a presence. As youth, we need to realize that our words do have power and that people are affected by our words — more than we may ever think or know. For teachers and counselors , take your jobs very seriously. You have an obligation to protect lives. Even the slightest mention of a student feeling disconnected or like they don’t belong needs to be attended to because it’s better to be overzealous where this is concerned than regretful. We just need to be nice to one another.  Period.

I couldn’t agree more. We just need to be nice to one another. Period.

What do you think?

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