Just like Hannah's character in the show I have had less than desirable images of me circulated among my peers, I've been 'slut shamed', experimented sexually with the same sex resulting in rumors, I've been raped, witnessed and participated in criminal activity, I have failed my parents time and time again, as well as attempted suicide on more than one occasion. Unlike Hannah, I failed to complete the task and for that I am eternally grateful. I related to her character in the deepest of ways yet I was not triggered, I felt that the show gave people like me a voice and an accurate portrayal of the pain that has been inflicted and the heavy weight that we carry. Maybe I wasn't triggered the way that others have been because I have experienced healing from my past or maybe its because nothing really shocks me after all that I have lived through. If even hearing about this show causes you to be triggered, I would recommend seeking therapy for those unbearable pains and traumas of your past.
Now I want to share my 13 observations and reasons why I think we need to look past the vulgarities and grit of this series and allow it to change us and the way we look out for others.
1. We are in the world. This does not mean we need to be of it or repeat the content portrayed in this series but the truth is, these things are happening all around us. We cannot simply plug our ears, cover our eyes, and live in a sheltered bubble. Homeschooling our kids and throwing away our televisions will not protect our kids from the terrible things in our world either. The more we can learn about what is happening, the better we can prepare our children to navigate the trials in our fallen world. How can we prevent things that we are not even knowledgeable of? Your teen will most likely find a way to watch this show and if not, they will hear descriptive details about it from other kids. Kids are tech savvy at downloading and removing apps in the blink of an eye, it's not that hard to log into a friend's Netflix account or to watch it on a friends phone at school. Kids can be sneaky, even really good kids with hyper vigilant parents. It's important for the perspective of this show to be delivered from your mouth to their ears. You want your voice to be the dominant one. If you simply say, 'don't watch it' or start listing all the reasons why it's bad show, based on all the fb posts from other people who haven't seen it either, your child is not going to hear you and you will only make them more curious. Consider 'taking one for the team' if you are in good mental health and binge this series, hopefully you will finish it and have some serious discussions with your teen before they form their own opinions based on watching it without your knowledge.
2. We need to know the warning signs. How do you know what to look for if you haven't been made aware? This series did an amazing job at accurately portraying the escalation process that leads to suicide. As the saying goes, 'Would you rather learn in the sanctuary or in the storm?' Although the language and actions in this series are anything but what you would find in a spiritual sanctuary, I think for the sake of our teens and loved ones that it is better to learn from a fictional series than to miss the signs and go through the real life storm at home. Although this is a fictional series, many people are living an identical reality every day so we can't simply discount the lessons portrayed in this show.
3. Rape happens everyday and many women don't even recognize it as rape. I've been raped by at least five 'men', I have no doubt that there are still experiences that I have blocked out or do not remember. None of these sexual assaults were violent. They never left bruises, never held me down, I never said no. The guilt and shame that I lived with for years stemmed from my lack of understanding about what consent really looks like and how rape affects women at the core of their being. Can you be raped by a boyfriend that you have consented to in the past? YES. Can you be raped by a spouse? YES. Can you be raped by a guy that you actually really want to have sex with but find that you were never given the chance to consent before the rape occurred? YES! Rape is not always violent and aggressive and actually involves people you know, love, and care for more often than it does a stranger. How do we know these things if they are not talked about? The scenes that depicted rape in this show were hard to watch, this is no reason to turn a blind eye to the reality that so many woman experience each day. If only we would shed more light on rape, especially non violent rape, then maybe more women would come forward in strength and courage and fight for justice and to prevent their rapist from harming one more woman! How can we advocate for this is we are unwilling to first be made uncomfortable in efforts to better learn about it?
4. Kids don't always show us what lingers below the surface of their demeanor, even when we ask the right questions. This series shows quite an accurate portrayal of what teens may experience even in the most wholesome home environments. Teens who have kind, supportive, loving, and attentive parents can still be at high risk for suicide. As Hannah's character shows us, teens want us to dig deeper. They want us to catch them and uncover the things they're involved with which are harmful to them. They want us to find out about secret relationships and abusive friends, they want us to run and chase after them and not settle for the default answer of 'I'm fine'. Although it is unrealistic for them to expect us to be mind readers, if only we would be more aware of what they are facing, then we would have a head start on investigating their secret places and be more knowledgeable of the open ended questions to ask them. If we don't know about the slang terms, popular apps used to sneak around online, or common trends regarding drugs, alcohol, and sexual exploitation, we won't know what to warn them about or how to protect them.
