Why You Should Watch “13 Reasons Why”


Have you seen 13 Reasons Why on Netflix?

Hannah Baker committed suicide a few weeks ago, but before that, she recorded thirteen tapes — thirteen reasons why she did it — thirteen people who made life unbearable. Only those thirteen people know what’s on the tapes, and only they can figure out what to do with their darkest secrets and worst mistakes.  

No story has ever made me feel responsible before — responsible to keep watching, responsible to understand, responsible to pay attention, responsible to make this story a priority. But this one did.

I binge-watched it in four days. Four school days, with strict 11 PM curfews that didn’t prevent me from laying awake processing it all. I internalized the story. It kept me up at night. It gave me nightmares. It made me show up to work exhausted and puffy-eyed.

Normally I wouldn’t consider those things signs of a good story. But in this case, it was. I was listening to the tapes for the first time. I was connected to the story. I needed answers just as much as Clay Jensen did.

It’s partly the subject matter — bullying and suicide. I have stayed up until 3 AM on the phone with a friend to make sure she lived through the night. I have driven across states to take someone I love to the ER for suicidal ideation. I have made thousands of little decisions over texts going out to depressed loved ones — what words to use, when to use them, should I pry, should I let it go, should I listen, should I say something, what’s the right tone. I have experienced situations where my advice was a matter of life and death. I have waited through nights wondering if the person I just got to sleep would be alive when I saw them the next morning.

And it’s everywhere. Almost every girl I mentored cut, attempted suicide, and/or wanted to attempt suicide, on top of mental illness of some sort.

Despite it’s prevalence, there are still so many questions surrounding suicide. Who’s to blame? Can we truly save someone? Should we expect a person, stripped of dignity, hope, and friendship, to respond in any other way?

We’re even still debating whether suicidal ideation is serious or a cry for attention.

Then there’s bullying. I’m already living 13 Reasons Why in the kindergarten classroom. Mean girls tearing each other down. Students scared of standing up for the victim lest they get teased too. Six-year-olds coming home in tears everyday and begging not to go to school. My students. Their moms come to me and they all say the same thing: “I didn’t experience this until middle school.”

I’m reeling, because I didn’t experience this at all.

I’ve been feeling like if I do the right thing, I can stop a girl’s suicide years down the road. And if I do the wrong thing — how much am I to blame?

You’d think these would be easy things — or if not easy, at least straightfoward. But this story knows they’re not. It understands the complications of goodness, the bravery it takes to be a decent human being, to be honest, and to take responsibility. The “heroes” are the villains, and even at their best, they don’t do anything above and beyond the Golden Rule. But it’s still a herculean task to love well and do the right thing.

I don’t want to imply that 13 Reasons Why is a propaganda piece for Stomp Out Bullying. I think it’s a truly masterful story — and a complicated one. There is nothing simplistic about its themes, nothing moralizing about it’s open-ended finale, nothing trivial about its characters, nothing stilted about its plot, nothing easy or explainable about it.

And if that’s not praise enough, I’m thinking about going out and buying the book rather than wait for the other 51 library holds to thin out.

In short, watch this series.

14 thoughts on “Why You Should Watch “13 Reasons Why”

  1. Fran Johns

    Thanks for posting this. Bullying is increasing at every level (right up through the bullyer-in-chief) & it threatens both our democracy and our society. I wish for a way to enlist EVERY parent in teaching every child that bullying is wrong, and kindness must guide behavior. As a grandmother who agonized over a grandson’s being bullied, across the country, I was fortunate to see that proper handling — students, parents, school administration working calmly & separately — can end bullying. But we need to find ways to PREVENT it as well as to fix it.


    • Bailey Steger

      I completely agree! I watched a Ted talk that promoted the idea of “pro-hero schools” rather than “anti-bullying schools.” It suggested that teaching kids how to be kind and stand up for themselves and each other is more effective than trying to target and eliminate bullying. I’m not sure at all how to implement that, but I like that focus.


  2. Courtney

    Sadly, this kind of thing happens in homeschool co-ops too.

