When you're in the mood to binge-watch a series, you probably aren't looking for one that focuses on bullying, rape, and, ultimately, suicide. Yet, the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, based on the young adult book by Jay Asher, offers some poignant reminders that make the drama too important for parents to overlook. [Warning: Spoilers ahead.]
Not for the faint of heart, the series follows the aftermath of a suicide by high school student Hannah Baker, who leaves behind cassette tapes detailing the events that led her to take her own life.
Selena Gomez served as executive producer, and called bringing the novel to the screen a "passion project." Seeing as Gomez has been open about dealing with anxiety and depression brought on by Lupus, it's easy to understand why the actress and singer would want to be involved in shining a spotlight on some of the more painful parts of high school that could lead a teen to do the unthinkable.
At points, the series is hard to watch and yet difficult to look away from -- even when you know what's coming.
Though a work of fiction, the story is so intense that the cast sought the comfort of therapy dogs while filming.
But as heartbreaking and gut-wrenching as it might be for some moms and dads to watch, the series imparts its share of wisdom along the way. For many parents, it's been a decade or more since walking the high school halls, and, thanks to social media, plenty has changed -- and not for the better. Hearing Hannah's honest point of view and seeing it through the eyes of the boy who loved her, Clay Jensen, you're brought right back to those painfully awkward years.
For those considering watching the series with their teens or tweens, it should be noted that many scenes are disturbing and contain f-bombs galore, violence, sexual assault, and, as graphically depicted, suicide, which many have found controversial.
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The following are reasons 13 Reasons Why is worth a parental viewing.
1. Your teen can still feel alone even if he or she is in a crowd.
As Hannah and Clay both point out, just having one friend might have been enough to make this young woman reconsider her decision. Teens might have the love of family and a bunch of acquaintances, but there's no substitute for the comfort of a true friend. If kids seem to be on their own a lot, a regular check-in with them about whom they're having lunch with or spending time with can be insightful.
2. Sometimes it isn't one big thing that leads to suicide.
Rather than one devastating incident, such as a breakup or a failed class, Hannah comes to her fatal decision after a series of issues that some of her classmates believe she should've been able to see beyond. But, when added together, these continued slights, disappointments, betrayals, and acts of violence against her are enough to make her give up on herself and, ultimately, end her life. Let's face it: Even for adults, little things add up.
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3. The person your child confides in may not provide the best advice.
Spoiler alert: Before ending her life, Hannah decides that she'll give it one more try and seeks the help of a high school counselor, Mr. Porter. While his treatment of her is enough to make you scream at your television, something tells us it's not uncommon. When he fails to really "hear" her last desperate plea for help and dismisses her options, Hannah walks out of his office resigned to kill herself.
4. The kid you see at home might not be the same one at school.
Both Hannah and Clay's parents, while seemingly loving and attentive, really didn't know much about their children's day-to-day lives, their friends, or anything about their high school experience. Despite appearing cheerful and upbeat when in the company of family, both of these teens were aching on the inside, crying themselves to sleep, while their parents are consumed with their careers.
5. Unless you say "yes," it's a "no!"
Hannah and her former friend Jessica are raped by the same teen. Both scenes are shown and brutal to watch. Yet, each is an important reminder for young men and women about consent. Even after her attack, Hannah is confused about whether or not she said "no," and feels as if what happened to her could, in fact, be her fault. (Clearly, it was not and this is where her counselor fails her.) Jessica, who passes out after drinking too much, is easily overpowered by her attacker and doesn't have the strength to fight back as forcefully as she could have were she not intoxicated.
6. A parent's love sometimes isn't enough.
Hannah's mom brings her chocolates on Valentine's Day and tries to let her daughter know how truly beautiful and special she is time and again. But, sadly, it's not enough. Like for many teens, Hannah's attitude is more, "You have to say that because you're my mom." The validation of her peers is so much more important to her. And when she doesn't receive it and, instead, is slut-shamed and gossiped about, the negative comments are the only ones she hears.
7. Kids absorb everything.
By most accounts, Hannah's parents had an ideal, loving marriage but struggled with financial problems. Hearing their bickering -- and seeing them facing the harsh realities of owning a business that was poised to fail -- only added to their daughter's stress. While they may not have thought they were harming her, they were distracted by their issues (not that we blame them) and that may have blinded them to the pain she was feeling.
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8. Doing nothing is sometimes just as damaging as doing something awful.
Clay can't imagine why he ends up on Hannah's tapes. After all, he adored her. And yet there were opportunities where the shy teen could've spoken up for the young woman he loved but never told. Kids are often reminded: "Don't be a bystander, be an upstander!" -- and this series really drives that message home. If someone along the way had had the courage to take a stand and stick up for Hannah, things might've ended differently for the troubled teen.
If you or someone you know has expressed suicidal thoughts, please let them know they are not alone. Text START to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741, or visit the Suicide Prevention Resource Center at www.sprc.org.