Contributed by: Elena Carey, Development Coordinator
CONTENT NOTE: This blog post discusses suicide and other sensitive topics.
Here at GEN, we believe girls are powerful and we help them believe it, too. We help girls take charge of their story and live in a way that feels true to themselves. We want girls to know their worth. We want girls to identify their own values. We want girls to choose how they live and live long lives. We want them to respect others while they’re living these long lives and engage with people who respect them in return.
13 Reasons Why has caused a tremor in the world of youth work and shown kids and teenagers that one way to take charge of your story and demand respect is suicide. We disagree and yet some of the girls we work with have discussed the show with wonder and appreciation. For those unfamiliar, 13 Reasons Why is a Netflix show released on March 31, 2017. The show’s based on the eponymous young adult novel and the story follows high school student Clay Jensen, his peers, and community members as they cope with the suicide of their classmate, Hannah Baker. Immediately before her death, Hannah leaves 13 pre-recorded tapes, each detailing one person who failed her and ultimately contributed to her suicide. The students listen to the tapes in turn and discuss how to deal with the fallout. Sexual assault, stalking, self-harm, bullying, and teen drinking, are featured in the show, to name only a few of the tough topics covered. The show has been a phenomenon and watched by many. While some youth have celebrated the show, the mental healthcare and youth services communities have not offered as warm a reception.
Overwhelmingly, parents, teachers, school administrators, youth social workers, and mental health professionals have voiced concerns and warnings about the show. Most warnings center on the idea that the show glamorizes suicide – both as a way take revenge on others who have hurt you and as a way to share your story, leave the world while telling people who you really are. A recent NPR article details dissent of the show, including this statement by the National Association of School Psychologists:
“We do not recommend that vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation, watch this series. Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies.”
We’ve heard girls talk about how good the show is and how meaningful it is to them. Our program staff has witnessed how the show resonates with many girls; the girls feel that 13 Reasons Why understands the true high school experience. We’ve also seen that our programming makes a difference in how girls process the show. When younger girls (elementary to middle school age) bring up the show, they may initially speak of it highly. However, our Program Coordinators are able to facilitate a more critical lens as they bring up topics they’ve covered with the girls, including healthy relationships, body positivity, stress management, basic group guidelines on how to respect one another, and more. In our high school girls, we more often see that our girls are equipped to navigate conversations around the show. One Program Coordinator noted that in a high school 180 group, the girls brought up the show and without prompting began discussing how some of Hannah Baker’s relationships were unhealthy and what agency she had to engage with people who truly supported her.
Ultimately, 13 Reasons Why demands thoughtful dialogue with youth. It often cannot be processed by a teenage brain in a healthy way without guidance. We see that teen girls are already susceptible to so much harm, without the addition of media that sentimentalizes suicide. Yet GEN is here to help them know their worth and find their power. Here are 13 reasons you want the girl(s) in your life engaging with girl experts like GEN:
Watched in a vacuum of discussion and guidance, 13 Reasons Why can cause harm. With support from the right people, it can also serve as a great catalyst for important discussions. With a second season on the horizon, now is the time to enroll the girl in your life in GEN programming.
(1) Dove Campaign for Real Beauty
(2) Science Magazine, 2017
(3) Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 2016
(4) Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013
(5) The Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 2011
(6) Pediatrics, 2012
(7) Lean In, 2013
(8) Girl Scouts Research Institute, 2012
(9) Dove Self-Esteem Fund, 2008
(10) Dove Self-Esteem Fund, 2008
(11) Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013
(12) American Association of University Women, 2013
(13) Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013