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13 Things I Learned Watching 13 Reasons Why : One Mom’s Perspective

As a parent of young kids, one of my favorite things to do when my kids go to bed is to binge watch a series on Netflix.  Add in some take out meals and it makes for a cheap date night any day of the week.  So when all the buzz about ’13 Reasons Why’ started circulating around the internet I was curious, so my husband and I started watching this controversial show together. 

The show tackles many dark, adult issues that school-aged kids today may be facing.  My purpose is not to start a debate on any of these hot topics or tell you to either watch it or keep it from your kids.  Rather, I aim to inform a parent who has only read a few reviews, mostly about the mature content, about some of the other things I observed about the show that does not pertain specifically to bullying, violence or mental health issues extensively covered in the series. 

I feel that as a parent and an adult, I have free will to watch what does and does not upset me.  For parents of children, the network provides maturity ratings that can be controlled in your account if you so choose.  In fact, there are a ton of devices on the market now to control all forms of technology for your kids.  I also respect each parent’s decision to show their children what works best for them and their family. 

My approach is to always watch something first, so I am prepared to tackle tough topics with my child as we watch something together.  This gives me the ability to process an emotion naturally provoked by a show or movie myself.  Then I can talk to my children about it with a more controlled and level-headed approach.  That is just my personal preference when it comes to censorship with my kids.  I don’t think I have it in me to properly mourn Han Solo when Kylo Ren finally takes him out in The Force Awakens, then manage questions from my kids about what just happened.

I did walk away with many observations as a parent after watching 13 Reasons Why. 

School today seems to have a lot of the same issues it had back when I was in high school 23 years ago.  There was bullying, there were mean girls, mean guys, clueless parents and teachers, drinking, drugs and parties.  What we didn’t have back then was social media, cell phones, the internet, real time information and cameras everywhere. When someone didn’t like me, they had to tell me in person, which could take days.  If something crazy happened at a party, the news spread pretty slowly, since it was all by word of mouth. 

There were some major differences kids today face, though, that I noted and while I know they exist, it’s hard to imagine the impact these difference can make on our youth.  Sometimes seeing a story about it can trigger thoughts I have never even imagined as an adult. 

After watching the series, I am glad that as a parent, I have had some exposure to how the times have changed before my kids enter into their middle and high school years.  Being an informed mom can help me keep open the lines of communication I have started early on with my kids that will be going in to second grade.  It can also help me be more alert and aware of things that may be going on in my children’s lives.

The general plot is about a girl who left 13 reasons why she chose to end her life, and she narrates the stories on cassette tapes that are heard by her classmates.  So there is a side A and a side B story about different people, challenges, and various traumatic events that surrounded this individual’s life.  This leaves her classmates in a state of wondering how things could have been different, opening a lot of mature conversations about how kids treat each other.    

Here are 13 thought provoking things I learned while watching 13 Reasons Why:

1.  This show has great writing.  To watch it unfold made me think about my own children and the way they perceive the world around them. 

Side A ::  The characters are interesting despite their personality flaws.  I was truly invested in the characters.  Some kids seem to be the result of an absence of parenting and some have a supportive family life and obviously wanted to do the right thing.  They were just not emotionally equipped as teenagers to handle some very adult situations. 

Side B ::  I was often left wondering where the story was going.  Was the main character, Hanna, lying on the tapes about things that happened with her peers?  Or was the story some dramatic interpretation of how she perceived events?  Eventually, you find out, so no spoilers from me.

2.  Coffee shop hangouts are still awesome.

Side A ::  Several scenes in the show were shot in a coffee shop, “Monet’s.”  I love that there is a safe and public place where kids can gather.  There was a positive atmosphere for kids to actually go out and personally interact, the way we did when I was in high school.  I think meeting friends face to face is so important for teens bonding over communicating mostly via cell phones.  For younger kids, I interpreted this as lots of play time with friends and less technology to pacify them. 

Side B ::  Do kids really need to drink coffee these days?  I realize the token grumpy barista character served more than coffee on occasion, but overall it had me wondering.  I am not knocking a sassy barista.  In fact, I love them.  I was one for many years in college.  But are our kids staying up too late?  Are they over-scheduled and exhausted?  Are subjects at school harder with more homework?  I don’t think I started on coffee until well into college. 

