In This Together
Last year we sent an email to all Years K-12 parents relating to the Netflix series “13 reasons why”. It is not a programme recommended for younger viewers but we did learn instances of Primary students accessing the series via siblings, friends and even their own mobile devices. The series addresses the serious and difficult themes of suicide, sexual assault and bullying. There was an extra-ordinary amount of commentary about the series in the media ranging from experts in mental health to opinion pieces, some more helpful than others. The second season of “13 reasons why” was released on Netflix last Friday afternoon and we thought it would be helpful to revisit some resource material for parents (some newly written for this season) and encourage an informed and aware conversation with your daughters rather than an alarmed or reactive one. Netflix has made greater efforts to give warnings of graphic content and themes at the beginning of certain episodes, as well as directing viewers to resources for seeking help at the end of each episode. We hope that you find this next communication about the second season helpful.
I have just finished watching the second season and understand its appeal as a fictional piece of viewing on relevant topics that affect young people. The acting is excellent, the story moves at a cracking pace, the soundtrack is great, and the script is easy and fluid. The second season adds substance abuse and an undercurrent of (potential) gun violence to the themes of suicide, sexual assault and bullying. And yet despite the colour and the contemporary appeal, my reservations from the first season still loom large. Again, I felt a discomfort with the omnipresence of the protagonist who takes her own life in the first season: I felt it crudely under-represented the finality of suicide. My other primary concern was the lack of help seeking on the part of young people in the programme and the absence of trusted adults.
As an educator, I think the saddest part of the show is that it grossly underestimates young people. It repeatedly paints them as weak, lacking any good judgement, and at times morally bankrupt. For younger viewers, it paints a bleak and scary picture of being a teen. Pulling out mobile phones and recording people’s most humiliating moment with no empathy appears to be the norm. Every girl (every woman, in fact) suffers at the hands of boys (or men). There is monumental suffering built through ongoing secrets and lies. With little exception, the characters are largely bystanders to either abhorrent or criminal behaviour, hardly any of which is reported to trusted adults. There is limited display of fortitude or leadership. The magnification and concentration of all the hard parts of life is not unique to this show. Some might even say it is the key ingredient of a good drama, however unrealistic it might be.
School is pitched as the enemy. There is an inescapable and destructive school culture of labelling that minimises the human spirit and dooms every individual to failure; everyone is ‘tagged’ and sentenced to fulfil their role, as determined by others. There is no personal agency and very little encouragement thereof. The impenetrable barrier between generations could have some young people convinced that adults either don't care or have no idea. There is no nurturing, no care, no attention to or celebration of who people are, either as individuals or as a community. Almost all relationships are devoid of trust.
We want to advise parents that some young people might be potentially impacted or triggered by this show. It is not a programme about destigmatising mental health. There is in fact very limited treatment of mental health which comes a distant second to the serious and heartbreaking themes of suicide, sexual assault, bullying, substance abuse and gun violence.
In my time at SCEGGS I have had endless conversations with young people who have displayed strength through expressing their own vulnerability, strength through facing their own fears, strength when seeking the help of experts and adults who care, strength amid a trying adversity, strength in sharing their worries about a friend, and strength in being true to themselves. I hope we never underestimate young people.
Several resources have been sent to schools to help educators and parents have conversations about the themes, even if not the show itself.
Please do not hesitate to be in touch if you are worried about anything at all, or if you would like to discuss the programme. We will be sure to be in conversation with girls about their impressions and thoughts of the programme as the need arises, and more importantly continue to keep conversations about mental health transparent and supportive at all times.
It might be helpful to keep these numbers on your fridge at home and discuss the support networks available to young people:
- Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) or kidshelpline.com.au
- eHeadspace (1800 650 890) or eheadspace.org.au
- Lifeline (13 11 14) of lifeline.org.au
Director of Pastoral Care