Like so many other individuals, I’ve been watching the Netflix version of the bestselling YA novel, Thirteen Reasons Why. Everywhere I go, people seem to be discussing it, and on Facebook, I’ve seen a lot of teens starting posts with, “Let’s play Thirteen reasons Why”.
For those of you who haven’t seen this, it’s basically asking their Facebook friends to comment their name. The person whose post they are commenting on, will then comment “no tape” or “tape and here is the reason why”.
As a psychologist, a parent and a YA author, I have a lot of conflicting feelings about this. Then yesterday, I saw a post listing “Twenty Things I WILL NOT Do for my Child“. Things like, “fight their battles for them”.
This got me thinking about numbers. “Thirteen” Reasons Why. “Twenty” Things I WILL NOT Do for my Child. I thought of the “One” door I think so many kids today think they have access to, and that door is suicide.
Adults have to face the fact that schools today aren’t like the schools of ten, twenty, thirty years ago. Times change. We have the internet now. We have Facebook Live and Snapchat. We have a society where girls are publicly and privately sexualized, where girls are legally told that their work is worth less pay than that of males, where minorities and gays are legally persecuted and where schools hang anti-bullying posters in the hallway but then, so often, tell kids to toughen up and be less sensitive when someone bullies them.
Years ago, I watched a documentary where a beautiful nine year old boy killed himself because he didn’t know how to do his math problems and he feared his teacher was going to humiliate him in front of the class for doing the problems wrong. He took a belt and hung himself.
I’ve seen a lot of comments about the fictional “Hannah Baker” and how she should have been tougher, should have stood up for herself more, should have tried more to stop the various individuals who were bullying her.
But here’s the thing. So many times kids, and adults, find themselves in situations that they can’t stand to deal with any longer. They may tell their parents, tell school officials, but so often nothing is done, nothing changes, and they find themselves in a room with one door.
They hate the room. They hate how they feel in it. They hate how they are treated in it. They try and try and try to survive in that room, but eventually they just can’t anymore and so they open the door and walk through it.
The thing is, suicide shouldn’t be their only option.
Adults all know that middle school and high school are temporary. Once you’re out of them, they seem so incredibly insignificant, and as time goes on, they become less and less significant. High school is kind of like a root canal. While you’re gong through it, it might seem unbearable, but once it’s done and over with, you rarely if ever think about it.
But like Einstein said, “Time is relative.”
Just remember being little and your parents telling you it’s still two weeks until Christmas. Two weeks felt like forever.
Adults can look back and see those four years of high school as just drops in the bucket of time, but when you’re there, when Facebook posts ping on your phone even when you’re trying to sleep and you know people are constantly judging you, high school can feel like a life sentence. And there’s no parol. There’s no early release for good behavior.
I don’t have the answer, but I know as a society, we need to create a second door and a third and a fourth. We need to LISTEN. We need to help kids fight their battles because they are kids. Yeah, we all want to teach self-reliance, but wars aren’t fought by individuals; they’re fought by armies, and in the stressful world we live in, sometimes kids need an army behind them.
Whether you like the Netflix show or not, the reality is that suicide amongst teens is up 600% from 1950.
Hannah wasn’t guilty of selfishness or lack of creative thinking. She was trapped in a room and only saw one door. It’s up to us as a society, as parents and friends and teachers to create more doors. Or better yet, let’s bust the walls down.