3.  Hearing teens talk in proper English was a nice change.

Side A ::  There is a lot of dialogue among the kids that sounded educated and was pretty impressive.  It’s refreshing to hear kids speak the way we did before “text speak” was commonplace.  I purposely don’t use slang in front of my small kids yet.  There is plenty of time for them to learn that later. 

Side B ::  The foul language in the story is pretty mature.  It makes me sad that the kids were throwing around so many obscenities just to express basic thoughts and sentences. 

We need to try harder to get our kids, who will eventually be entering the workforce or college, to talk like they are educated and can handle themselves.  Don’t get me wrong, I have been known to cuss in some (okay, a lot) circumstances.  But I don’t in front of my children.  Ever.  If I can’t control myself and my actions, how can I possibly tell them they need to?  They need good examples of polite disagreement and constructive resolutions.

4. The soundtrack of the film was a fun aspect.

Side A ::  Majority of the music is old indie/new wave music that used to seem intense when I had some preteen angst, but is overall pretty benign in comparison to today’s music.   The fact that I loved the soundtrack dates me because I didn’t think most kids even knew half of these bands.

Side B ::  I am amazed at the amount of vulgarity or objectification that is often the topic of current, popular music.  My personal choice is active censorship with my children, who are 7, so we stick to iPod or other CDs in the car that are not necessarily today’s hit music that gets regular radio play.  Also, nothing is cuter than a kid that can sing every word to a David Bowie song.

5. The diverse relationships portrayed in the series are nice to see.

Side A :: I loved seeing real life relationship mixes in the show.  I come from a community with a culturally and racially diverse population.  We see these same demographics out when we go to the store, the park or other public places in my neighborhood.  The show did a great job at showing all types of family types and dynamics and I was happy to see that these reflect some realistic relationships today. 

Side B ::  The students and their parents portrayed in the series did show there is still an elitist mentality in school that exists and that the outcast kids are still socially awkward and often picked on.  As a mom, I aim to have my children learn gratefulness and be kind to everyone, even if they don’t have much in common.  I also take it a step further and tell them to speak up if someone is mistreating another person because it’s the right thing to do.

6.  It was great to see some kids trying to right a wrong.

Side A ::  In a generation that often seems preoccupied with themselves, it’s nice to see some people just trying to do the right thing.  Integrity is something we should all teach our children. 

Side B ::  Sometimes the mature topics covered in the series would be better navigated in real life with an informed adult.  All the more reason to be involved in your kids, their friends, their devices and account passwords and the places they hang out.

7.  Cassette tapes, maps, and biking around town are still being used.

Side A ::  The enforcement of primitive devices used in the series was an interesting concept we don’t often see in shows today.  The main character records on cassettes and people use paper maps to bike around town.  No Google maps for them.  It made me giggle when one kid asked his dad if he had, “that thing that played a tape,” as if it was some archaic item.  At some point a kid has to put in a lot of effort to acquire a Walkman, going as far as to “borrow” one from a friend without his knowledge. 

Side B ::  Today, kids can ask Alexa or Siri anything.  It is important as parents that we teach them other ways they can gather information.  Remember when we had to learn the Dewey Decimal System to find out information contained in a book?  On a shelf in a building, we had to walk into?  Now, there is a ton of information, much of it not even factually correct, that is available to out kids on their phones, tablets, and computers. 

8.  Tell your truth.

Side A ::  Even if no one agrees with you.  I’m kind of an uptight mom in a way that I don’t feel comfortable just leaving my kid somewhere with other people who I really don’t know well to watch them.  If new people are going to be around them, I want to know more about those people and I still want them supervised by a trusted adult.  It’s cool if other parents or kids think I am weird.  Overall, I feel the more you know about your child, the people around them and their surroundings, the better equipped I will be to keep them safe and help them make good decisions.

