The Reason I Say No to 13 Reasons Why!

stay positive

Hey guys, interesting conversation happened the other day. I was at a friend’s place and we got to discussing things – the Mumbai stampede, crop burning in Punjab, Raghuram Rajan, the disastrous Presidents Cup and finally, 13 Reasons Why! The last one popped up point blank as my friend asked me: Would you let your son read the book, because my son (14) wants to? Some of his friends have already read the book and now he wants to read/watch it too, she rued.

My answer was a resounding NO. Sometimes questions catch you off guard and you dilly-dally, dither trying to wind your way to a reasonable answer. But not this time, I had already thought this one through a long time ago, when I was in a rough patch myself.

Now the thing is I love reading books, and while browsing the net for “different” authors, I often pick a few books for my son too. It so happened that a list of “top teen fiction” appeared on my screen one day and it had a book called 13 Reasons Why on it, this was before the Netflix series became a craze. Naturally I was curious and read the synopsis, “13 Reasons Why is a novel by Jay Asher that deals with fictional teenager Hannah Baker’s death by suicide. Before her death, she records a series of 13 tapes, blaming various people and enumerating the reasons for her death.”

WHAT THE F….?!!? Are you kidding me? That was my first instinct as a parent. And over the years I have come to rely heavily on my “first instinct.” The very premise was such a put off and I scrolled down immediately, finally settling on Scholastic’s Backlash by Sarah Darer Littman, an investigation into the lethal combo of teenage and technology that leads to cyber bullying. But one that, as the author hopes “starts thoughtful conversations about rethinking attitudes.”

What struck a chord with me was the “positive” approach of Backlash to teen angst as against the “romanticizing and simplifying” of suicide by the other book. How does that help teens I wonder. Then again there were these arguments about “13 Reasons portraying totally clueless adults in a scenario of distressed teens already struggling with clouded thinking.”  In fact, one teenager in an interview called the book a “how to” on suicide, triggering such hue and cry that Netflix was compelled to issue a warning for certain episodes.

Schools in India and abroad, have also issued advisories to parents hinting clearly that the book is NOT appropriate for middle-schoolers.  The depiction is too graphic and may lead to copycat suicide by susceptible teens is one of the arguments. A few teen psychologists strongly feel that the book is NOT meant for kids below 16.

If you want to read more, the internet is full of articles on how “teenagers experience mood swings due to hormonal fluctuations,” and often seek the screen for emotional refuge. Negativity, therefore impacts the very elastic teen brain severely. We are no psychologists, but almost all parents nowadays are familiar with the term – prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain involved in decision-making, planning and self-control, which in a teenager (we are told everyday by the school counsellor) is the last part to mature, hence the impulsive behavior. If as a parent you want to dig deeper, there’s the limbic system to read about.

Summing up teen dilemmas then, I’d suggest you watch Andrew De Leon on America’s Got Talent. Serendipity lead me to this one. Really hit me hard the first time I saw it. Here’s a fine example of how adults can be so wrong in their perspective of teens and their struggles. Strange, how we were all teens at one point in time, going through the very same rough patches and yet as adults with our so called developed  “prefrontal cortex,” all we gain is rigidity of thought. Where is the “chill pill” when we all need one?

Coming right back to the point then, a recent study said, “the teen mind is a strong force of nature” constantly craving stimulation, so why not, as a parent give it some positive reinforcement a la Skinner. However, thinking beyond the ‘Skinner Box,’ my favourite has always been TED Talks. Crisp, topical, relatable (for the teen at heart too) and very inspiring! I just sent the link – How a 13 year old changed ‘Impossible’ to ‘I’m Possible’ | Sparsh Shah | TEDxGateway – to my friend. Gives you goosebumps every time you watch it. That’s learning from a winner. A survivour against all odds.

And talking of odds, who better than the mighty charming Nick Vujicic. His Youtube videos : No Arms, No Legs, No Worries! and No arms and no legs – MOTIVATION – If you fail, try again — are a must watch for parents and teens alike. Whenever I feel overwhelmed by circumstances, I turn to Nick and a whole new perspective to life emerges, along with the tears.

Of course there are inspiring autobiographies and movies to look out for. Where then is the need for 13 Reasons, when you have hazar reasons to look up to “positive influences.” For anyone who says the book/series is about understanding the psychology of suicide, I’d say “why go graphic?” “Why go negative?” We don’t do any of that while talking about sex, rape, bullies etc with our teens, then why start now? Really?

Even the slightest positive influence, it is said, has the potential to change a child’s life. And according to motivational speaker Jim Rohn: You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with! Time then to surround our precious teens with the 5 best influences!!

(written in mycity4kids)

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