So, here’s the thing. I know everybody is talking about 13 Reasons Why. I get it. It’s compelling. It feels a lot like your life these days. You’re glad somebody’s talking about what’s going on at school. You want the adults in your life to understand how hard it is to be a teenager today. I really do get it. It’s so much harder than when we were growing up. I sit with teenagers every day and hear what’s going on in their lives: the real-life bullying, depression, self-harm…all of the things this show is trying to bring to light. I’m a counselor, and have been for 24 years.
Here’s the other thing that I’ll tell you, from a counseling perspective. It’s not just bringing things to light—it’s bringing darkness into a lot of people’s lives, too. Girls I know who used to cut themselves and haven’t for a long time have wanted to just because they watched this show. Guys who have struggled with suicidal thoughts are struggling again because, as, one high school student said to me, “It makes it all look glamorous and like revenge has the last word.”
Suicide is not about revenge. It’s about someone who is struggling profoundly with depression. That’s another thing someone your age said: “They never really even talk about mental health and address what Hannah could have done to get better, instead of get revenge.” Mental health is a real thing. It’s a very important real thing. It’s something we want to pay attention to and bring to awareness, but not in a way that can harm the mental health of the person sitting next to you in class. Sadly, people harm themselves every day. People bully. People are raped. People even take their own lives. All of these things are tragically real—and happen more today in high schools and middle schools all over the country than ever before. But, when someone takes their own life, it’s because they are suffering from a real mental illness. They’re hurting and feel like no one can help. Let me say this very clearly: Someone can ALWAYS help. Sadness/depression/abuse/anxiety/bullying are never meant to walk through alone. Period. Talk to your parent. Talk to a school counselor. A teacher. A coach. There is an adult in your life right now who wants to hear and can help you get the right help. Revenge doesn’t do anyone any good. And neither does silence. I know everyone is talking about 13 Reasons Why, and it’s great that we’re all talking more about all of these issues that tragically are a part of your life as a high school student. But, let’s change the conversation.
Let’s talk about emotions in a way that brings hope. Let’s ask each other how we’re doing. Let’s practice kindness and encouragement. Let’s reach out to each other when we’re sad. Or struggling in any way. Send a text asking for help…don’t post it on social media. Someone might miss it or not understand that you’re serious. Send a text or even call a TRUSTED friend. And tell an adult. You are loved…even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes. Every person you know feels alone from time to time. And, by the way, no one looks like it on social media. We all struggle. We all feel sad and afraid and like we’re not enough. Just because you feel those things doesn’t mean they’re true. We’re all hurt by the people we love, directly and indirectly. Sometimes people don’t notice when we’re sad…often because they’re just thinking about whatever is right in front of them. It’s not that they don’t care. Reach out. Tell someone how you’re really feeling. Don’t hint. Trust and tell them directly. Ask for help. Change the conversation. There is hope. I promise.
When the person next to you in class tells you how “awesome” 13 Reasons Why is, why don’t you give them a different perspective? Bring the reality of mental health to light. You can make a profound difference in the lives of the kids sitting next to you: bringing kindness, encouragement, hope and truth to whatever it is they’re going through. Let’s change the way we talk about these issues.
We’ve got a few high school students who are in counseling where I work who are writing letters to Netflix. They’re telling them how this show has made their depression worse. They’re telling them how it’s made them want to cut, rather than bringing them hope. Yes, everyone is talking about it. But you can change the conversation. You can make it more about how to help and how to bring hope to the person sitting next to you who might be struggling…in real life.
And don’t forget…the truth of a who a person is...who you are, and the value of your life should not ever be defined by what other people think or do. We’re all affected by others, in good and bad ways. Your life will be a roller coaster, though, if your value comes from other people. There is darkness…around us and it can feel like inside of us sometimes. But the darkness doesn’t win. Hope is always bigger. That’s why Jesus is our Savior, and His perfect love and His truth can have the last word, even when we hurt and are hurt by others. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5
As a last note, If you haven’t seen the show, we’d really suggest you not watch it. Watch something like Gilmore Girls or The Flash, that makes you laugh and feel good, rather than feel kind of sad or empty afterwards.
And we’re gonna send your parents a letter tomorrow, helping them know how to change the conversation, too.
The Raising Boys and Girls team is made of Sissy Goff, Melissa Trevathan and David Thomas. Between the three of them, they have over seventy-five years of experience counseling kids and families. They work at a place called Daystar Counseling, or, as one boy called it, "The Little Yellow House that Helps People." They’ve written thirteen books, with their most recent being released in February 2017, Are My Kids on Track: 12 Milestones Emotional, Social and Spiritual Milestones Your Child Needs to Reach. They speak across the country at school, churches and conferences.
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