What can “13 Reasons Why” Teach Us As Parents?

There are some folks on social media who have spoken out against  the Netlix show, “13 Reasons Why.” If you haven’t heard of it, it’s about a high school girl who commits suicide and leaves behind a series of  audio tapes for those that steered her down the road  to this tragic conclusion.   The show was based on the book by Jay Asper.   

If you haven’t watched it and you’re one of those speaking out against it, I strongly suggest you watch it or read the book. If you are the parent of a teenager, I strongly suggest you watch the show.  I see things very differently than those who disagree with the way the show handled the subject matter.

But I’ll get to that in a minute.

My daughter had grown up with a group of friends that she loved dearly since the third grade.  We loved them very much. They spent many nights at our house. Our home was a second home to them. We took them on vacations with us.  Every once in a while, a “dad” or a “mom” would slip out of their lips when calling for us in our home. We were also friends with their parents. We all knew each other, interacted with each other, made plans together. The girls all attended the same schools together. As their school librarian, my wife watched them grow up together. There were many afternoons  spent in the library chasing each other around the bookshelves. There were more precious moments like those that I can count.

During those years, however, we lived about 30 miles away from them.  My wife even had the opportunity  to work closer to home. But she kept her job there so that our daughter’s friends could stay together. But despite our reminders to them that we would give our daughter a ride, there were a lot of events that she was left out of.  Birthday parties, trips to camps and sleepovers were all accounted on Instagram for her to see.  We always thought it was because of the distance. So we tried harder. 

After tears had been shed, those friends came back around and the world was set right once again.  It was a vicious cycle relived time and time again. She had to live through seven years of striving desperately to keep the friends she had. She is the existential loyalist. 

After racking up some equity in our home, we decided it was time to move closer and make her more accessible. And so we did. We packed up all of our belongings and left behind the neighbors we had come to know as our second family. We were sad to leave but we felt it would all be for the better because she would be close to them and there’d be no reason to leave her out.  After all, they were her age and she needed to have friends that were her age.  But sadly, we had forgotten one thing.

Exclusion is a choice.

We moved to the same town. It’s a very small town, with everything within 5 minutes of each other. We had them over for a sleepover or two and even took one of them on yet another vacation with us. But gradually, her friends began to follow the same old patterns.  They went from leaving her out of camps to not sitting with her at lunch, turning the other way, etc.  Things got worse. Much worse.

And before you think I’m making a bigger deal out of this than it needs to be, know that even the school resource officer noticed the change. He had no history of what these girls meant to our daughter.  Her friends went from leaving her out of the major events to leaving her out at the lunch table or setting foot in our house. She was devastated. We were devastated.  We tried reaching out to the parents but were only met with indifference. So with a lot of talks, tears and prayer, we moved on.  

But none of these things were ever the core of the issue.  This, in our opinion, was what at the heart of the matter. In all the pictures  at parties, camps, sleepovers or all of the above, there was always one missing person. To this day, not one of those parents has ever asked us how our daughter is doing or why she is no longer a part. 

Not one.

This brings me back to the show.

“13 Reasons Why” accurately depicts the utter neglect of parents who for some reason are not involved in or aware of the social aspects of their kids. They know nothing about their relationships. How they treat others. How they are being treated. Who they are associating with. They leave it all up to them with no guidance whatsoever.  I’m not talking about being overly controlling. I’m simply talking about….talking. Knowing.  Guiding. 

It’s not control.

It’s love.  If we love our kids we need to be keenly aware about how they are treating others and having enough love for themselves to demand respect.  And no, we are not victims. We are simply parents who are doing our best to make sure that our daughter is treating others as she would want to be treated while expecting no less.

Kids say stupid things. Girls do mean things. They need to figure things out on their own.

Copouts.

It’s about helping them make constructive relational decisions.

As adults, we don’t always know what to do in a relationship when there is a disagreement.  How much less would a teenager know? There are too many aspects of relationships to consider. Aspects such as association. Like it or not, we become who we associate ourselves with.  Reputation. Our reputations are treasures to be guarded. Selflessness. Being there for your friend even when you don’t feel like it. And then there’s forgiveness coupled with change. 

We’re not perfect.

I’m certainly not coming at this with a ‘holier-than-thou’ mindset. This is not a brag about how wonderful parents we are. We’ve made our share of mistakes and we’ll continue to make them. But we believe that the answer to every question we’ve ever had about raising our daughter…is love.  And for us, love dictates knowing, guiding and walking with them through these social circles.  Actively. By both sets of parents. 

They will welcome it.

Our daughter has welcomed that level of “interference”. Even now, there are times where she refuses to turn on the TV or go to bed because she just wants to hang out with us and talk. It lets her know that we care enough about her day to want to know who, what and why.

She knows that she is loved beyond a shadow of any doubt and this gives her the confidence she needs to make good decisions.   My wife and I are ultimately responsible for this. No one else. And we, as parents, don’t grab hold of that responsibility, someone or something else will. And that can be an adverse influence that can take many forms. 

Yes, she has others in her life who have been wonderful to her. We know who they are and for them, we are grateful. But she was given by God to us to nurture, guide and build up to the point to where if something ever happened to us, she would go on with confidence.  Respecting others but more importantly, respecting herself.

Because that’s our job.  It is our responsibility. No one else’s. 

Take the wheel. 

~Lenny

Leonardo Ramirez is an author of Science Fiction and Fantasy. He is also a husband, father and a 4th degree Black Belt in American Karate. You can visit his website, Science Fiction for the Human Condition at Leonardoverse.com.  His books are available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other retailers.

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