Why 13 Reasons why is bad for the vulnerable Youth by Kelly Hartlage

“Thirteen Reasons Why” follows a group of 12 high school students as they piece together a story as it is described on a series of cassette tapes left for them by their classmate, Hannah Baker, who has committed suicide. The show follows Clay Jensen’s life as he listens to the tapes while continuing to attend school and try to maintain his stability after realizing that Hannah Baker, his love is never coming back. Many people think this show is necessary to teen development and suicide awareness, and has become a pivotal way in educating youth through television. Jay Asher, the author of the novel 13 Reasons Why, which turned into the Netflix television show, aims to illustrate the point that someone’s actions can have a huge and sometimes very detrimental impact on people’s lives. In my opinion, this show does quite the opposite, instead glorifying and fantasizing suicide as a way to receive attention.

In committing suicide, Hannah Baker ended up receiving everything in death that she was hoping for from the students that she targeted in this tape, such as Clay, Justin Foley, Alex Standall, Jessica Davis, and Bryce Walker, among others. The students feel deep regret, deep sympathy, and the beginnings of a lifelong guilty conscious on what they did that caused Hannah to commit this suicide. The “what if” thought as to what they could have done differently so this tragedy did not have to occur will forever be in their minds, and takes a great affect on their lives. I see this is an inaccurate educational tool, because not any other person is responsible for one’s mental health that would cause them to commit suicide. In addition as you see in the latter part of the series, Alex Standall ends up attempting to take his own life as a result of these cassette tapes and how much guilt they have put on other people.

In an article by USA Today, How ’13 Reasons Why’ gets suicide wrong: Voices, it talks about how the show misleads the viewer into believing that there is always someone else to blame for suicide. This is inaccurate because if someone is ready to commit suicide, they have a mental health issue that goes much deeper than someone bullying them. As Alex Standall states in the show “Well, we ALL killed Hannah Baker”. Since the show does not discuss mental illness at all in an educational way or how someone that is going through what Hannah Baker was internally going through, the show suggests that the way to save someone from suicide is as easy as a friendly gesture, and being kind to one another. This is just not the case, and is sending the absolute wrong message to teenagers everywhere.

As a teenager, it is much harder to process the permanence of death, therefore younger children in middle school and highschool that could potentially be watching this show as a form of “education” do not comprehend the fact that taking one’s life is actually permanent; something they can not take back. As a result of this, suicide in a teenages mind seems like an actual option because they do not realize that they are actually ending their lives as opposed to the possibility of “making a statement” or “searching for attention”.

After the release of 13 Reasons Why, many schools came out with statements to the parents of the students warning them on why they should not allow their children to watch the show. People Magazine, in the article Why Schools Are Warning Parents About Netflix’s Series 13 Reasons Why the National Association of School Psychologist issued a public statement warning parents not to allow their “vulnerable youth” to watch the show. “Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies,” the statement read. According to the NBC News4 Washington, “Mental health professionals are concerned that adolescents, watching without an adult available to process the themes and their own feelings, could be at an increased risk of self-harm,” the glamorization of suicide is a huge concern.

Here is what should have happened in this show if they wanted to accurately depict suicide:

ReportingOnSuicide.org created recommendations as a guideline for the media on how to safely report on suicide. Research shows us that how suicide is reported has an impact on the public health of society.  According to ReportingOnSuicide.org:

  • Don’t sensationalize the suicide
  • Don’t talk about the contents of the suicide note, if there is one
  • Don’t describe the suicide method
  • Describe the suicide as “died by suicide” or “completed” or “killed                          him/herself” rather than “committed suicide”
  • Don’t glamorize suicide

If you watch this show, you realize they did ALL OF THIS WRONG!

Along with the suicide aspect, it justifies many of the character’s actions, because by hiding behind the tapes even when they know what is on them proves to teenagers that doing something bad and not telling anyone about it means that it is okay, even if the action was illegal. If no one finds out, it is okay in these teenagers minds, sending the wrong message to viewers everywhere. Take for example Bryce. He raped not only Jessica but also Hannah, and every other student that has heard this tape knows that Bryce is a rapist, however continues to stay friends with him. They are all selfish in the way that they are so worried about themselves that they would rather not incriminate a rapist who has affected one girl so much that it drives her to suicide. Who knows how many other girls Bryce has raped that have stayed silent, or how many girls he will continue to target in the future.

This show does not do a good job at explaining what rape is and pretty much brushes off the fact that by Jessica and Hannah not saying “no” they were “agreeing to have sex.” If this is a show that is so necessary for teenagers everywhere, it should show the consequences of what a rapist should face, and how horrible of a crime this really is, whether alcohol was involved or not. It should also educate victims of sexual assault on how to tell their parents and peers, and ways to cope with being a victim of sexual assault.

