On March 31st of this year, Netflix began streaming a series—13 Reasons Why—in which a teenage girl, Hannah Baker, commits suicide in the first episode. Each of the following one-hour segments showcases a specific student who shamelessly bullied her and ultimately contributed to Hannah’s death. The final episode graphically depicts her suicide: the meticulous planning, the bloody execution. Most adults must turn away from the screen due to the horrifying and gratuitous nature of the content.
With Selina Gomez serving as the executive producer, the creators probably hoped that 13 Reasons Why could have a beneficial impact. Parents, teachers, school administrators and the like would watch this show and, in turn, gain a whole new respect for the issue of teen bullying and perhaps become more proactive in addressing the problem.
They were wrong.
Only weeks in, 13 Reasons Why has gained a nearly cult following in children and teens across our country and throughout the world. And here within lies the problem: no young person should watch Hanna being violently raped or lying in a bathtub as she bleeds to death from razor blade cuts.
A teen is just not old enough to see these explicit and haunting images; and as the saying goes, “you cannot unring a bell. Possibly even worse, instead of viewing this life-ending event as tragic, these girls and adolescents are glamourizing the act, seeing Hannah as a nearly heroic figure because she “got back” at those mean bullies and really “made them pay.”
No longer do teens want to be Belle—they want to be Hannah.
Of course, what these young people fail to realize simply because they are still emotionally and mentally immature, is that Hannah is, in fact, gone… forever. She does not get to witness the victorious fruits of her labor like the viewing audience does—because SHE IS DEAD.
We recognize how phenomenally skilled and talented the Netflix professionals are at their craft; 13 Reasons Why is no different, as it’s so realistic. We also know that teen girls already possess an odd attraction to the concept of suicide. They do not need this type of dangerous content to fuel their predilection.
This series has managed to place mental health experts and those manning suicide hot lines on high alert, and for good reason. According to the Jason Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting suicide and raising suicide awareness, we lose an average of more than 100 young people each week to this tragedy.
The CDC released new stats in 2015: for middle and high school age youth (ages 12-18), suicide is the second leading cause of death. For college age youth (ages 18-22), suicide is also the second leading cause of death. In ages 10-14, we have seen an alarming increase of more than 150% in suicides since 1981, making it the third leading cause of death for that age group.
Even if 13 Reasons Why possesses a modicum of social redemption, the cost is too high. Netflix should realize the consequences and pull the series. If the number of young people dead from suicide translates into reasons, how many reasons does Netflix need to do the right thing?