This show single-handedly highlights the need for adults to supervise what their children are watching online.
Censorship is not the answer
I’ve never been an advocate for censorship when it comes to artistic works. Like many of our more liberal, European counterparts, I’ve always believed that if an artist includes profanity in a song or a graphic scene in a movie, it should remain that way. After all, these things are usually included with intention; without them, oftentimes these artistic mediums lose their overall message and/or significance.
As a current college student myself, I oftentimes find myself turning toward Netflix in my free time. After hearing the hype behind the popular Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” a show that pop-star Selena Gomez executively produces, I decided to give it a go last year. As of late, I finally finished the second season of the show—one that includes a cocktail of hard to swallow pills regarding the scope of bullying in high schools today.
The show’s basic plot line revolved around Hannah Baker: a new student at Liberty High School who soon became bullied by different members of the student body. Whether it involved the friendships she made, the students she saw romantically or even how she carried herself in the school’s halls, she became an easy target. Liberty’s notorious bullies, “the popular crowd” and other mean-spirited students alike had no trouble alienating her as she tried to assimilate herself at a new school.
Unsurprisingly, she quickly became miserable. The consequences of her being bullied at school, along with her inability to communicate these instances to her parents, resulted in her ultimately committing suicide. What she left behind was a series of 13 cassette tapes, dedicated to different people in her life, whose actions she claimed lead to her decision to take her own life.
As you can imagine, when the series first came out, there was a wave of controversy surrounding the show’s agenda. Although some advocated that the show started an honest dialogue surrounding the harsh consequences of bullying, others argued that the show could inspire other mentally ill-students to follow Hannah Baker’s lead; and, in most extreme cases, take their own lives. There have even been instances of students harming themselves, or threatening to do so—all while referencing “13 Reasons Why” since the series was originally released.
As a former high school student of Fairfax County, I could see my classmates in some of the characters in the show. Some of the various side plot lines seemed to hit a little too close to home. I could empathize with some of the emotions that the various victims of bullying were going through.
It seems as though today, bullying is almost inescapable to a certain degree. If someone has not experienced verbal or physical abuse, or even cyber bullying, they can name someone else they know who has. And after my time at McLean High School, I can definitely attest to that statement.
In the second season of the show, the drama—and the scope of bullying at Liberty High—unfolded to a new level. Incidences of drug abuse, self-harm, alcoholism, violent rape and even a school shooting—prevented just in the nick of time—occurred.
This show is eerily too relatable to my own experiences, as I’m sure it is to many of my peers and people my age. As someone who has friends who are survivors of sexual assault, has known young adults who have committed suicide and has even known fellow classmates who have been unwillingly involved in a horrific child pornography scandal, this second season was an emotional wrecking ball.
Of course, I knew going into the season that there were parts that would be graphic and hard to watch; but even as a college student who has not been in high school for two years, the show was still able to rattle my core.
During the second season, a majority of the episodes take place in the courtroom, where Hannah Baker's mom is involved in a case with Liberty High School; Baker's mom was determined to get justice for her deceased daughter. We see a variety of children from the high school speak in court and describe their relationship with Hannah. One in particular really bothered me. We see Bryce Walker, a character who is a rich jock in the show, claim that he did not rape Hannah Baker; instead he argued he had a loving relationship with her. His testimony was a blatant lie, considering earlier in the show, we see Walker sexually assault Baker at a party.
It was during this particular point in season two where I sat in disgust as Bryce Walker got off with minimal consequences. Why? Because he had an untruthful, yet convincing, testimony and a handful of rich lawyers to back him up. I’ve known people similar to Bryce Walker in my lifetime, and I’ve seen them walk the halls of my school virtually unscathed.
The show’s accessibility is the real danger
I’m not arguing that this show is not important. I’m not saying the series doesn’t initiate otherwise difficult discussions. I’m not even arguing that this show should be censored in any way. People need to see these episodes, and reflect on each and every one of them. Hell, children should even watch these episodes with their parents. I’m sure it would be an eye-opener to them in some capacity. In high school, the amount of secrets teenagers keep under wraps from their parents can often times be remarkable; this show portrays that relationship to a T.
What I am arguing, however, is that putting a show as emotionally challenging as this should not be as easily accessible to younger children. We all know that young kids mimic what they see in the media and what they hear around them. And by having this show adapted by Netflix, available to any and all who have an account, the actions that could be mirrored by younger children could be catastrophic.
Just this past weekend, I was at a barbeque with about a dozen little kids. When they weren’t outside playing on the trampoline or partaking in a water balloon fight, they were in their rooms playing on their iPads. All of them were playing games on their tablets, while simultaneously watching shows on platforms such as YouTube and Netflix.
And as more and more children are being raised, sitting in front of an iPad for entertainment, the sooner they will learn that platforms like YouTube and Netflix are all too accessible. With this show being on Netflix, able to be accessed by children as young as five or six, the results can be scary.
While I was outside watching the children participate in their water balloon fight, I recognized some of the lines they were saying; they seemed to be coming from “13 Reasons Why.” At one point, one elementary schooler yelled at another, asking if he called him a “rapist.” That’s right—they were talking about rape as they were engaging in an otherwise innocent summer afternoon activity. They were throwing the word around like it was nothing. And I can almost guarantee you that they were referencing the show, or at the very least, something they heard in a show they were watching.
Don’t get me wrong—this show is rated 15-17+ and has trigger warnings during some of the more graphic episodes. Actors before and after the show reference resources where viewers can seek help if they need it. After season two, the show even included a Q&A with the some of the members of the cast, a few of the show's writers and an array of mental health professionals. However, those ratings and those trigger warnings don’t matter to an unsupervised elementary schooler with an iPad sitting on his or her lap.
This show is important; yet, if only it wasn’t adapted by Netflix, and easily accessible through the popular streaming service.
So the next time a show like this comes out, I hope there will be more consideration regarding the accessibility of its material. I’m not even a parent, and all I could think of while watching the series was how dangerous the topics and imagery could be to someone watching this underage. Although I think it’s an important show with an incredibly significant message, this show truly should not be seen by anyone who is not ready to partake in serious dialogue. Even if this show were on a different platform, such as iTunes, I’d argue that it would be safer; for example, there are more barriers to go through, such as paying for episodes, which would most likely require adult supervision.
And to the parents that plop an iPad in front of their children on a whim, please consider taking more actions to childproof these electronics, and refrain from downloading apps such as YouTube and Netflix until your child is ready. It may seem like common sense, but you would be surprised at how many parents don’t bother to turn on parental controls or take the time to sit over their child’s shoulder, checking in on what they are watching on a daily basis.
“13 Reasons Why” serves as a prime example as to why adults need to be more mindful of what their children are watching; if parents do not take the necessary precautions to insure that their children are not watching material prematurely, there could be serious ramifications.