5. We need to teach our kids how to identify and report criminal activity. In 13 Reasons Why, Hannah witnesses the rape of her unconscious friend. Later on she is with a friend who ends up hitting a stop sign and fleeing the scene, as a result there was a fatal accident at the intersection. She was also the victim of sexual exploitation and bullying via a cellphone image being circulated. Although you could tell she wanted to do something about these issues, she just didn't know how. Had her parents ever taken the time to discuss what to do if she were to ever witness or fall victim to these things? Maybe her parents never entertained the idea that their daughter would ever be in an environment or situation to be exposed to such things, after all they raised her well and sheltered her. Same goes to us as parents. Do we share current events that involve teens with our own kids? Do we take the time to discuss scenarios and role play problem solving tactics? How will we even know that particular types of problems exist in this generation of youth if we close our eyes and plug our ears because the F word is so offensive? Yes, we need to desire purity and wholesome talk in our lives, we need to be cautious of what we expose our hearts to, but I also say AT WHAT COST? If we know its happening, even to the kids in our church youth groups, even to children of spiritual leaders, then maybe we ought to absorb a few F bombs on behalf of awareness. Talk to your kids, role play, and present scenarios. These conversations need to take place and this show gives some extremely sobering reasons why. Our kids may roll their eyes or blow us off but they do hear our words and if we are willing to have these conversations before a crisis happens, they are more likely to come to us if and when they need help.
6. Our kids need us to see and hear them, especially when they are doing a good job of being invisible and quiet. Are we so absorbed in our own problems that our kids don't want to burden us? I know I have been guilty of this and it took some very scary things happening to one of my children to open my eyes back up so I share this info from a position of regret and experience. With that, this show gives us a unique insight into the teens perspective of having parents who are too busy or stressed out. These are good parents but they have responsibilities. If Hannah had gone to her parents with her serious issues, I have no doubt that they would have stopped the world from spinning just to show her they cared. They would have been attentive and taken the proper course of action to protect their daughter but she didn't go to them because they were so stressed about their own stuff. As a recommendation it's best not to discuss financial concerns or marital problems in front of the kids. Take time each day to check in, share the positive things going on in your family from the adult perspective, invite them into your world in ways that their teen mind can grasp. Celebrate the positive milestones as a family and if you have to tighten your belt a little due to a low pay period or an unexpected expense like needing new tires don't complain about it in front of your kids. We can often see the tangible things we worry about like bills and job security as more important than whether or not our teens have a date to the dance or if passed a test. Their brains function on a different maturity level and their problems may seem small or frivolous to us, but to them their issues are astronomical. We can't compare the size or importance of our kids issues versus our own, we just need to be available to them and they won't come to us if they feel as though their burden will be what causes us to sink in our own waterlogged ship. This does not mean that we hide our problems or pretend that all is well, its just an encouragement to be real with them in age appropriate ways and allow their maturity level to catch up before we reveal too much of our own problems. We need to be their safe and stable place. For Christian parents, we can take this a step further to show them who our true Rock is. We need Jesus and He is our source of reassurance and strength. May we never be too busy or consumed to be the first source of stability for our overwhelmed kids and may we eventually transition them to seeking Christ first as He is the ultimate problem solver.
7. If we don't know what kids are doing, how will we know what to protect them from? This series exposes many awful things that are taking place right under the noses of involved adults. This show depicted many teen characters as having involved parents and teachers. They still missed things as we are likely to miss them as well if we don't know what to look for. Teens today have the ability to capture digital images and send them out within seconds. This means that our kids can also receive unwanted and unsolicited images, potentially even child pornography. They can even delete those images but I promise you, they will stay on your phone and if any further investigation is done, those images can be uncovered and your child can be charged with child porn. Us parents NEED to know this stuff and educate our children on how to proceed if they receive an image on their phone. Kids can also download apps and remove them within seconds, we need to know what's out there and randomly check their devices. Digital bullying allows faceless accusers and this creates temptation to participate in behavior that is typically out of our children's normal character. Photo shop and snapping pics at odd angles can allow for innocent images to be tweaked to look like inappropriate content. So many kids are gaining more access to drugs and alcohol and with more and more families having two working parents, there is often less supervision at home. I am not against two working parents, my husband and I both work and we are so blessed to have a work from home option for most of what we do but not all parents have that option.
