Why “Thirteen Reasons Why” Scares the Hell Out of This Teacher

Some days are so much harder than others. I’m sure you know what I mean. Today, I feel so defeated. Today, the lives and struggles of some of my students are really weighing heavily on me.

I want to point out that I have neither read nor watched a single episode of the show Thirteen Reasons Why. Even before it became popular enough to be a Netflix series, I didn’t think it would be the kind of book I would be interested in. So, keep that in mind with what I’m about to say.

My students are obsessed with this show, and that worries me.

Let me explain why.

I understand that the show brings to light a lot of issues about bullying, and I will agree that it has seemed to cause several of my students to think about the things they say and do to each other. I acknowledge this as a positive aspect of the show. However, one thing that I absolutely cannot get on board with is how it glorifies suicide.

In case you’ve been living in a box the last couple of weeks, or just don’t have any chance to interact with teenagers at all, I’ll give you some information about this show. The premise is a high school girl has committed suicide before the show starts. That’s the main reason why I didn’t think I would like the book. The ending is given away at the beginning, and it’s a bad ending. There’s no hoping to save the girl. She’s already gone. She’s left behind 13 cassette tapes; all personalized to a different person who she claims is part of the reason she committed suicide.

I get the allure of the show for my kids, but think about this. This show gives impressionable and impulsive teenagers the idea that you aren’t really “gone” after you die; that you can live on through a giant “F*** YOU” to all the people who you believe have treated you poorly. Surely you can see how this could be dangerous, right? The truth is, once you’re gone that’s it. I believe in an afterlife. I believe that those who believe that Christ is the Son of God will go to heaven when they die. But I don’t believe for a minute that the girl in this show is in any position after her death to care about the tapes she left or the people she left them for. I also don’t believe it’s smart to give kids the idea that the best way to get back at people who’ve wronged you is to kill yourself and then leave them a message explaining how it’s all their fault.

I’ve had students who attempted suicide before, and I’ve had other students who seriously considered it. And these are just the instances I know about because these students felt comfortable talking to me. I bet there are tons of other cases I haven’t heard of. I tell my students all the time that I want them to feel safe with me. I want them to feel like they can be honest with me and to understand that I am here for them. But I also make sure they know that I am not a trained or qualified counselor or therapist. Not only that, I am a mandated reporter, which means that I am required by law to let someone know if I believe they are a danger to themselves or someone else. I’ve had to tell counselors before when students tell me things that concern me, and I’m always honest with the student and explain who I’m telling and why. So far, in the few situations that’s happened, the student has understood.

I have no business counseling someone about things this serious. I’m barely qualified to write my opinions and share them on the internet. The only thing I know to do is something that I try to do every day. Something I hope my students see in the way I interact with them. And I want to talk directly to my students right now – all of you – whether you’re mine now or you were in my class before. You’ll always be my kids.

So, to my kids…

I love you.

Seriously. It sounds crazy and over the top, but it’s true. I love you all. I love watching you come into my class every day. I care about what’s going on in your life. I want you to pass (even though sometimes I know you think I don’t). I love following you on social media and seeing what’s going on in your life after you leave high school. I love watching you succeed.

I know that it isn’t always easy. I know some of your lives are very hard. I know some of you struggle every single day. Please understand, I see you. I see that you struggle, and as much as I wish I had the magic words to help and make everything better, that just isn’t how the world works. All I know to tell you is that I love you and I want so much for you. I want you to know and fully understand that you have someone in this world who gives a sh*t. It’s me. I care what happens to you – good or bad. And I can guarantee I’m not the only one who cares.

Know that your teacher leaves work crying sometimes worrying about you. About all of you.

Understand that there are people in the world who love you.

Be able to recognize when you need help and get help. And not from me, from someone who is qualified and trained to help you.

I’m just an English teacher. That’s all. I’m nothing special. My expertise lies in literature, grammar, Harry Potter trivia, Disney movies, and general ridiculousness. If you’ve been in my class for any length of time, you know that I go out of my way to always be honest with you; to tell you the truth, even if that means admitting I don’t know the answer.

I don’t have all the answers. I hardly have any answers.

The only answer I have is Christ. Cling to him when you have nothing else to cling to. Read verses about love and about his plan for you.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” Jeremiah 29:11

This is what I believe, that each and every one of you has been created by an Intelligent Creator; by the Lord and Savior of the universe. I believe that He has a plan for you, and that plan includes hope and a future. When you are struggling to love yourself, find comfort in the love of Christ, because he loves you even when you don’t love you.

Please don’t see this show and think that there is anything edifying about suicide. You will leave so much pain, heartbreak, and loss in your wake if you choose to take your own life. It is nothing like a TV show. No matter how desperate you are to just escape, there is someone out there who will be left just as desperate by your loss.

Please know that you are all important to me. You are all precious to me. That doesn’t stop when you leave my classroom. I wouldn’t do this job if that weren’t true, and you know I’ve never bullsh*tted you before, so I’m certainly not going to start now. I say this all the time, but a teacher’s salary is not enough to keep me in this job. I love it and I stick with it because of you.

