’13 Reasons Why’ sends wrong message to teens about suicide

SHARE ’13 Reasons Why’ sends wrong message to teens about suicide

Cast members of the TV show “13 Reasons Why” surround producer Selena Gomez (center) at Paramount Pictures Studio in Los Angeles last month. | Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Commit suicide and you will make people regret they mistreated you, while assigning responsibility to others for your terrible decision.

That seems to be a key message underlying “13 Reasons Why,” a hot new Netflix television series based on a book of the same name.

It’s about how lousy life can be in high school. Adolescents all across the country are loving it and chatting it up on social media. It is captivating, entertaining and a critical success.


The story revolves around a pretty girl who commits suicide and leaves behind a series of audio tapes explaining her reasons. She names the people who did her wrong and her story is told in flashbacks.

In addition to the dead girl, the other central character is a painfully shy boy who loved her and is left heartbroken by her selfish behavior. I believe the suicide was selfish and a couple of minor characters in the TV show point that out as well, but the pervasive sentiment is that only insensitive louts would fail to obsess over what role they may have played in the girl’s death and how they could have saved her life.

There is much to be admired about the series, produced by pop singer and actress Selena Gomez. It hammers home the point that bullying hurts people. Abuse on social media can emotionally destroy those who are victimized. All of us ought to listen more to the problems of others and tell people we care about them.

Yada yada yada.

If that sounds callous, well, that’s the way we are. Most of us want to be good people, but we far too often fail. We’re focused on our own problems and want everyone else to care about us as well. We’re not nice.

The very idea of being polite and respectful of others is often mocked as “politically correct” behavior. People feel oppressed if they can’t demean others because of their race, religion, occupation, sexual orientation or a physical disability.

“Whatever happened to free speech in America?” they ask, as if the Constitution was primary designed to protect the right of Americans to belittle and humiliate their countrymen.

While “13 Reasons Why” tells us to heed warning signs that someone is in trouble, the teenager in this story isn’t always willing to express herself in ways that would make her problems clear. That’s real. That’s the way kids behave.

In fact, that’s the way we all act, refusing to share our deepest, darkest thoughts with others for fear they won’t understand.

It’s especially difficult to communicate effectively with people suffering from a mental illness.

There’s also a rape depicted in the TV series. The high school kid responsible doesn’t seem concerned at all. Actually, he seems to think it’s his right to sexually assault another person.

That’s awful. It’s criminal. It’s immoral.

But killing yourself really isn’t going to make anything better if you’re a rape victim, and it certainly isn’t going to make the rapist feel awful. In fact, he’s likely to celebrate because the person who could have put him in prison is now gone.

There are many reasons people commit suicide, but sometimes young people feel they can punish those who hurt them by ending their own lives. The truth is most people will pause for a moment and move on with their lives. That’s how we all keep going.

If teenagers watch this TV series, I think it would be a good idea for their parents to talk to them about it. They may even want to view it with them just to open up channels of communication.

While it points out a number of real life problems children face, I think the message that a suicide can have some sort of positive outcome is worrisome. It’s not the beginning of anything. It’s a dead end.


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