We also need to provide accountability and a way out. Every time we drop our kids off, we need to ensure that they have the means to contact us in the event that they need us to pick them back up. We need to develop code words so they can ask for help without provoking other kids to tease them. Also, we need to do a better job at following up with our kids and providing accountability. My daughter recently had a friend stay the night and she said that her friend was going to pick her up at my house to take her home and that her dad was okay with it. I told her that I needed confirmation from her dad that it was okay and shortly after I got a text saying that it was her dad and that it was okay for her to get a ride home from her friend. I didn't accept that, I called the number and verified that it was really her dad. I would never want to send someone else's child out of my door and assume that the parents were really okay with it only to find out that they were not and heaven forbid an accident occur. We NEED to know where our kids are at, who they are with, and what they have access to. Even then they can still find ways to sneak around and make poor decisions that can snowball out of control way too fast. We must remain vigilant, aware, and informed. This show did an excellent job of covering what our current youth are facing, may we be willing to be educated and may we strive to find ways to allow them the freedom they need to grow into their own person while preserving their innocence and protecting them from harm.
8. When we see the end result of missing the signs without actual real life consequences then we are more likely to prevent those things in real life. We must not take these education opportunities for granted, even when they are hard to hear and see. I love the saying 'experience is the best teacher, if you can afford the tuition.' In this series, the experiences are tragic and the tuition is fatal. The characters are played by actors, no one was raped, or committed suicide in the making of this show but what this show depicts is very real. Being a fictional show does not discount the awareness it spreads. As I stated above, I have lived the reality that this show depicts and actually even worse, and the only part in the show that I found to be slightly off as far as accuracy goes was the mom's reaction to finding her dead daughter in the tub. You see, I found my mom's dead body in a bathtub, I have reacted to such an awful discovery in real life. To critique her performance, I would have have gone one of two ways. Either a much more frozen, can't move or speak, shock or a more hysterical frantic reach in and pull her out kind of thing. For me, it was the second, although my mom was fully submerged under the water unlike how Hannah Baker was depicted with her head and shoulders still upright. Other than that, this show was spot on, nailed it, accurate. We can experience these things vicariously through the show without the tangible consequences lived out in our lives. We can gain the insight into all parties involved, the victim, the peers, the predators, the parents, the teachers. We don't have to go through it ourselves to glean the wisdom we will need or to see the red flags that we so desperately need to keep our eyes peeled for. When we shy away from this show for the sheer reason of language and content, we are casting aside one of the greatest 'text books' offered today in regards to being educated on the issues plaguing our youth.
9. We need to be more invested in knowing who our kids are friends with. Each time during this series when a kids told Hannah's parents that the knew her, they were shocked. They had no idea who her friends were. The show depicted so many events where she was with many of the same kids but her parents never even knew them. We need to be involved. We need to meet their friends. Our kids have a rule that they are not allowed to program anyone's phone number into our household cell phone until we meet them face to face. This creates an urgency for them to introduce their friends to us. If they won't meet us, that should speak for itself of their character and interest in our kids. Before they go to anyone's house, we have to meet their parents. Although I am kind and welcoming, I am blunt. I tell them that they are not allowed on social media profiles and that I do not want any images taken of them. If my oldest wants to take pics with her friends then they can use her camera that does not have the capacity to upload anything to the internet. If the parents or friend acts strange about it then I'm not going to allow my kids to spend much time with them alone, they can hang out at our house all they want, under our rules and supervision, but I am very selective of the environments I send my children into. This show depicts how little Hannah's parents knew about her friendships. Being able to witness the lack of involvement from the outside looking in helps us to be more attentive in our own families before it's too late. We are not control freaks and for everything we say no to, we strive to offer alternatives and our reason for saying no. I give my children plenty of space and I give them freedom to fail in safe environments so that they can learn to pick themselves back up. We give more room until we see warning signs then we pull back in and have some deeper talks, we've got to implement balance and stay involved.
