13 Reasons Provides a Teachable Moment (for Netflix)

13 reasons

When Netflix unveiled the first season of 13 Reasons Why last spring, the streaming service knew the show would be buzzy. It might not have understood the show’s sting.

Based on the book by Jay Asher and produced in part by singer/actress Selena Gomez, the show’s first season revolved around the suicide of a young high school student and dealt with such issues as bullying, depression and rape. It was a searing depiction, and one that Gomez—who says the book resonated with her deeply and personally—hoped would influence teens for the better.

“I would do anything to be able to have a good influence on this generation, but I definitely relate to everything that was going on,” she said during a Netflix event before the release of the first season. “I was there for the last episode, and I was a mess just seeing it all come to life, because I’ve experienced that.”

The show did indeed have a positive impact on some, according to a handful of studies. Doctor visits related to depression and self-harm spiked in the wake of the show, suggesting that some teens were, in fact, seeking help.

Online searches about suicide also rocketed, but not all were seeking help. “How to kill yourself” was one of the more popular search terms, and families of at least two teens who committed suicide blamed the show directly for the girls’ deaths. Many health experts also took issue with how 13 Reasons Why dealt with serious issues. They were particularly critical of how it depicted the main character’s actual suicide (which, notably, wasn’t dealt with in the book), with some saying it was nearly  a “how-to” illustration.

13 Reasons creator Brian Yorkey addressed the controversy surrounding Season 1 with USA Today a few days ago:

This is going to sound like a political answer, but I truly believe that all conversation is good. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t affected by some of the strongly negative reactions to the show, because it’s a show I’m very proud of. But in the bigger picture, positive or negative, there were really intense conversations happening, and many of them were not happening before the show. You can’t have that kind of impact without some real polarity in the opinions, and I’m grateful for all of it.

Those conversations were indeed intense, and a number of organizations jumped into the breech to help parents address them: Plugged In and Focus on the Family dedicated a lot of space unpacking the show’s issues from nearly every possible angle.

Now, with the second season just hours away, Netflix is trying to speak into those conversations itself.

The streaming service has issued its own updated discussion guide and a bevy of resources. It’ll also offer extra video content under the heading “Beyond the Reasons,” where cast members, producers and mental health professionals will address some of the issues raised by the series. Episodes will also include warnings that’ll caution viewers regarding the show’s focus upon potentially triggering subjects. Netflix obviously wants to blunt the criticism they received last year and, I believe, sincerely wants to help.

That’s great, as far as it goes. I’m assuming—or, at least, hoping—these materials will be updated further after the second season drops. (Most of the resources I’ve seen seem predicated more on the first season.) And I’m grateful that Netflix, albeit belatedly, is embracing a bit more responsibility this time around.

But while helpful, these resources won’t necessarily address all the concerns that Christian parents might have … or address them with a faith-based point of view.

That’s why Focus on the family will, again, be offering resources for parents to help them walk through whatever issues Netflix’s buzzy show might trigger. And Plugged In will be here, too, with a review of the full season just as soon as we can (beginning tomorrow).

None of this should be taken as a thumbs-up to watch 13 Reasons Why, of course. If the second season follows in the footsteps of the first, viewers can expect lots of sexual content, cursing and some really disturbing behavior. But if you and your family decide to engage with this show—or if your kids engage without you—we’ll be there to help however we can.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.