“13 Reasons Why” . . . More Thoughts And Helps. . . .

I’m still thinking about what I saw and heard during my head-spin-inducing binge-watch of season 2 of “13 Reasons Why.” I had my handy notebook at my side and scribbled all over the place as the dialogue on the screen, both in conversation and narration, unfolded. Yesterday as we recorded an episode of our Youth Culture Matters podcast that featured a roundtable discussion on season 2, I went into my notebook and mentioned a few of the lines that I think offer a window into the world and needs of kids, as well as some great springboards for discussion. These are the kinds of cultural artifacts that are pure gold for parents and youth workers. Here are five that I mentioned. . .

  • Hanna Baker speaking from the grave in episode 2. . . “What’s the truth? We each have our own truth.” Hannah voices the most basic question human beings have been asking since Genesis 3:6. Our kids are still asking that question. Perhaps Hannah means that we each have our own experiences, especially as related to Liberty High and her suicide. But I wonder if Hannah’s words go on to answer her question in a manner that encourages viewers to look for their own truth. . . a truth that is not shared, objective, or transcendent? Since the cultural narrative pounds this home all the time, I wonder if that isn’t how kids are hearing it. Judging from the show’s behaviors that are evidences of beliefs, I think this could be one way Hannah’s words here are heard. Talking points? The truth of the Gospel that set humanity free. . . that objective, transcendent reality that makes sense of the world, shapes our identity, and leads us to human flourishing.
  • Tyler. . . a character who represents the kind of kids who so clearly cry out for compassion. . . and his home-made “Assholes” t-shirt. The word is not spoken, but printed on fabric. Yet, it speaks volumes about the outcasts and disenfranchised who are looking for a place to belong.  . . and who find that in a unique and distinct subculture of equally disenfranchised kids. Talking point? The Gospel’s call to love, care for, minister to, invite in, and show compassion.
  • Ryan. . . the same-sex attracted and artsy kid who is looking to find truth and a place in the world. As he scrolls through his phone looking for a random same-sex hook-up on an app that looks something like Grindr, his voice not only verbalizes what Hannah was looking for in life, but what he is looking for as well: “What she needed most was love. . . human connection.” I thought of the Graham Greene quote: “The man who knocks on the door of the brothel is looking for God.” Talking points? What our groaning (Romans 8) is really for, how we hunger for Heaven, and the power of Christian community that loves through its presence, its unique mix, and its willingness to love by telling the truth and steering each other a direction that leads us to conform our lives into the will and way of the Father.
  • Justin. . . his drug-addled personal life and broken-family life a mess. . . who hides in Clay’s room and then is brought into Clay’s family. When Clay informs Justin that his parents want to adopt him, Justin responds, “Why anyone would want to do that, I don’t know.” Talking points? Our Heavenly Father who adopts us as His sons and daughters. Mind-boggling, for sure.

But one of the most telling and truth-filled lines of all from season 2 is spoken by Hannah Baker’s mom, Olivia. When discussing all of Hannah’s reasons for taking her life, Olivia says “There are always more reasons why not.”

On our “13 Reasons Why Season 2 Round Table Discussion” podcast, we heard from counselor Julie Lowe. Last year, Julie responded to the buzz about season 1 with a blog post that included 13 reasons you can give your children (youth group students) for why life is worth living. Not only do I think the reasons Julie lists are valuable, but each one is rooted in Scriptural truth. . . a reality we need to notice. Remember what Hannah asked? “What’s the truth?” God has given us His revelation of Himself in His Word. . . both incarnate and written. Julie’s list serves as a reminder that we must constantly be preaching the truths of the Gospel to ourselves, to each other, and to our kids. Speaking for myself, Scripture is my anchor.

Julie writes. . .

1. You are not alone. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

2. You have value. You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” “Don’t be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.” (1 Peter 2:9; Matthew 10:31)

3. God cares about your tears. “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

4. You can find help“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” “We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Psalm 46:1; Hebrews 4:15-16)

5. Your life has purpose. “I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

6. What you are going through is temporary. “Do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

(Read the rest of Julie’s post here)

I trust you will take the time to listen to the podcast we recorded yesterday. You can listen by clicking on the player below, or you can listen here. Be aware that we know that we can’t cover everything in an hour or so. But we do see this as something that can serve as a thought-provoking starter for youth workers, parents, and others who care for and love kids.