10. The chain reaction of the events in this show can be fatal when combined. We may be doing many of the things on this list quite thoroughly and well, but if we are not aware of the signs of some of these things, then when combined we could have a way bigger mess on our hands than we can realize and address before it's spiraled too far out of control. It's not just the seemingly inappropriate image being circulated and she knows the truth, what he said happened, didn't. If it was just the one rumor, you can overcome that. If your best friends ditch you, you can find new ones, it's not that big of a deal, after all you are a likable person and they are the ones missing out on your friendship. If it were just witnessing a couple of crimes take place and you had an open dialogue established with your parents, you will probably feel safe to open up to them and feel protected when coming forward with information, especially if they already knew where you were, and with whom you were with. Keeping a few secrets now and then doesn't necessarily drive anyone to suicide so those things alone can be dealt with in time. Rape is awful, it is violating, traumatic, demeaning, and sometimes paralyzing but if you have a solid support group you are more likely to move forward into healing then to give up in despair. When a counselor just can't read between the lines and make you feel heard, you move on to someone else. But when you have no one else because of the series of events that have unfolded, like in Hannah's life, then you just can't take one more thing. It was the combination of all of these issues that left her feeling void. Watching these events unfold offers unique insight into compounding issues. It's not just this or that, its the combination that creates the perfect storm. What is the cost of choosing not to see the realistic portrayal of what the perfect storm looks like? It's not always obvious, it's often very quiet, discreet, masked over, and then BAM it's too late.
11. Some people will never change, regardless of how they negatively impact your life. This show does a good job of following the reactions of those that Hannah listed as her reasons for killing herself. It really exposes why we shouldn't make impulsive decisions based on other people and what they happen to be like at the time we make said decisions. Some kids had genuine remorse, they wish they would have been kinder or made better choices. They didn't see their negative impact until it was too late. They couldn't go back and make it right but they were driven forward to do better. The producers did a great job of showing that the teens who fell into this category did so on their own, not only because of Hannah's death but because they were already in the process of making changes before she died, therefore not justifying tragedy for positive change but showing the reality that if only we held out longer, the people who have hurt us may just come around and make things right. They also focus on another set of peers. These ones really have no remorse for their actions that led to Hannah's decision to take her own life, they only care about no one else finding out so they don't have consequences. If her goal was to make them pay or get them back, it didn't work and that is a message that our teens need to hear. Some people will be jerks no matter what, may we not be consumed to the point of our own suicide with wanting them to change and may we not sink to their level in efforts to pay them back. The series also depicts another scenario, the domino effect. When remorse and grief hit so hard, some may feel so bad for what they have done and they can't apologize to a dead person, therefore they may also attempt suicide and that is exactly what happens with another character in the show. Had Hannah stuck around longer and this other teen been allowed to go to her and ask forgiveness and make amends there could have been healing and restoration but that was denied and its a brutal load to carry and this show revealed what that looks like. At the very end of the series it also alludes to yet another teen who is stock piling weapons and ammo, my guess is that he intends to go after the bullies at school. Because of what Hannah shared about him doing in her tapes, he started being bullied, rather than harm himself, the show leaves us feeling as though he will take it out on them which is still not the solution. Once again depicting that when we have a 'pay back' mentality and we remove the option for healing, forgiveness, and even criminal prosecution of those who harmed us, we are the ones who pay the price, not them. I don't understand how this message is being confused as to condoning or promoting suicide when it was made so very clear.
