As a Student Pastor, over students ranging from 7th to 12th grade, I see the daily struggles that this generation faces in and out of school life. Stepping into the halls of the school no longer carries the idea of an academic environment, but a social-driven environment in which a student enters the daily battle for acceptance. Success to these students is not in what their future holds, but rather in what their peers think of them in the immediate moment and environment. There is a danger to this attitude of thinking that goes far beyond what some of us may realize, even if we walked in their shoes just a small number of years ago.
I have been a Student Pastor for almost two years now. Still in my first Student Ministry position, I have learned an inconceivable amount over these two years. Within a short matter of time, something happened that a veteran in ministry would not have been prepared for. After being at this position for just two months, a student, a 15-year-old girl, made the decision to commit suicide. For some reason or another, something that family and friends are left wondering, she decided that life was not worth living anymore. A vast array of questions were bombarding the students in the midst of this tragedy.
The Connection of 13 Reasons
The concept of suicide is a question that plagues children to students to adults, people of all ages. A common question is phrased, “Does a person still go to heaven if they were saved and commit suicide?” The moment that a student asks this question, as a pastor, panic ensues and the mind goes to the worst-case scenario. It is a question that some students ask out of innocent wonder, but that some students ask out of a planning to take their own life.
13 Reasons Why, Netflix’s new hit series, seems to glorify the horrendous act of suicide. The question is, why do so many teenagers seem to enjoy the show? I can come to nothing but one conclusion: the very fact that these students find a common connection with the struggles the characters face in the show. All of the social ridicule, from sexual perversion, sexual assault, cyber-bullying to physical bullying, and the list goes on. Our students connect with the show because it is what they face on a daily basis. However, this does not give us any reason to glorify the show.
The Danger of 13 Reasons
The fact that our students connect with the show doesn’t give us reason to endorse it, but to understand where they come from and engage them with the grace that the gospel provides. Our students face the evil of peer pressure far more today with the introduction of technology that never leaves. Our students fight for acceptance not only among physical interaction, but among others on a screen. The ratio of followers/following on social media platforms is a time-consuming and attention-stealing, while energy-draining effort. If one doesn’t get enough likes on an Instagram photo, they delete it, for they do not feel as if they have met the expectation and acceptance level. Popularity is being redefined. The standards of acceptance are being reformulated.
In 13 Reasons Why, there seems to be a justification for the act of suicide. While all people are guilty of sins and make mistakes, we must remember that includes all people (Romans 3:23). The undertones communicated throughout the show are that of the shift of blame. Though blame is to go far and wide, it doesn’t give justification for the taking of a life, especially one’s own life. Many things may drive a person to depression, resulting in suicide, but the final decision lies in the control of that person. They make a conscious decision to take their own life.
The Truth of 13 Reasons
We can understand that 13 Reasons Why is dangerous for the current youth culture, but we cannot write it off as irrelevant. To do so would be a horrendous mistake and symptomatic of a disastrous future. The sad fact is, this show has relevance, whether we like it or not. While I recognize the danger of the show, I also recognize the very fact that it manifests the state of our current culture.
We should not watch 13 Reasons Why to relish in show itself, but to realize the state of the culture.
The state of our culture is that students are finding is easier to end life rather than continue. Rather than calling out the danger of 13 Reasons Why and stopping there, we should be propelled into a concern for the welfare and mental state of our upcoming generation. By taking one’s own life, we hear the cry of “Help!” echo from the darkest depths of a person’s soul. Our students, though they may seem fine on the outside, can be as morally decrepit, mentally unstable, and psychologically depressed as we can imagine. This generation needs to know their worth and value. They need to know there is hope beyond the hallways of the schools. They need to know that they have a heavenly Father who will welcome them with open arms. These shows manifest the call that this generation has, a cry for help. May we respond with open arms!
Linked below are further articles written on the subject. I encourage you to give them a read!
Trevin Wax writes from the perspective of an evangelical as well as a father. You can find his article here.
Russell Moore communicates as an ethical, evangelical leader, the undertones that communicate a “glamor” to suicide. Though not explicit, the acceptance of suicide is implicit within the show. His article can be found here. Alexa Curtis, in a rolling stone article, communicates the same language.
Megan Basham, writing from a Christian worldview, states, “I wouldn’t advise letting my teens watch 13 Reasons Why, but I would use its popularity as an opportunity to remind them of this.” Referring to “this”, is the hope of grace and the gospel, bringing redemption no matter what one’s background may be. Her post may be found here.
In a CNN article, Jacqueline Howard refers to that fact mental health experts are expressing concern. They fear that the show may communicate an “easy way out” of the depression that faces our upcoming generation.
Zoe Williams claims that this show is a perfect checklist of every way NOT to portray suicide. Her article may be found here.
Ross Ellis, writes from the perspective of a cyberbullying expert and speaker, giving data and statistics, while offering practical steps toward a resolution. Her article can be found here.
Catherine Saint Louis writes of the effects that the show has on children and teenagers. She references the danger and triggers to keep an eye on. Her article may be found here.
Bethany Butler calls the show “well intentioned” but further states that the show “can do more harm than good.” Her article may be found here.