5 Things You Need to Know About 13 Reasons Why

Editor’s Note: In response to concerns from parents, mental health experts and others, Netflix has added a new disclaimer before the first episode of this series. One warning that airs before an episode reads, “The following episode contains scenes that some viewers may find disturbing and/or may not be suitable for younger audiences, including graphic depictions of rape and sexual assault. Viewer discretion is advised.” 


Teenagers are flocking to Netflix’s new original series 13 Reasons Why, based on the 2007 novel Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and adapted by Brian Yorkey for Netflix. Parents, please do the necessary research and make a wise choice related to your teenagers or young adults watching this series. I have started the research for you below and encourage you to take the necessary time to think through this issue, make a list of issues that are pertinent related to both the show itself and the show’s content, and then discuss the show with your teenagers—regardless of whether or not you watch it with them.

1. The Storyline. With some digressions from the original plot of the book, the series follows a teenager named Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) who receives a series of cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), a classmate who recently committed suicide. On each of the 13 tapes, she explains to her peers how they each played a role in her death, detailing the 13 reasons she took her own life. The story follows how each of the 13 players engage the tapes and react to each other as the tapes spread. Selena Gomez is the executive producer. Here is a brief synopsis of each of the episodes.

2. The Rating. Netflix has rated the show TV-MA meaning it is not suitable for children under 17. If you peruse the Internet, you’ll find that others are suggesting it may be appropriate for those over age 15 since that is the age of the teenagers in the show. I have had parents contact me where their middle school children are excited to watch the show. The show earned its rating TV-MA with the graphic scene of Hannah committing suicide and bleeding out in the bathtub, multiple rapes, nudity, underage drinking, bullying, stalking, drugs, violence and very strong language.

3. The Benefits of Watching. This may be a series that you can use as a stimulus to talk with an older teenager regarding life issues. Issues like suicide, bullying, cyber-bulling, sex, rape, drugs, guilt, shame and others are real. Teenagers and young adults do face these issues in their culture. After watching the episodes first as a parent, you may choose to watch the episodes with your teenagers together and discuss the sensitive issues they portray. I strongly urge you to watch all the episodes first before beginning the series with your teenager so that you can make the best wisdom choice regarding your teenager.

4. The Warnings of Watching. Parents, be on alert in regard to this show. This is a graphic show. Some parents and reviewers have described this show as a how-to guide on committing suicide. Cultural issues relevant to the episodes include suicide, rape, bullying of various sorts, drugs, underage drinking, stalking, betrayal, grief, revenge, lies, blame-shifting, fat shaming, strong language, violence and other areas of abuse as well. Mental health officials in Australia have strongly urged parents to not let their teenagers watch this. There is concern with copycatting the suicide.

5. Wisdom is needed. You may want to consider several areas of wisdom before you allow your teenager to watch this show. It is imperative that you think through your young adults’ level of maturity. This link is to a recent blog on how to help your child respond to pop culture in the media. This may be helpful for you to think through as you decide what is best for your teenager. As I stated at the beginning of this blog, take the necessary time to think through this show, make a list of issues that are pertinent related to both the show itself and the show’s content, and then discuss the show with your teenagers—regardless of whether or not you watch it with them. The best choice may be a series of quality conversations with your teenager rather than seeing it depicted on screen.

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Kevin Carson
Kevin serves as pastor of Sonrise Baptist Church in Ozark, MO, and also serves as professor and department chair of Biblical Counseling at Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary in Springfield, MO.