12. This show is all about perception. Just like a car accident on a street corner. There are so many witnesses and they saw it happen from a different angle and perspective, so will we all see this show. My perception of this show, through the lens of surviving the nearly identical experiences that Hannah went through, is that this is a show about awareness. Hannah poured her heart out to someone who hurt her deeply and she watched as he crumpled her letter up and threw it on the ground, only he didn't. It was revealed after her death that he still had the note and it had meant something to him, he felt bad and took her words to heart but it was too late for him to communicate that to her. She was convinced that Clay, a guy who totally loved and respected her, hated her, he didn't, yet she pushed him away because of her perception. At one point Clay is in a conversation with a guy who tells him, 'You know that I'm gay, right?'. Clay had no idea. Clay was dense, he didn't pick up on things so here was Hannah hoping at all costs that Clay would pick up on her needs, he didn't. That wasn't his fault or anything but she followed her own deceptive feelings rather than waiting around for the truth to emerge or being very direct in expressing her needs. Perception is an awful thing at times and it's honestly hard for me to see how people don't see the clear messages in this series, even the producers commentary lined up with the exact things I perceived as I watched it. I was able to see what they intended to present yet so many are not. My husband said that its because I have live it so I see differently, I responded by telling him that we can all see it without living it if only we can choose to see through the vulgarity. I'm sure that many people will frown on me based on my my opinion and perception of this show. How can a Christian woman, a pastor's wife, support such a controversial, vulgar, and gritty series. I support looking at things from all angles and sharing information based on experience, perception, and facts. My experience, perception, and the fact that these things are legitimately happening all around us is what compels me to speak up about the validity of the message this show is trying to portray. They could have shared it in a different manner but as you will see in my 13th observation and reason, it just wouldn't be the same or fair to the real life victims that these issues address.
13. It is ugly, uncomfortable, and shocking. In a conversation with my husband about this series, he said that they could have made the show without the cussing, the rape scenes, or the graphic suicide scene (he has not seen it FYI). In that moment I felt some righteous anger well up inside of me. This is actually what drove me to write this blog post because I, along with many other survivors out there, NEED people to be more aware. Saying, 'I' really care about what happened to you but when you tell ME how you feel, would you please sugar coat it for ME so that 'I' feel more comfortable and so that MY ears don't have to hear those words and so that 'I' don't have to envision what happened to you because 'I' just don't like how that makes ME feel.' Who is this all about anyways? It has taken me 15 years of healing to develop a healthy filter but back in the day when someone asked me how my mom died, they got the full blown description of how I found her body. They didn't really want to know that but in my traumatized condition, if I started telling the story, I would relive it and couldn't stop the triggering process until I finished it. It wasn't something that I did intentionally to be gruesome or offensive, it was something that I subconsciously did for ME. It made it real for me each time and each time it became more real, a little more healing took place. I'm so sorry if what I lived through is unpleasant to YOU. Pardon me. I don't think people realize how selfish it is to hold the position of requiring victims to alter the realistic events that happened to them into stories that sound better on other peoples ears. I compared this to a children's animation of Jesus' crucifixion to that of the depiction in the Passion of the Christ. The passion of the Christ is straight up gory. A kids animation with a tiny red drop of blood falling is not. It is not healthy for a child to see such graphic imagery, it can literally cause problems in the development of their brain and cause mental health issues. But if an adult only ever watched the kids animation version of the crucifixion, they may be like, 'Well my sin must not be so bad if Jesus got a paper cut for me.' No, when we see Jesus whipped, his flesh torn off with the chunks of glass embedded in the leather straps, the crown hammered into his scalp, and to see him held down as nails are driven through his wrists and feet, it really causes us to take a long hard look at our sin. Even in the movie, his lower region was covered, in real life he wasn't. How humiliating. He did that for us.
If we want to perpetuate the cycle of suicide then we should keep telling people that we can't really handle hearing or seeing what they have been through. I mean if we can't handle hearing about it in accurate descriptions then how are they supposed to LIVE with it? Imagine a small child who has been rescued from sex trafficking being questioned by the police about what happened to them and as the child begins to give descriptions of the crime the officer stops them and says, 'can you use a different word for that private part because that's kind of vulgar sounding' or a doctor examining the child saying, 'I don't want to look between your legs to see the damage that has been incurred through these assaults so just describe your injuries to say that you have an owie where you go pee pee, it just makes me too uncomfortable to see it'. After I watched all 13 episodes in this series I also watched the producers commentary, they were accompanied by the therapists who helped work on this series. In the script for the episode where Hannah was raped, the camera man was directed to zoom in on Hannah's face and leave the camera rolling just a little longer than what was comfortable to see. BINGO. It is so uncomfortable to watch and it should be. It is so uncomfortable to listen to a rape victim describe their experience but who is more uncomfortable, the person who is reliving the nightmare or you who only has to hear it? Can we not bear this burden with them? Can we not lay aside our own comfort for a few moments to share in someone elses experience so that they can spread awareness in a realistic manner?
