A Christian Response to “13 Reasons Why”

Wow, ok I had no idea how popular this show was until I started looking around on Goodreads. I have been talking about it with my *adult* friends, but now that I’m aware that a zillion teenagers are watching this show, I feel like I need to let you know why it’s not realistic. I am not talking about the book. Nor will I read the book.

In general, let me say that if you are a Christian, you probably won’t like this show. It’s full of bad words and other things that will make you uncomfortable. But that isn’t my main problem with it. However, I do think that as Christians we should become more educated about sexual abuse and depression. I don’t recommend though that you do so by watching this show.

If you are a teenager that is being teased and peer-pressured to watch this show, I’m going to lay it all out for you so you can talk about the show without actually watching it. Yeah, it’s that bad. There are some scenes I wish I could erase from my memory (and I counsel survivors of sexual abuse). I don’t think you should watch it. And if you still feel like you want to watch it after reading this, don’t watch it without your parents! Parents… if your teen wants to watch this show, watch it with them. Don’t let them watch it alone. Don’t let them deal with issues the show presents alone. Do your job as a parent, and be willing to be uncomfortable for you kid. If you won’t do that, who will?

Does horrible stuff happen to teenagers? Yes. Being a teen was my least favorite phase of life… I was bullied, expected to conform to what boys wanted as a sex image, a lot of junk happened that I would never tolerate now that I know better. People are selfish jerks, but I think you already know that. You don’t need 13 Reasons Why to tell you that.

This post contains so many spoilers. You’ve been warned.

Here is my version of the premise of this show. Hannah Baker is the new girl at school, and after being betrayed repeatedly, sexually assaulted, and ignored by the one adult she reaches out to, she decides to systematically call people out through a system of tapes. She asks a trustworthy person to distribute these tapes from beyond the grave. The show starts with Clay Jensen, the only guy who doesn’t deserve to be on the tapes, getting them. He isn’t sure how many other people have listened. You find out through the tapes that pretty much every teenager that Hannah trust or tried to be friends with made her life even more hellish. She gets betrayed so, so many times. Then something beyond horrible happens to her, she gets raped, by someone she watched rape her friend earlier. In the end she goes to her counselor and he tells her that maybe she’s just regretting a mistake she made. He also tells her that if she doesn’t want to tell him who committed the crime, there isn’t anything she can do. Hannah goes home, gets dressed in old clothes, and commits suicide by slitting her wrists. Clay exposes Bryce, the rapist, by getting him to admit to the rape on tape, and then leaving the tapes with the school counselor. The show ends with one of the kids who stalked Hannah getting ready to kill everyone who bullied him (he hides a zillion guns in his room and hangs up photos of the people he wants to kill), one of the other boys, Alex (Miles Heizer from Parenthood… one of my favorite shows ever), shoots himself in the head (though he doesn’t die, but is in the hospital), and Clay riding off into the sunset with another alt chick, Skye, his friend Tony, and Tony’s boyfriend.

As a writer, I have to admit that they way the did the POV in this show was awesome. The acting was stunning. But the writing… not accurate. At all.

She Ignored Her Most Obvious Support Group

The first thing I want to point out is that Hannah’s parents were awesome. Why didn’t she tell them anything? There isn’t one single reason why she wouldn’t have been able to talk to them. They were stressed with their store… that wasn’t a compelling reason for her not to tell them she saw someone rape her friend! That wasn’t a compelling reason for her not to tell them that her new “friend” from the poetry club published her very private thoughts for everyone to read. It is so stupid that she never confided anything to them, when they were good parents. They actually cared, and they would have been a great support system for her. In contrast to other characters, like Justin (whose mom was a drug addict whose boyfriend tried to kill Justin at one point), Hannah’s parents rocked. I really feel like this was one of the laziest things a writer could do… let me paint the picture so that the suburban family that cares about each other actually has the teenager that kills themselves. Real life is so much more complex, guys.

Before you start to argue, let me agree that yes, suburbanite teenagers who have caring parents still struggle with suicidal thoughts. I know from personal experience because I was one. But my parents weren’t really in a position to support me more… I believe God saved me by reminding me He loved me, even if no one else seemed to.

But people that struggle with suicidal thoughts don’t plan such elaborate schemes. And suicide doesn’t stop the pain, it only spreads it to your friends and family once you’re gone. It’s like a giant hole in them that never goes away (I’ve known parents of kids who have committed suicide, and it’s horrible, horrible, awful to see that always distant pain in their eyes no matter what is happening).

P.S.She spent all that time on the tapes and never once wrote her parents any kind of suicide note?! Totally unrealistic. Dumb. Annoying.

True Irony

The fact that people are being teased and excluded because they haven’t seen 13 Reasons Why is so ironic it makes me want to throw up. Or scream. Something dramatic because I just can’t even… If you have watched the show at all, you should understand that bullying is wrong. It’s destructive and creates hopeless and isolated people that don’t feel they have any resources. That part of the story they got mostly right (except for her parents, as I noted above). Stop it, okay?

The Counselor

I have seen many people criticize the show for displaying the school counselor as someone that isn’t trust worthy. “Never tell kids not to go to their school counselor,” is a pretty common comment, but I can’t criticize the show on that point for two reasons. First, I did the same thing in my new book, Kerfuffle (coming out June 2017 … for more details sign up for email updates). Second, the way the counselor responded in the show was actually pretty realistic. People often blame the survivor of sexual abuse/assault. The very first thing the counselor does when Hannah tells him she was assaulted is say something like, “Are you sure it wasn’t just a decision you regret?” This is probably one of the worst things you can ask someone who is already dealing with trauma related to sexual abuse because trauma messes with memory. Remember that false reports of sexual abuse make up less than 2% of ALL REPORTS. Then when she says she doesn’t want to press charges he tells her she just has to pretend like it didn’t happen (I’m paraphrasing here). No, no, no! Why didn’t he encourage her to share with her parents so she could get professional help?! *zoom in on me beating the television with my shoe*

We need to have better systems in place for survivors, and that includes better education for school counselors and parents (and pastors… but that’s for another post). I have another blog where there is an entire section dedicated to helping those who have survived abuse in case you’re interested.

Instead of 13 Reasons Why

If you want to talk about the themes in this show without watching it, I suggest going over the lyrics of “Gun For Hands” by twenty one pilots with your kids, parents, friends, whatever.

If you want to watch a show that has the same themes of 13 Reasons Why without the gross misrepresentations of suicidal behavior, you could check out Veronica Mars. I am NOT saying it’s a wholesome show. But it’s definitely less traumatizing than 13 Reasons Why. And also, Kristen Bell and Enrico Colantoni.

If you have experienced suicidal thoughts, reach out for help! There are people (like me) who understand how you feel and what you’re going through.

(In fact, you can email me right now and I’ll write back as soon as I can kristin.n.spencer[at]gmail.com)

Suicide isn’t the answer. And planning out some way of punishing people that have hurt you and *then* committing suicide definitely isn’t the answer. I think the main bummer about 13 Reasons Why is that is glamorizes suicide (I’m not the only one who thinks this). If you’ve watched the show, in the end, do you think Hannah’s tapes did anything to change the people on them? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

If you want to know more about the only way to find healing, fulfillment, and hope, check this out (spoiler, it’s about Jesus).

A Note to Christians: You don’t even have to watch this show, but the conversations happening around it are a great opportunity to share about the hope we have in Jesus Christ.

Happy reading… or viewing…

Kristin