“13 Reasons Why”: One Christian’s Response
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Facebook is buzzing with it. Twitter is tweeting about it. The blog world is acclaiming it. The new Netflix mini series “13 Reasons Why” delves into the gritty issues faced by American youth and gives an honest look at the damage caused by bullying. Or so says the hype. I’ve even read that it’s “relevant” and “necessary.”
This post was originally published on April 23, 2017 and was recently updated.
Facts About Suicide*
Let’s start with some simple facts, okay? Then we’ll get down to the reasons.
- 30%-70% of people who commit suicide suffer from a severe mental or emotional disorder
- 80% of people who commit suicide give indications that they will before doing so
- Heart disease and cancer are the only two causes of death that end life prematurely more than suicide; Suicide is currently the 8th leading cause of death in our country
- Alcoholism greatly increases the likelihood of a person to be suicidal
- Nearly half of all completed suicides are men over the age of 45 who suffer from depression and/or alcoholism
And the most important thing: If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
This will connect you with a crisis center in your area.
This post may contain affiliate links.
Why We Won’t Watch the Netflix Show “13 Reasons Why”
As a mom, I’ve read every review and all sides of the debate about this show. I wanted to know what my teens might be hearing about from their friends, and to be prepared if they asked to watch the show. If you’re reading this, you’re likely pondering this same thing. I’ll admit, I’ve seen some very strong opinions, and mine are just as strong.
1. Glorifying Death is Not Okay
There are all kinds of studies about suicide, death, depression, and the impact they have on teenagers. I could give you scads of facts. But simply put, it’s not okay to make death look cool.
I know the point of the show (and the book it came from), and I disagree. Showing a locker with flowers and those honoring her death make it look like something precious. It’s not. And no teen should have in the back of their head that they will be honored that way as an incentive to end their life if they are struggling with it.
2. Revenge is Not Okay
Hannah (the protagonist in 13 Reasons Why) elicits revenge after her death. The Bible says that vengeance belongs to God. There is nothing poetic about post-mortem revenge, nor should it be confused with justice. It’s also not empowering.
Hannah chose the easy way out instead of facing the bullying, rape, and trauma of her life. Suicide was her way of escaping the harder act of learning to live with what happened and overcome it.
It’s cruel. It’s selfish. It’s not okay. And I don’t want my teens thinking anything about doing this is good or right or beneficial. It’s sinful; God says life is sacred and we all need to value life — even our own. End of story.
3. When You Die, You’re Dead
No matter what Hannah did before she died, she was still dead once she committed suicide. Reaching out to people through letters/videos/recordings wasn’t really reaching out; she never gained satisfaction or vindication or healing from it because she was dead. It literally served no purpose.
Again, I don’t want my kids to ever buy the lie that their death could be more significant than their life by committing suicide and pinning it on others.
4. Suicide Is a Choice
Now this one is a little dicey, I’ll admit. I’ve read varying statistics so I’m hesitant to pick one, but suffice it to say that most people who choose to end their life do so because of severe mental and emotional disturbances that could be treated.
The problem is that when your mind and your emotions are disturbed, you don’t always have the presence of mind to seek that treatment.
I am aware of the challenge here, and it breaks my heart. I’ll be honest with you: I don’t yet have an answer for it, but I’m praying like crazy for God to help people see those in their lives clearly and help them when it’s needed.
However, suicide is a choice. I’m aware that many people who are contemplating suicide are doing so because they see no other choice, but I want to encourage you. You can fight for your healing, your wholeness, and your future and not let the evilness of others and what they do to you overtake you.
Hannah had a choice, but it is one that breaks my heart. Personally, I believe it was the wrong one because God says that life is sacred. Hannah chose to focus on 13 reasons why life wasn’t worth living (people who had failed her), instead of seeing herself as more than enough reason to fight for life.
But she was. And you, if you are considering suicide, need to know that YOU are valuable and your life is precious.
Could the choice Hannah made in the movie be in part to how others treated her? Yes, absolutely. But is it their responsibility? Ultimately, it was her choice alone.
It was also a permanent choice.
And it breaks my heart that that same choice is made in real life, not just on the screen. It’s heart rending, and we need to reach out to those in pain.
5. Grief Isn’t Sensational…& Shouldn’t Be Sensationalized
Think about the child who misses a parent that killed themselves. Or a sibling who is left without a brother or a sister. Or a friend who grieves for decades that they missed the signs. The grief of those left behind is not something that should be sensationalized in a sitcom.
Grief isn’t universal either; everyone processes it in their own way and in their own time. Suicide is not a victimless crime, nor is the only victim the one who chose to end their life; those who go on living have a lot to overcome.
Check out this post, written the parent of a child who committed suicide and see what is said about this show being not only dark, but dangerous as well.
6. Showing Rape Is Not Necessary
Rape happens. I hate it. I hate that the devastation that this crime causes is deep and unfathomable; it’s one of the most traumatic experiences my imagination can think of.
And because of that, I don’t want my children to have a vision of it in their minds because Netflix views it as relevant or necessary or a way to sell subscribers on their sitcom.
Rape is revolting, and they are turning it into entertainment. Despicable.
Children, teens, adults…no one needs to watch and imagine rape to understand its depravity. No one.
7. Depicting A Suicide Is Not Necessary
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says that, “Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death.”
Do you want to see that happen as a result of this show? I don’t.
The Netflix mini series “13 Reasons Why” depicts in horrifying detail the way Hannah gets a weapon and then uses it to end her life. It shows how she lays there, waiting to die.