This can all easily be incorporated into the show without making it seem as if it is a public service announcement. Talking about an issue as strong and societally relevant as sexual assault or suicide but then brushing it off and not giving any insight on how to deal with it is what makes this show the opposite of educational. The power that Hannah has received as a result of her suicide depicts to teenagers that suicide could solve their problem and make people realize what they were not able to tell them in person. If anything, I would suggest that in high schools, teachers could show clips from this show and have discussions about it, making it seem more real life when talking about such issues as these.  

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6 thoughts on “Why 13 Reasons why is bad for the vulnerable Youth by Kelly Hartlage

  1. I’m so glad that you decided to do your blog on this because it is such a hot topic right now and is actually a huge issue. I am watching the show but I’ve only gotten to episode 4. I honestly don’t know if I will be able to finish it because I am squeamish and I have heard of some parts that I know I wouldn’t be able to handle especially the last episode but we will see! 13 Reasons Why is based on a book. I remember when I was in middle school everyone was reading this book and talking about it, myself included. Looking back I am thinking that that is pretty young to be reading a book about suicide. I don’t really remember a lot of the details from the book but I wonder if the book had the same issues as the movie in terms of how they portray suicide. This is a huge issue and really makes me worry about this show and what it can cause in young teenagers. I’m surprised that they created the show in this way especially with how important mental health is today.
    -Alison Tobin

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  2. I have not yet seen “Thirteen Reasons Why” on Netflix but I read the book a long time ago and always loved it. The book circulated throughout my entire friend group, which was a lot of impressionable seventh grade girls. However, we all loved the book. We did not view the book as glamourizing suicide but saw it as a way to make sure we all remember that everyone is going through something so lets all be nice and look after one another. For me, I felt as though this novel showed what not to do which is being selfish. However, now that I am 21 years old and not that naïve 13 year old, I see the message slightly different. I do believe that in a way, as described in this article that the Netflix show is glamourizing suicide and the notion of, “lets put the blame on someone for a person killing themselves” is prominent throughout the show. When someone kills themselves, it may be because of other people but ultimately, they choose to leave which in some peoples eyes is viewed as “selfish” because they are leaving a family who loves them and a life ahead of them. All in all, I do think that the show is romanticizing suicide but I think some people are straying from a main message of the book and the show (I think the show is overcasting the book which is not the best because the book is amazing). Hannah Baker craved loved and that is the one thing that she did not have. –Alexa DiFilippo

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  3. I am also among those that are so happy you chose to uncover this issue! Very well done- you outlined the complications surrounding this show very well. I like to check out all of the new Netflix shows when they come out, and one day I saw this show come up on my Netflix home screen. I was really excited because I knew about the sensationalism of the book, but with the show I was left feeling… uncomfortable. I watched one episode and didn’t return to it because it made me feel unsettled for all the reasons you discussed. I really, really appreciated you including the information from ReportingOnSuicide.org. You can tell from the very inception of the show that they do all of these things horribly wrong. They make a suicide a fantasy, and I think turning something so heavy into the plot of a show is just incorrect and insensitive. They glorify her suicide as you mentioned, making it seem like she got everything she wanted after the fact. I also really like how you covered the idea that it isn’t anyone else’s fault; committing suicide is a symptom of mental illness, not bullying per-se. The show makes it seem that way, and I think if they are trying to educate the youth of this fact, they are definitely doing it backwards!
    Awesome article overall, you did such a great job exploring this hideous show in an insightful way.
    -Bre Moran

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  4. I haven’t been able to get around to watching “13 reasons why” and when it first came out I heard that it was the best thing ever but then I started hearing that students in high school were all thinking about committing suicide which is the craziest thing. I do believe that you raise a god point with how they should have showed suicide in a different light because yes they are making it seems like its okay to do that and blame all of the people who bullied them. Though I do understand that it wasn’t meant to glorify suicide and that it was supposed to be a show that wanted to stop bullying and to tell others that you shouldn’t judge people or hurt them because you don’t know what they are going through. I think you did a really good job at pointing out what is wrong with the show and how the viewers should really take the topic more seriously. -angelica bitto

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  5. I like that you talked about the USA Today article and tied it in with the blog post really well. I think pointing out this idea is very important for the blog, and something many people (and myself included) don’t think of. This blog was really interesting and relevant and I enjoyed the things you talked about. -Zack Lander

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  6. While I haven’t yet watched any episodes of this show, I have heard nothing but good things about it – except from a good friend of mine who has dealt with anxiety and depression on his own in the past. Your blog pretty much hits on every problem that he had with the show, and backing up all of your statements with information from organizations that try to prevent suicides added real poignancy to your arguments. I liked that you also weren’t simply making the observation ‘this show is a damaging representation of suicide,’ but you leave your reader with a suggestion for how people can educate themselves about the issue in a healthy way.
    -Chris Towles

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