Pastor Scott Summers
Student & Young Adult Pastor, Shiloh Community Church
First of all, if you’re a parent whose teen has watched 13 Reasons Why, or if you’re a teen who’s seen it, I don’t judge or condemn you. This show is rated MA for mature audiences, and I trust you’ve weighed the consequences of what you’ve allowed or what you’ve seen. What I want to share here is my perspective on the show in order to help with the decision-making process for parents and teens considering viewing it, as well as provide a few conversation points for parents and teens if your teens have already seen it.
The show 13 Reasons Why is a Netflix original series based on a book by Jay Asher, which walks the viewers through the thirteen reasons why a girl has committed suicide. In the first season, each of the thirteen episodes tells the story of each of the thirteen reasons (the second season is also thirteen episodes, but does not follow a book or structure in this way). This show is rated MA for a reason. It does not hold back from scenes involving intense bullying, homosexual relationships, violence, rape and in the end of season 1, suicide. Season 2 does not follow Asher’s book, and is more of an attempt by the writers to tie up loose ends and play out relationships from the first season. The following are my thoughts concerning the series, and what I would consider when making the decision to allow my teen to watch it.
Reason 1 – Graphic Material
While different parents have set limits to what your kids can watch, just understand that the list that I just wrote including rape and suicide is a lot to take in. Not to mention, there’s quite a bit of cursing and taking of the Lord’s name in vain. While I understand the writers’ desire to make the characters believable, it is simply a lot of corruption to witness.
Reason 2 – Secular Humanism
This is a purely secular film with little to no mention of God. Solutions to life’s problems are from a worldly perspective and are thus incomplete or wrong. Even the ultimate moral of the show (be kind to everyone because your actions have consequences beyond your intentions) is lacking in that there is no moral standard, and the hope for the world lies in humanity’s improved choices rather than a sovereign God.
Reason 3 – Universal Salvation
In the second season, one of the few mentions of God is when the parents consult a priest for a memorial service for their daughter. The parents told the priest that because their daughter committed suicide, they had a hard time finding a church that would perform her service. The priest responded with a message implying universal salvation rather than salvation through faith in Jesus only.
Reason 4 – Exposure to Suicide
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, one of the environmental causes/triggers for suicide is the “Exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide.” If you or your teens are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, please do not watch this show, as it does exactly what the warning states. Without giving too much graphic detail, there is absolutely nothing concealed about the girl’s final moments.
Reason 5 – Paints Males in a Poor Light
One thing I could not help but notice was the indirect criticism of masculinity in this show. While there were a few female antagonists, the majority of them were hyper-masculine, white, males causing issues for everyone.
Reason 6 – Paints Authority in a Negative Light
Especially played out in the second season (where the parents of the deceased girl sue the school for doing nothing to prevent her death), authority figures are primarily shown as failing those they are meant to protect. Even the “good parents” are weak authorities at best. While the intention may be to show parents/teachers/counselors how they can do better, to a teenager watching the show it may seem like authority figures cannot be trusted because they will fail you, and therefore you must take matters into your own hands.
Reason 7 – Unnecessary for Teens
This show is meant to bring exposure to sensitive issues in order to create dialogue. For this reason, it is actually my recommendation that parents prayerfully consider watching it (without your teens), in order to ask more pointed questions. Especially if your teen has already seen the show, it’s my opinion that parents should watch it to see what your teen has already been exposed to. For teens, they’re likely exposed to these kinds of things in high school already, and adding to this exposure doesn’t seem to provide much (if any) benefit.
Reason 8 – Normalization of Homosexuality
This show displays several homosexual relationships, and depicts them as natural and normative. This is nearly everywhere in culture, but nonetheless, for teens this is another voice telling them that the church, the Bible, and God are wrong.
Reason 9 – Normalization of Sex
Again, following the secular nature of this show, the promoted agenda is that teen sex is natural and good, as long as it’s consensual. This is yet another narrative that runs contrary to God’s Word.
Reason 10 – Guns are Bad
This is seen briefly in the first season, but in the second season it’s taken a bit further. One of the students is somehow able to obtain an AR-15, at least 3 handguns (one with a suppressor), and ammunition, all without his parents knowing. This is a bit absurd, especially in California (where the show is set), and especially for a teenager with no apparent connections to the black market (where he would have to buy the guns without any identification) and no apparent income stream (to purchase said weapons). When he’s discovered shooting two handguns with his friend, his father decides to take them to a gun range to teach them proper handling of guns, and the father is portrayed as an idiot. The narrative is that guns (especially the “scary” ones) are easy to obtain, and that teaching responsible gun usage is foolish.
Reason 11 – Athletes are Negatively Portrayed
For most of both seasons, the athletes are the bad guys who run the school and get away with everything because the slimy coach and the principal constantly cover for them. This unfairly represents the high school experience in which athletes are often held to higher standards, and presents a narrative that athleticism is overvalued and possibly even unnecessary in society.
Reason 12 – Absence of Community
Throughout most of both seasons, all community structures are either ignored or shown as failing. None of the families are healthy, there’s no mention of church groups or clubs where teens can belong and feel safe, the school is unsafe; virtually everywhere is unsafe. There is strong community amongst the athletes, who again are the villains. This absence of community and emphasis on self-reliance is a very prominent theme.
Reason 13 – Hopelessness
This last point is more summary in nature; however, it is important to note that there is a general sense of hopelessness throughout the entire show. The viewer is on edge, waiting for someone to make a mistake and then watch as that dominos into disastrous consequences. Suffering is viewed as something to be avoided at all costs, as there doesn’t seem to be a higher purpose or growth from enduring it. This is counter to the Biblical narrative, in which God works all things for good (for those who love Him – Rom. 8:28), and that our (believers) suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame (Rom. 5:3-5).
Parents, if you’re thinking of allowing your teen to watch this show, please take these things into consideration. It’s my recommendation that teens under 16 shouldn’t watch it, and even then I wouldn’t let them watch it without you. I would then not allow binge watching, but rather give a few days between episodes to talk about these sensitive issues and counter-Biblical themes and narratives. I mentioned that if your teen has already seen this show, I think it’s important that you see it as well. Based on the reasons above, here are some questions to talk through:
- What things in this show seem normal to your high school experience? What things seem shocking?
- Where can you go for help when you feel hopeless? Where do you feel safe and loved?
- What would you do differently than the characters in this show?
- What messages is the show attempting to make you believe? What does God’s Word say about these things?
- Have you ever thought about hurting yourself? (If yes, seek professional help. If no, provide atmosphere of honesty, transparency, and grace for future talks.)
These are only a few questions, but hopefully these are a start to conversations between parents and teens about these issues. Lastly, always pray about this decision and before your discussions, as this all requires His wisdom and discernment.