You’ve probably heard about “13 Reasons Why,” the Netflix series that has become extremely popular among young people around the world. So far, it’s the most tweeted show of 2017.
The series has also caught the attention of school officials and psychological experts across the United States and as far away as New Zealand prompting warnings for parents and teachers. The National Association of School Psychologists has even issued guidelines for educators when talking with students about the show. And on the other side of globe, in the land of the worlds down under, the New Zealand Office of Film and Literature has created new standards to advise that those under 18 should watch the series with adult supervision.
The concern stems from the storyline which, while shining an international focus on the high teen suicide rate, does little, critics say, to offer hope or solutions. The main character takes her own life and leaves behind a series of 13 tape-recorded messages for those she claims impacted her tragic decision.
Many are worried the show glamorizes suicide and could even trigger what’s being called a “contagious effect” that leads to vulnerable teens ending their own lives. So it’s no surprise that an effort at one metro-Detroit high school to turn such a negative influence into a movement of positive awareness is going viral.
Students at Oxford High School made local and national headlines with the start of their “13 Reasons Why Not” project. According to the suburban daily newspaper, The Oakland Press, is actually the brain child of high school Dean Pam Fine in memory of a student who took her own life a few years ago.
“I watched the series. I thought it accurately depicted the problems that teenagers in high school are facing now. But it was incredibly troubling to me that suicide was portrayed as being, almost, inevitable, like she had no other option. The idea was to come up with 13 reasons why not, because that was not portrayed in the show. Even though it can get very dark, there is always hope. Our message is that there are no 13 reasons why. Suicide is not an option,” Fine told the newspaper.
The effort was kept secret so students were very surprised one Monday morning when, in addition to the usual announcements over the school public address system, they also heard the voice of a fellow classmate who described in a recorded message being a victim of bullying. Instead of criticizing those who did the bullying, she closed her comments with a note of gratitude thanking another student who made a major difference in her life and helped her through such a difficult time.
“This tape is for you Elise Godfrey. You saw me when no one else did and continued to listen, share and appreciate the small things with me. Thank you for your kindness I cannot repay. You are one of my 13 reasons why not.”
Similar recorded messages from other students were played for a total of 13 mornings and continue to have a “pay it forward” effect with positive messages such as “you’re beautiful” being left on the school’s bathroom mirrors.
It’s unfortunate, that in a world where suicide rates among teens continue to rise, and that despite concerns raised with “13 Reasons Why” Netflix decided to renew the series for another season. Netflix did add a warning at the beginning of the first episode but those concerned say given the scope of the suicide problem, it’s not enough.
In the meantime, parents and educators are hoping to see more efforts such as the one at Oxford High School in Oakland County gain popularity. Oxford High School Principal Tod Dunckley told The Oakland Press he can’t help but be proud of his students.
“I think it makes students realize that every day they can affect someone with their words and actions,” he said.
Although Oxford is a public high school, the “13 Reasons Why Not” project has definite Christian undertones reminding all of us that no person is an island. We all have human dignity and are made in the image and likeness of God. We just have to do a better job of expressing just that to those around us giving them 13 reasons and then some why their life is indeed worth living.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio, Sirius Channel 130, and Channel 88.1 FM KFHC, Sioux City and KOIA, Storm Lake.