A Student Minister’s Response to 13 Reasons Why

2017-05-02 10.51.38.pngGuest Post by Tyler Goudeau:

You need to know about the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. It was released on March 31st of this year. You need to know about this series as a parent or as a citizen. At this point, if your students are anything like the ones I work with about half of the high school students I talked to have finished this 13-part series.

Ever since the invention of television it seems like each generation has a movie that helps identify that era. Movies like Grease, 16 Candles, Mean Girls, and others,  help define a generation. It’s possible that 13 Reasons Why will become that movie for this generation. It is distributed on the media platform, Netflix, that this generation has grown up with. It fits the binge watching style we crave and however scary it might be it depicts this generation more accurately than any other media I have seen.

The series is well produced with great acting, writing, video production, and everything else you would expect out of a big Hollywood budget. Its received reviews from critics and is quickly turning into the latest drama series fad.

So what’s the big deal? 13 Reasons Why is a fictional series centered around the suicide of a teenage girl, Hannah Baker.  She records 13 cassette tapes explaining why she made her decision based on 13 people who’ve hurt her.  The series is seen through the eyes of Clay Jensen, a nerdy boy who has always had a crush on Hannah Baker. It follows him along as he puts the pieces of Hannah’s suicide together while dealing with grief and getting some retribution along the way.

The series vividly depicts scenes of: sexual assault, sexting, bullying, multiple rape scenes, parental neglect, oral sex, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, stalkings, profanity, masturbation, school shootings, and a suicide with nothing left to the imagination. 

All of this is shocking. You may need a second to let it sink in. A concern is that this series will glorify or romanticize suicide. Another issue is that we may not want to acknowledge how painfully accurate many of these issues are in the lives of our students. Many times the series shows students going through incredibly difficult problems with adults and parents present, yet unaware.

Some events were so similar to events at my high school that I turned it off to research if the writer of the book, Jay Asher, went to high school with me. Whether we like it or not and no matter how much we try to protect them, these are issues our students are facing.  I want you to be informed as you make decisions about how you and your family will approach this series. More importantly, I hope that you will have some difficult conversations with the students in your life about the issues portrayed in this series. I hope that you will be active in the lives of the students you are connected to and that they can trust you enough to approach you if these issues were part of their life.

This series gives 13 reasons why a teenage girl, Hannah Baker, killed herself. It is possible that many could list their own 13 reasons why. Life can be tragic and can be seen as hopeless. Instead, I see 13 reasons why grace is profoundly relevant. Forgiveness is needed 13 times 7 in this Netflix series.  More than that, actually. More like 70 times 7 as one wise man once said. The Great Healer never mentioned or seen in this series is eagerly waiting to restore all wounds.

Many counselors, psychologists, and suicide experts are weighing in on concerns about the series (see links below). You can find countless articles that professionals have posted talking about the series. From the perspective of a student minister who works daily with middle school and high school students the thing that concerns me the most is how deeply secular the series portrays life.  The characters lack good coping skills to deal with the difficult trials of life. They are often hopeless, selfish, and have no belief that they can change.

In the midst of all this I have good news! Times might be different and new technology can bring new challenges. This generation may be unique but they share similarities with all the generations before them. It has its strengths and weaknesses. However, the good news is still the same. Grace, forgiveness, and redemption through Jesus Christ is still the answer to this generation’s problems. Praise God that we get to offer real hope to this generation!

You’re invited to learn more about the series and how to deal with suicide at Life Lessons on Sunday, May 14th from 5:30 to 7:30 pm at the Littleton Church of Christ. Dr. Ryan Hall (PhD in Suicideology) will be leading a discussion entitled 13 Reasons to Talk about Suicide.  If you are a parent of a teenager come and bring them with you. Please come and bring a friend. 


What do you think of Thirteen Reasons Why? Please respond with your comments below.

Tyler Goudeau is the Student Minister at the Littleton Church of Christ in Denver, Colorado. You can follow Tyler on Twitter @tylergoudeau


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1 comment


God is amazing! Thank you for sharing this story with me Gene. Maybe one day we will get a chance to meet.