13 Reasons Why

13 Reasons Why

Thursday, 22 June 2017  | Karissa - Assistant Principal - Secondary
Children and young people today are growing up in a challenging culture. A culture where technology reigns supreme, where media has a greater influence than ever before. A culture where young people are confronted with adult concepts long before they are cognitively or emotionally ready. So how do we respond to this? 

Do we ‘lock the doors’, unplug the Wi-Fi and tether our children to ourselves in order to ‘keep them safe’? How do we avoid the temptation to bury our heads in the sand, turn a blind eye and remain naïve to what is happening in the world around us?

You may recall an Editorial last year where I spoke about our Guided Exposure Policy at MECS: ‘We do not merely shield students from sensitive issues, but seek to develop discerning hearts and minds.’ Our calling as parents (and as teachers) is to unpack understandings, challenge distortions, and reflect and flesh out spiritual truth. We have been given the task of raising children who do not ‘need’ parents or teachers - guiding them from a state of complete dependence to a state of complete independence. ‘Our job is to do our job so well that we no longer have a job’. 

There has been much discussion in the media recently about a very popular Netflix series called ‘13 Reasons Why’.  For those unaware, ‘13 Reasons Why’ is a TV series aimed at a teenage audience, which presents a range of confronting, and potentially upsetting or even damaging material including bullying, sexual assault, self-injury, sexting and suicide.  It is a story about a high school student who commits suicide and leaves behind thirteen audiocassette tapes, each with her voice naming and describing what thirteen individuals did to lead her to take her own life.

Whilst one key message of the show is that ‘actions have consequences; bullying can hurt others and lead to despair’, what is more far-reaching than the show’s intended ‘message’ are the various themes and issues that are portrayed in a harsh and explicit way. There is much debate over the validity of presenting these issues through a series such as this, and whether doing so is helpful, or could in fact lead to trauma and distress.
As Headspace (National Youth Mental Health Foundation) suggests, ‘concern is for the potential risk the series poses to the wellbeing of young people. As many young people have watched, are currently watching or plan to watch the series, it is important that teachers and parents are aware of the risks associated with the content, and are prepared to discuss these risks with the young people who have been exposed.’

Although there would be a range of views within our community regarding how to deal with the show and its content, I do not endorse the show, nor do I encourage anyone to watch the series. I write this editorial to encourage you, to discuss this program, and the issues it raises, with your children1. Only then do we have an opportunity to present a countervailing message - a message of hope and of truth. 

As Daniel H (Focus on the Family Vice President of Parenting and Youth) suggests, ‘The fact of the matter is that a willingness to address difficult issues and live with a certain amount of tension is critical to positive, effective parenting.’

Now, more than ever before, when the world is ‘normalising’ these behaviours (sexual abuse, self-injury, sexting and suicide) through popular culture, our young people need to hear and know that there is always hope and that there is always help. God’s love for each and every one of us is never ending, no matter what. Every person is intentionally created in God’s image, with gifts and potential, and every person is worthy and deeply loved.

So when a popular tv series is presenting ‘13 Reasons Why’ a young person might choose to end their life, we need to be presenting 13 Reasons Why Not...
1.    You belong.
2.    You are worthy.
3.    You have a gift.
4.    Life can change in an instant (it won't always be this way).
5.    The big picture is much more than all the details.
6.    These storms will help you grow stronger.
7.    Your story is still being written.
8.    God’s beautiful story is still being written.
9.    God cares about your pain.
10.    You are noticed.
11.    There is a reality beyond your perception.
12.    You can be a light.
13.    There is help and healing.  

1A number of resources are available to assist you to be informed of the key issues and concerning content that your child may have been exposed to. Two resources that I highly recommend include:
    ‘Parent’s guide to 13 Reasons Why’ – produced by Focus on
     the Family.
    ‘How to talk to Young People about 13 Reasons Why’ –
     produced by Headspace.
(Both of these resources are available for download using a Google search.)

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