I was not really compelled to watch 13 Reasons Why Season 2, but I could not ignore some of the commentary about the graphic nature of the show this time around. (This time round!? It was pretty freakin graphic the first time round! )
I decided that I should, for the benefit of Talking Teens community, watch the show and give you my thoughts.
If you recall, I was not against the first season. I was on the team of ‘needing to bring these issues into conversations’ camp, although I could clearly see the reasons for the ‘this is nothing but a contagion risk’ camp. I watched it after my teens had, and they hovered in the back ground to make sure I was ok as they knew I was going to lose my shit during certain episodes. As shocking and in your face as it was, the main emotion I was left with personally was how sad it was that parents missed opportunities to talk to their kids, and how when they did try, the conversations never actually led to a proper conversation and drastic outcomes followed. I am an advocate for youth suicide to be discussed and acknowledged, but as I said, also understand the copy-cat risk. To be honest though, we can not ignore it or pretend it is not happening just because it scares us. If it didn’t scare us then something is very wrong!
On a side note, the Season 1 was actually a great tool for us personally as a family. When only months later one of my teen’s best friends took his own life, we were able to use the show as examples of ‘when I ask are you ok, are you answering like XX character did?’ - to have a tangible example to 'fall back example' was very handy as often my son could not articulate in words how he was feeling, but could associate with the character. Again here, would like to remind that my teens were older teens, not younger.
This brings me to the first of my main concerns of Season 2: who is watching it? Season 1 certainly became infamous and I am very aware that it appealed to both the younger and the older teen age brackets. Was it suitable for younger teens? Not sure. But with very open communications, close observations from parents, and the individual maturity of younger teens, it could be ok. But I am concerned for the younger teens for Season 2. It seems in this season they wanted to push the boundaries a little further by covering other ‘key teen issues’. Obviously the first season’s main theme was suicide, but Season 2 seems to try and shove a whole platter of serious, confronting themes in our faces.
From premeditated life-threatening bullying, (I mean full-on bullying), to teen pregnancy, sexual assaults, social injustices, drug use, mental health, stages of grief, guns and the superficial attitudes towards ‘helping kids’ by schools, the themes are many and varied and very graphic. It is a friggin smorgasbord of seriously shitty stuff. And that, I think, is one of the problems; trying to shove so much into one storyline. It is confronting in so many ways that the watcher almost needs to desensitise to be able to watch it - which is dangerous.
I would question how a younger teen would be able to watch, process and understand these incredibly serious issues without needing to default to numbness (often disguised with a disassociated/blase attitude). This I think is concerning. Exposing younger teens to concepts they can not cognitively or emotionally cope with should be a strong factor to consider and one of the reasons I would not advocate the shows suitability for.
However… the follow on from this is that Season 2 is exactly the type of show the younger ones want to watch because of the edginess and in your face themes!
I challenge any parent that says “well I won’t let my daughter/son watch it’ to consider their (the parent’s) naivety, and that your young teen WILL watch it somehow if they want to. If you ban them from watching it, they will hide the fact they have from you. And then, if they need to talk to you about it, they won’t because they already know you told them not to! As much as I would not want a younger teen to watch it, I think that parents should ‘keep the door’ open if their younger teen wants to watch it and even try and watch it together, (make it a condition to watch it together).
In a nutshell - is it suitable for younger teens? No. But that means nothing.
The second thing that I was really upset about is the message about being the victim of bullying. There is a character who, whether you like him/feel sorry for him/or dislike him, is undeniably a perpetual victim of bullying. In Season 1 we saw him being bullied, in Season 2 it escalates outright assault (one being the infamous scene that has upset the majority of viewers). The thing that I really hate is that this kid and his parents try really hard to implement ways in which he can overcome the bullying. He makes friends with a new group of people (something we parents advocate and encourage our kids to do if they are victims of bullying), and he tries new things (again something we encourage), he empowers himself (in ways we would not advocate but the concept is something we would still encourage), and he even goes on a course that is based around building inner strength and self control measures (again, something that we as parents would think is a good thing).
But it all still turns to shit for him.
I was so upset that all the measures that we as adults would want to put in place for our teen if they were victims of bullies all still ended badly for the character. I wanted to yell at the TV and say “NO! Don’t make me feel even more helpless as a parent in protecting my teen by showing me a situation where all the ‘right things’ do nothing to help!” Maybe it was staying in line with the show’s overall message that there is a messed up social injustice in the world: the rich guy wins, the coloured victim still loses, sexual assault victims have no justice, the weakling kids will be picked on, the sporty popular guys will always get away with shit, that teenagers can be arseholes.
I can’t say I enjoyed the show. It saddened me as much as the first but for different reasons. My default is that perhaps it is more indicative of American culture where the ‘jocks’ are portrayed as the group that can get away with anything, and that guns are a means of empowerment - both concepts that make me sick. Maybe I was just disarmed by there not being any ‘good’ outcomes for almost all the characters (apart from Hannah who was finally ‘let go of’ by her mum and Clay). As a parent, as a member of the human race, I would hope that this ultimate message of ‘things will still turn to shit no matter what you do’ is a gross mis-representation and one that is worth pointing out to any younger watcher of the program.
Maybe for some it is a close representation of their reality? Who am I to say? If a viewer can relate to any of the themes, as many sadly could, then I hope that the message they do hear loud and clear is the warnings and the resources that the show promotes at the beginning and end of every episode. As I have said many times, this show mainly makes me sad - sad that we need to discuss such abhorrent behaviours and sad to be in a world where kids are going through such shit. It saddens me that kids can be arseholes. We have a long way to go it seems. Maybe we need to promote the notion that the world depicted at Liberty High is one that should not be accepted as reality?