Over the years I have alienated myself from a lot of people because I don't have much of a filter. I share descriptions and details that are uncomfortable, not intentionally or for the shock value but because it needs to leave my head, I can't keep it all in, its just not healthy. When you have seen what I have and experienced the pain and trauma of the events, such as are depicted in this series, you just can't keep it to yourself. If you do, it will ultimately lead to substance abuse, self harm, promiscuity, and even suicide. Is this where we really want to drive people through our unwillingness to be exposed to a few choice words and some graphic descriptions? I mean we can't just go around telling people to water down their stories for our own comfort. Yes, this series is fiction, it was not based on any one true story but I guarantee you this much, it was the most accurate portrayal of so many people's shared experiences that I have ever seen, it may as well have been some one's true story, it was almost mine. Thankfully it's not mine but I will never turn a blind eye or plug my ears to others.
As I stand on this side of healing, I now work for a non profit founded by Former Planned Parenthood Clinic Director Abby Johnson. The ministry, And Then There Were None Pro-Life Outreach, reaches out to abortion workers in hopes that we can help them transition out of the industry and into hope and healing in Christ. We do this by offering them transitional financial assistance, job search resources, free legal counsel, emotional and spiritual support, and no cost healing retreats where they can open up in a safe environment about their past in a way that promotes healing. You can find more info here. I cannot begin to scratch the surface of the things I have heard, the descriptions of the terrible things that happen to women and children in these clinics and not one time EVER have any of our clients been told that we need them to spare the details to make it more comfortable for us who haven't worked in the industry. Because of the traumatic details I have heard from our clients, who have been allowed a safe place to open up and talk about their experiences, I have actually been mistaken as a former worker by other clients because I am so knowledgeable of the terminology and feelings surrounding having worked in the industry. One of my clients once told me that she was shocked when she realized I hadn't worked in the industry because she could tell that I 'got it', that I knew what she felt. I can never claim to truly understand but I care enough to listen to the raw and authentic experiences that my clients have been through. I quite literally bear their burdens with them and sometimes even recognize random things that most people would ignore as something that would trigger one of my clients. It has made me sensitive to their needs.
This series offers the same thing to us. I didn't have to work in an abortion clinic to understand the needs and traumas of my clients and we don't have to lose our children to suicide to find the warning signs. It is all laid out for us in this series and as a parent, teacher, or anyone who works with youth, I would ask you to consider watching it with the above mentioned observations in mind, so long as you are in good mental health. It is prevention and awareness first and foremost and we can never shed enough light on the topics covered.
If you have made it this far, I appreciate your desire to take in another opinion and perspective on this series. In closing, I want to follow up with a common misconception I am seeing online. Many people keep referring to Hannah as the main character of this series and that teens are tempted to follow her footsteps since she is the focal point, well Hannah is NOT the main character. Clay is and we would all do well if we were a little more like him. Sure, he is a teen, he is dense, doesn't always get things right away and even makes his own foolish decisions but he is ultimately portrayed as a heroic character and that is who the producers are emphasizing as the one to follow after. People are saying that this series glorifies and romanticizes suicide, it doesn't. As I already stated, my mom ended her own life in a bathtub and I found many similarities between my own experience and the depiction of Hannah's suicide and the aftermath to follow. The fact that Hannah's locker had no stickers or personal items inside of it, the fact that she didn't surround herself with rose petals and candles, the fact that she didn't put on the most beautiful dress and do her hair and makeup is the evidence that this was not glorified or romanticized, it was eerily accurate.
I hope that my perspective has helped you better understand what this series was intended to do, raise awareness, and that you will consider stepping into the shoes of someone like myself and the fictional Hannah Baker and be willing to hear our stories shared accurately rather than asking us to leave things out to make you feel more comfortable. Who knows, you may just save a life with all the knowledge you glean.
Read my testimony
Follow me on FaceBook
Invite me to share my story of Ashes to Beauty at your event: firstname.lastname@example.org