Sadly, one scheduled member of our roundtable wasn’t able to join us due to technical issues. School-teacher (and one of our doctoral students at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary!) Daniel Arachikavitz has posted some of his thoughts on Facebook, which I’m sure he would have shared with us yesterday. With his permission, I’m sharing them here as I love his insights and perspective as someone who is deeply immersed in the world of students on a daily basis.

5 thoughts on 13 reasons season 2 (the last is the most important some spoilers but I tried my best to only mention the needed ones:

1. This IS NOT a show for kids or young teens. It portrays even more extreme events. If you want to watch it with your mature teen, prescreen each episode.

2. Hannah Baker is not perfect. She told her truth season 1. Season 2 tells other truths.

3. The show tries to glorify suicide much less than season one. It succeeds in this endeavor.

4. 13 reasons still misses the biggest impact of suicide. Once gone a person is gone. There are no more conversations or revelations. Hannah Baker is still very present, and she wouldn’t be. She even mentions it in a physical sense but she still fully lives on which just is not true or healthy to portray.

5. The creators of the show try to give a voice to a generation. Many of the monologue moments hit what the experts say the generation feels. They did their research, good for the show. Good insights for adults.

6. Where is God. Barely a mention of God though it is super normal for even nonbelievers to wonder in times of tragedy. Here are the couple mentions
– A “Me Too” moment where a youth pastor is mentioned in passing as a sexual assaulter. So sad this is a reality for even one girl let alone the many it is.
– a funeral service at a church.
– brief conversations with priest at that church.

7. As funeral arrangements are made if is stated several churches rejected having a funeral because of Hannah commuting suicide. I hope this happens more rarely than portrayed.

8. Last thought on their mention of God. The priest was what Hollywood thinks a good religious people should be. Kind, reassuring, and passive. His advice was true but lacking of deeper truth. If a priest, pastor, or anyone representing only responded this way I would give the interactions a C+. He did no damage but offered little in true and lasting help.

9. School shootings (not a spoiler. It is hinted toward throughout and I will not comment on if there is follow through) are portrayed mostly as the victims fault. The shooter, Tyler, is troubled is somewhat mentally troubled, he gets in with a troubling outsider crowd, has access to guns through some back channel never explained, and is bullied beyond anything I know of first hand (though I have read of such graphic things). The show portrays his issues as maybe 5% his fault, 35% environment, and 60% his victims. Not helpful for further advancing the convo.

10. Drug addiction is hard. It is not an easy cycle to come clean and even harder to stay clean. Well done, even though I wished addiction didn’t look like this.

11. Sexual assault has very different impacts on victims. 13 reasons gave very good read on the deep and carried scars of victims.

12. The stats show most women have experienced sexual assault. This show really gives them voice and advances the convo. However not everyone has experienced it though the show says “every woman I know” has gone through it.

13. The pressure of groups like sports teams or friend clicks to look out for each other and be abusive to outside groups is real.

14. Counseling and support groups do not just talk at issues. Clay sort of blows them off as inadequate at one point which is a shame since they even help show members how to work through stuff.

15. The show missed on one big thing for the sake of shock effect and setting up future shows. I think they would say there are no happy endings and issues continue, which I get however they had a chance to give hope. Hope to those affected by suicide. Hope to abuse victims. Hope to drug addicts. This show gives no hope and opted for ultrarealism. They could have had redemption but with the exception of 2 or 3 characters hope is devoid in the end. So sad that a show based on suicide gives no hope to struggling teens watching. Sometimes people know they can have a better outcome even if it is a long hard road. 13 reasons can not pretend after the ending that they are for starting conversations and helping victims though they have PSAs throughout if at the end it is all about keeping viewers and profiting from their pain and continued struggles.


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