13 Reasons Why: A Youth Ministry Perspective

13 Reasons Why—suicide

13 Reasons Why…or Why Not?

You’ve seen the various posts on social media. Netflix made a show and teens are watching it.

What to Know

  • It’s not a show about suicide, it’s a show about manipulating people through suicide.
  • It’s not a show for teenagers, its rated MA for Mature Adults, I’ve never met someone who completely fit that description, so it is probably not a show for you. To be clear, I do not recommend this show, but it has become a bit of a cultural phenomenon and parents of teenagers, as well as youth ministers, should be aware of what it is all about. This does not require that you watch it, just like you don’t have to do meth to help a meth addict get to rehab.
  • The show accomplishes what it sets out to do, entertain. The majority of criticism I have seen regarding the show is how it poorly handles certain issues. Here is a list of just a few brought up in the series (and this is only in the first 4 episodes): suicide, depression, bullying, revenge, same-sex attraction, masturbation, voyeurism, alcohol abuse, counseling, forgiveness, and a handful of other topics. Honestly, the one thing it gets right is that it is important to wear a helmet when riding a bike. However, the show is not intended to be a public service announcement for any of these things. We cannot honestly start going to Netflix or any media for solid counsel for topics such as these. Netflix funded and created the show to sell subscriptions. As far as a Netflix original goes, it’s very well done, especially compared to something like Fuller House.
  • It truly showcases a key aspect of teen culture, namely, that High School Is Brutal.
  • Lots of teens are watching it. Most binge-watch it in just a few days. There are some teens who haven’t seen it, but they know about it. This piece is the one that matters; this reality is the one reason I am thankful for this show.

You Can Start a Meaningful Dialogue

Parents, youth ministers, teachers, and coaches should talk to teens about this show. Ask them what they thought about it. What they felt it got right, and what they felt it got wrong. In no time at all, you will be having a deep conversation about real issues that teens rarely have with adults. Ask them if they’ve ever been bullied, or struggled with depression. Odds are that if they haven’t, that they know someone who has. Ask them if people seek out revenge in their communities. Ask them these questions and then listen. The story of 13 Reasons will be a pathway into their stories, their school hallways, and their hearts. In fact, if you haven’t seen the show, you might be even better equipped to listen, as they would have to explain the show from their perspective.

In no time at all, you will be having a deep conversation about real issues that teens rarely have with adults.

Listen and Then Equip Them

Life is difficult. And, society has not done a good job at forming people with the emotional maturity to deal with some of these things. Equip them with the knowledge that God has a plan for their life, that forgiveness and mercy should come before bitterness or revenge, and that adults, especially parents, live to see the younger generation succeed. 13 Reasons Why can be a pathway to sharing the good news of the Gospel.

Pray for those who struggle with any of the issues brought up in this show. High School, like life, can feel terribly lonely at times. Our hope will never be in a show, but only in Jesus Christ.

Here are some helpful links to dig more into Catholic Resources surrounding the show.

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