13 Reasons Why

A Message from the Rev. Whitney Fauntleroy

Content Note: Discussion of sexual assault, bullying, suicide, and mental illness.

By now, I am going to guess that you have heard of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, based on the book of the same name by Jay Asher. I do not know what I can add to the various conversations about the many themes in the series: sexual assault, bullying, shaming, suicide, mental illness, friendship. I do want you to know that I have watched the series. I do want you to know that I have read the book. I do want you to know that I am interested in the culture that our youth consume.

When I was doing youth ministry 4 or 5 years ago in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a few of my youth were really excited about the book. They told me I had to read it. I did. I had forgotten a lot of the details until I watched the show last week. The plot is painful. You know the end in the first episode. 13 Reasons Why is fiction, but it is fiction that really speaks to some of what youth deal with every day: being a teenager is hard. 13 Reasons Why reminded me of this. I think sometimes we can forget how hard growing up is because being a grown-up is so hard. When you are juggling family, career, finances, it can be easy to think about high school as care-free days of fun and friendship. For some, high school was just that, but for some high school (and particularly middle school) was painful.

So here is what I propose we can do with 13 Reasons Why as parents and adults who care about youth. We can engage it. Read the book, watch the show or do both. I think when we engage with 13 Reasons Why as a primary source rather than as something we read or heard about, we can then engage youth. If you can watch it with youth, talk about it with youth. Because it is fiction, use the characters and the content as conversation starters. 13 Reasons Why brings up some hard, deep, dark, and sad aspects of adolescence specifically and life more generally. Don’t be afraid to face them head on. Be willing to listen more than talk. Be willing to research on your own some resources.

I think the best thing about the new popularity of the show is that it brings things that are often hidden out in the open. I have my opinions after reading articles, listening to podcasts and talking to others about whether certain aspects of 13 Reasons Why are problematic or not and I trust you all may have come to your own conclusions. I want to offer my time and a listening ear to how we might engage with 13 Reasons Why as adults who love youth.