I don’t need to watch that, and my children certainly do not. I’m in shock that we live in a society in which this is viewed as “relevant” and “necessary.” I can’t imagine that there are those who would argue it is beneficial, and yet I’m seeing it.
8. Those Behind The Show Miss the Point (or at least a critical opportunity)
The writers and producers behind “13 Reasons Why” can do a lot of things, and still miss the point. They can produce a show about rape, suicide, and bullying. They can put a legal disclaimer/warning up that it contains graphic content. They can paint adults as at fault and failing the protagonist.
But you know what they can also do?
They can share resources for those who are suffering from depression. They can share resources for those contemplating suicide. They can show less graphic pictures of violence and victimization, and more productive ways of helping people who have been impacted by those things.
They can stop painting adults solely as failing a girl in distress, leading to teens mistrusting those who are available to help them. They can show resources and professionals and give hope, if they are hell bent on producing a show with this issue.
But they didn’t choose to do those things. They chose to show 13 reasons for a teen girl to kill herself, and offer no hope to other teens who might be watching and battling suicidal thoughts themselves. It’s deplorable for them to miss that opportunity, if they are going to insist on creating “entertainment” in this genre at all.
However, even if they did take those opportunities, I would argue that it is not a necessary, relevant, or beneficial subject to watch on television. Why? Let’s continue.
9. Watching This Desensitizes Us To It
The American Psychological Association (APA) shares the impact of watching violence on television:
Children may become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others.
Children may be more fearful of the world around them.
Children may be more likely to behave in aggressive or harmful ways toward others.
The APA also shares the danger that “exposure to media violence can desensitize people to violence in the real world and that, for some people, watching violence in the media becomes enjoyable and does not result in the anxious arousal that would be expected from seeing such imagery.”
I know it’s an obvious thing to say, but we do not need to be desensitized to violence, rape, or suicide. The content of “13 Reasons Why” isn’t being presented to stir our hearts; rather, science proves it will further harden them. If anything, our hearts need to be stirred to compassion for those with depression and mental health issues so that we can love them more.
A TV show is not going to do that. Prayer, education, and relationship will.
10. 2 Timothy 1:7
The Bible says that God hasn’t endowed us with a spirit of fear. Instead, as His children, we have been given the spirits of power, love, and a sound mind.
Yes, Christians can and often do suffer from depression and even mental illness. However, we do not have to succumb to those things. We can emerge victorious. We can avail ourselves of godly counsel, professional counseling, and even medical intervention.
Instead of watching “13 Reasons Why” with our teens to spark conversation about relevant and realistic issues, we can read the Bible with them and talk about how critical it is that we know the truth. And that we share that truth with those we love, with those who desperately need to meet Love Himself.
Love changes lives. TV shows that show graphic violence do not.
11. Philippians 4:8
Scripture is pretty clear about the things that we are supposed to dwell on. Very little on TV fits these standards, and so this one applies to so much more than just “13 Reasons Why,” however that’s what we’re talking about today.
We must ask: Are we teaching our children to watch things that God would approve of, or things that violate Scriptural guidelines?
According to the apostle Paul, we are supposed to think on things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, and virtuous. Nothing about revenge, rape, suicide, bullying, or violence fit these standards.
Our mind is not supposed to dwell in these places, as it would if we were to watch a show that unfolds them and imprints in our mind images that will stay there much longer than the length of the show.
Talk about the issues? Certainly. Discuss the importance of treating others well? Undoubtedly. But dwell on them? Not at all.
12. Human Life is Valuable
We live in a time where life isn’t valued as dearly as it ought to be. Babies are aborted under the guise of choice. Murder headlines the news so frequently that we accept it instead of grieve it. People are sentenced to the death penalty for heinous crimes and we often feel safer knowing they are not going to hurt our loved ones, rather than grieving their eternity in hell.
We live in a society that finds watching suicide on TV entertaining, necessary, relevant, and even financially beneficial.
That should disgust us. It should outrage us. We should be grieved. “13 Reasons Why” should bring us to our knees in prayer. And repentance.
13. Parents Are Called to Disciple Their Children
The cry of the church should be loud and united over this issue. We should be turning to Scripture to see if this (and every other program we allow in our homes) is beneficial to our children.
We should be crying out to God, grieving that this happens and asking what an appropriate response to these issues are…without sitting down and calling them entertainment. We should be guarding the hearts and minds of our children, rather than imprinting these images on their minds.
I believe that God has placed me as mother of my children to guide them, protect them, teach them, love them, disciple them, and train them up in the way they should go.
I believe this because Scripture has told me so. That means that it is up to me to teach them to love people, to value life, to respect all humans, and to live in a way that honors God. It’s not the job of Netflix, the author the book “13 Reasons Why”, or social media to instill values, morals, and a conscience in my child. It is MY JOB.
Stop Letting Culture Tell Us What Is Relevant
One of the things that has disturbed me the most about “13 Reasons Why” is how even the church is calling it relevant. We were never meant to let the world tell us what is relevant to us; the Bible does that.
It’s not suicide that is relevant; it is the brokenness of the human heart and our need as the church to reach out to the broken.
It’s not rape that is relevant; it is teaching our sons to honor women, it is men loving their wives like Christ loved the church, and it is Christ-lovers reaching out to women who have been mistreated and covering their shame with a blanket of grace, mercy, and love.
It’s not bullying that is relevant; it is first living in our lives and then instilling in the lives of our children the love of the Gospel.
It’s not a sitcom, series, or movie that is relevant; it is the authoritative Word of God that is timeless, eternal, and True.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
This will connect you with a crisis center in your area.
*Suicide facts taken from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/suicide
Please also check out this Counselor’s Response to 13 Reasons Why