You guys are all worth so much, and some of you don’t even realize it. I see you get frustrated and down on yourselves when things don’t go the way you wanted or expected. I see how hard you are on yourselves. Sometimes it’s merited. We need to be critical of ourselves because it’s the only way we grow. But I wish you could see how much better life can get once you get out of high school. It’s fun, but there’s so much more.  Life gets so much richer the further along you get. More difficult, yes, but more fulfilling.

Everyone who follows this blog knows that there are 5 things I love most in this world: my God, my husband, my family, my students, and books. I believe you can glean so much wisdom from books, so I’ll end with two of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books, The Help.

“Every day you’re not dead in the ground, when you wake up in the morning, you’re going to have to make some decisions. Got to ask yourself this question: ‘Am I gonna believe all them bad things them fools say about me today?’ You hear me? ‘Am I gonna believe all them bad things them fools say about me today?’ You hear me today? As for your mama, she didn’t pick her life. It picked her. But you, you’re gonna do something big with yours. You wait and see.” – Constantine Jefferson

“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” – Aibileen Clark

Don’t believe any of the bad things them fools say about you today, whether those “fools” are voices in your own head or the voices of others. You are stronger than that, I promise.

6 thoughts on “Why “Thirteen Reasons Why” Scares the Hell Out of This Teacher

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  1. Yes, this show was recently mentioned on the news here in New Zealand. It was discussed that this sort of show isn’t what teenagers need. New Zealand is in the top 5 countries when it comes to teenage suicide. I have watched the first 2-3 episodes. Thats the way of the world at the moment. Most news is bad news. I try to encourage my children to watch the 6pm news, but when it’s all negative, I’m in 2 minds.

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    1. I know, it’s crazy. I don’t think the show is inherently bad necessarily, but I do worry about what message my students are taking from it. I’m terrified that they’ll think suicide is a viable option if they want to get back at someone.
      Thank you for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. 13 Reasons Why has been a much discussed topic around our house in the last few days, especially after my fourth grade stepson saw it advertised on Netflix and asked if we were going to watch it. I would recommend that every adult who has contact with children either watch the show or read the book – or ideally, do both. There are pros and cons to both mediums, but considering the unstoppable viral interest, it is worth picking up the book, which is an incredibly quick read.

    I’ve read the book multiple times starting when I was in high school, when it was first released. I most recently read 13 Reasons Why in August, a few days before starting my student teaching semester. Rereading the novel from the perspective a parent and an educator was once again, an eye opening experience.

    While I can understand some of the hesitancy and caution against the show, I don’t believe that it necessarily “glorifies” suicide (I have one episode left, so I can’t say how the show handles the actual suicide scene). Hannah’s tapes are the equivalent of a suicide note, only this time it is passed around to the people who contributed to her decision. Clay (the main character who receives the tapes) does have an unrelenting crush on her, but goes through many feelings of anger about her decision. I think the show does an even better job of examining the consequences on the people left behind than the book. There are scenes that depict what “could have been,” that are jarringly ended with a reminder that they will never happen because Hannah is dead. We see the affect that it has on her parents who are left distraught, confused, and in an even worse position than when they started (which combats the thinking of “everyone will be better off if I’m gone”). While some of the characters express remorse about their decisions, there are still many characters that don’t feel they are at fault. This story even deals with the façade of friendship when people pretend to be friends with the deceased.

    However, regardless of anybody’s feelings about whether 13 Reasons Why is good or bad, the biggest reason adults should be reading and watching this show – is because the kids are watching this show. When my fourth grader recognizes the name of the show and mentions that his classmates are talking about it, I know that I need to be on top of the information he’s receiving. I’ve read many articles that encourage parents to block this show and book, because it could elicit negative feelings in students. However, I think it would be best to educate people how to interact with their children after watching or reading 13 Reasons Why. Considering the viral nature of this show, it is unavoidable that tech savvy children will find a way to watch it. The discussion about this show should be to focus on how parents and educators should interact with their children when the inevitable happens.

    We definitely won’t be allowing our fourth grader to watch or read this anytime soon. But for now, I’m happy my husband and I have watched and discussed our ideas about this show and how to handle similar real life issues.

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    1. Thank you for your comment!

      I think you’re absolutely right that we should be aware of and familiar with the shows/books our kids watch/read. For that reason, I feel like I need to watch the show – although with a move coming up this weekend and the end of the school year approaching I doubt I’ll have time until this summer. #teacherlife am I right?

      I appreciate your viewpoint on all the positive aspects of the show and the issues it points out. I think you’re right about the fact that it shows just how hard suicide is on the people left behind. I just hope my students who struggle with suicide see that instead of everything in the show that makes suicide look like a solution. Or – if nothing else – a way to get back at anyone who has hurt them.

      Thank you for reading! And again, thank you for commenting. Your perspective is helpful and enlightening.

      Like

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