    I remember during my days of going to co-op there was one girl and her clique who would terrorize everyone. One time my friend with a disability was made fun of (and I wasn’t there to stop it) and numerous times this girl made fun of girls for their clothes or shut them out on purpose. Once in an art class I was stuck with this whole group and ended up sitting at a table by myself. Bullying can definitely be a horrible and lonely experience, and I sympathize with people who have had it worse than I have. I’m glad books and shows are addressing it on such a public scale! And I commend you for taking the steps to address this issue in your classroom!


    • Bailey Steger

      Wow. I guess it never occurred to me that bullying could just as well happen in any social grouping. I’ve only ever heard of bullying at schools. Kudos to you for being the kind of person who stands up for the bullied!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. ArihantC

    Okay, so I am from India, and most of the things that were kinda normalized in the show were astounding to say the least. The problem Clay’s parents have with him drinking is that he was drunk on a school night and not the fact that he’s still a teen. I guess these can signed off as cultural differences, and overall it was a pretty relate-able story, especially as I am around the age the main characters are. I love the fact that the story is not unidimensional but it’s still a textbook monster-behind-the-door situation. What attracted me and kept me glued was the realization that how little things build up and made me look back in retrospect over all the shit I’ve pulled and how it may have affected the people around me. So saying that this show has changed my life would be an understatement.


    • Bailey Steger

      Yeah…I too was surprised at how lenient his parents (and everybody’s parents!) were about parties where underage drinking was bound to happen. I grew up homeschooled, so I can’t comment on how representative that is for American parents!

      Yes!! I feel very similarly to what you said about the show.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Laura Jinkins

    The whole concept of this book/program bothered me greatly, but I couldn’t really explain why. My 21 year old daughter said with great vehemence, “This book should have never been written. This program should have never been made.” Unfortunately, she had to head back to college, so we were never able to finish discussing why she felt so strongly.

    And then this past weekend happened. A younger family member entered a psychiatric care facility because of an inability to cope with ongoing depression and anger, along with suicidal thoughts. We were so caught off guard by what happened because, while we knew our loved one struggled with some issues, our loved one also put on a pretty good show at family gatherings of being “okay.” And thank goodness this blog post popped up in my feed: https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/36990166/posts/1433020833. It really helped us understand the reality of this issue, rather than the fictional romanticization of this issue depicted in 13 Reasons Why.

    Beauty Beyond Bones makes so many strong points regarding how this show really got it wrong. I hope you will read her post, written from the view of a person who tried to commit suicide via anorexia.


    • Bailey Steger

      I’ve read many articles like the Beauty Beyond Bones one you shared. And I agree with the idea that certain people should not watch the show. It would not be helpful, and it could be potentially harmful. I told someone I love, who struggles with suicidal ideation, that too many facets of the series would be too much for her to handle right now.

      But like I said in my post, “13 Reason Why” is not an anti-bullying, anti-suicide campaign. It’s not propaganda. It’s not “13 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Commit Suicide.” It is dealing with the reality that for many people who commit suicide, they do indeed do so for revenge. It is dealing with the reality that some people encounter inept counselors. It is dealing with the reality that the victim views themselves as having zero agency, that it’s everybody else’s fault, and it’s dealing with the reality that many people feel responsible for what they did or didn’t do in the wake of a loved one’s responsibility. I don’t think it’s glorifying suicide by acknowledging or exploring those realities.

      This series is art, and as such, it should be consumed and interpreted responsibly. Parents should discuss it with their teens. Suicidal people should probably not watch it. But I think that is true of any book, movies, or TV series that deals with mature themes.

      I know this series is bringing out a lot of strong feelings and opinions, which I share to the extent that I wouldn’t want my future teenagers to watch it alone or for a suicidal person to watch it. My opinion is that it was helpful *to me,* and even though it deals with mature themes in ways that could be confusing or harmful to undeveloped teenage minds or suicidal persons, I still think it’s brilliant.


  5. Laura Jinkins

    Thank you for clarifying that not everyone should watch this program or read these books. That did not come across in your original post.

    I long for a day when “art” focuses once again on beauty and the things that lift our spirits and encourage us, rather than the ugliness that steals any possibility of joy.


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