Side B ::  Liars are mean.  Every day I try to instill the idea in my kids that even if something goes wrong, to just come tell me the truth.  Accidents happen.  I don’t want to raise my kids to feel like they have to lie if they make a mistake or there is an accident and that they need to own up to their actions.  Children need to know they can come to their parents and tell their truth, and that the parent will love and support them. 

9.  In any conflict, everyone around you does not have it all figured out.

Side A ::  Our children’s brains are still developing to maturity well into their 20s.  Parents need to help step in and make logical and thought out decisions with our kids to help them solve bigger issues.  We need to be informed about our children to make good choices, right? 

Side B :: This show had so many different, mature events and these kids all were scared.  No one knew what to do and rather than talk things through, each kid went at each other and often fought, both verbally and physically.  It’s hard as parents to admit when your child has made a bad choice.  It’s hard to get over the initial reaction of anger when something goes wrong, but as a parent, I try to be my children’s biggest advocate and remember that we are all human.  We can figure out a solution together. 

10.  You don’t always know what is going on in other people’s lives.

Side A ::  Each character and their parents’ personalities varied drastically.  Some of the A Group kids had very sad home lives, which does not make their actions excusable.  Some of the nicer kids had traditional home lives but still felt like there was no line of communication with the parents.  As a parent, I aim to be understanding of all people and less judgemental.  I hope my kids see how I treat others and pick up on some ways to be open to people’s differences. 

Side B ::  The quote “Don’t be an unhelpful Yoda” made me laugh out loud.  No one needs an unhelpful comment.  If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.  All kids should know this and all parents should be modeling it to their children.  That is a simple one.

11.  The idea of a peer review for school punishment was interesting.

Side A ::  In the series, the school had a peer review team to settle conflict.  When I was a kid, you went straight to the principal’s office and the punishment was laid out in a student handbook code of conduct.  I thought it was great that the kids were made to communicate what they thought should be the resolution to the problem, in the presence of teachers, even if they were not involved in it.  As a parent, I always try to have my kids resolve a lot of their own minor conflicts in an attempt to get them to build on that skill into adulthood. 

Side B ::  The Communications Class in the show’s school talked about a lot of different topics facing kids today vs. when I grew up.  There was a lot of talk about feelings and actions.  I don’t remember that being the topic of my Communications Class.  The teacher in the school had students make “compliment bags” where kids can anonymously leave compliments or nice comments to people which was a good concept on generally being nice, but when someone has an empty bag for days, it can lead to hurting or a feeling of isolation. 

12. You can’t change other people, but you can work to change yourself.

Side A ::  Some of the kids who had a traditional family life felt like not only did their parents not see them, the parents did not see the child seeing them.  One very sad moment for me was when the main character was headed out to a high school party that she was hesitant to attend, and obviously wanted her parents to talk her out of it.  The parents were just kind of scurrying around the kitchen making dinner, so they were just too involved with their current task to see their child reaching out to them.  Our children want our attention and involvement, even if they act like we can be embarrassing as parents.  Kids flourish in structure and with rules and routines. 

Side B ::  Wondering about what you may be missing out on can lead to rushed decisions or regrets.  Sometimes we may think our children may not be developing at the same rate as others or that some mom has all her stuff figured out.  There needs to be less competition among parents, because I promise we all have bad, unorganized days–or weeks.  Our children will survive. 

13.  No one knows for certain how much impact they can have on the lives of other people.

Side A ::  It takes little effort to be nice or smile, and costs nothing to pay someone a compliment.  Do it daily. 

Side B ::  Words can hurt.  Think a negative comment through before saying something or posting something.  It it kind?  Is it helpful?  Maybe the best thing is to just say something supportive, or nothing at all. 

While I do miss the days where a boy would stand outside your window holding up a boombox as a sign of affection, it’s a fact that times are changing.  Parents need to evolve with the technology and times and take an active role in our kids’ social lives.  The series does give some insight into school life today and I have no regrets as a parent that I watched the series.  In fact, I had fun watching it with my husband and discussing our own school experiences since we didn’t know each other back then.  It’s nice to have a mature conversation about current events that do not involve our own children.  I’d highly recommend it, but heed the parental advisory before deciding this is something you want to watch and discuss with your kids. 

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