13 Reasons Why— Many of you have watched it, know someone who has watched it, or at the very least have heard of it by now. Many of you may think that as a nun, it’s something I would have no interest in, but I was a teenager once, was bullied, and understand how hard high school can be.
As the Campus Minister at Mary Help of Christians Academy, I want to be able to dialogue with my students about the Netflix series, so I took some time to review the episodes. Sharing in Hannah’s journey towards suicide left me with a lot of complex feelings and a list of 13 things I wish could have shared with the characters, or even my teenage self. Here are my 13 pieces of advice, based on watching 13 Reasons Why, that I wish I had known when I was younger:
Our friends often shape and affect our behavior more than our families because we spend so much time with them. Look around your friend group – if someone was going to describe you based upon who you hung out with, what would they say about you? Do your friends make you a better person? In what ways did Justin’s friends help him? How could Justin have been better helped if he had a different friend group?
Growing up is hard, confusing, and at times overwhelming. It helps to have people to talk to and learn from, not just peers but adults whom we know we can trust and turn to in difficult moments. Hopefully your parents are among those whom you can trust and learn from, but if not, who are some trusted, responsible adults whom you can trust and go to in difficult moments?
Try to identify them and build a support network for yourself. You should never face difficulties alone and you don’t have to, so don’t settle. I know 13 Reasons Why can make it seem like there are no helpful adults out there, but they do exist. I promise.
God gave you intuition for a reason. Sometimes you will just feel that situations are not safe or something is very wrong. Learn to listen to that and you will spare yourself a lot of suffering and awkwardness in life. Even if everyone else thinks what is happening is okay, if your gut is telling you something is wrong and you need to leave, don’t ignore it. I have always regretted not listening to my gut.
Supporting someone through a hard time is a part of friendship, but turning a blind eye to unhealthy behaviors, choices, and addictions is not being a good friend, its being an enabler. Do not enable through silence the actions or attitudes of your friends that are harmful. We are all responsible for each other. If the students in the high school had only spoken up when they saw injustice or wrong situations, Hannah, Jeff, Alex, and so many others may have been spared incredible suffering.
It’s a real skill to learn, something that would have helped many of the characters to advocate for themselves. Saying “no”, setting limits, and having standards are all ways that emotionally healthy adults take care of themselves. Don’t fall into the trap of feeling guilty for having standards or not wanting to do something – be your own person and love yourself enough to set boundaries for yourself and for how you allow others to treat you.
When going to events, parties, or on dates, it’s important to have a predetermined escape plan. Coordinate with your parents or some trusted person a way to get yourself out of an unsafe situation. Whether it’s through a coded text message or some other kind of signal, give yourself peace of mind that you have a strategy to protect yourself, should you need it. So many of the characters in 13 Reasons Why could have escaped terrible situations if they had an exit plan.
If you are somewhere and a person you know, or even a total stranger, is in a vulnerable situation due to drugs, alcohol, or for some other reason, do not look the other way. We have a responsibility to help each other. Perhaps you will need to call in a professional (paramedic, police, a responsible adult, etc), and perhaps someone will be mad at you for doing it, but never pass a person who is incapable of protecting themselves without acting. Jessica suffered the effects of this, as have many other men and women; you never know when you might save someone from a horrible situation.
Once something is on the internet or texted, it will always exist. There are countless stories of young people who have lost scholarships, their reputation, and friendships because of what was shared. Like Hannah, the picture could have been taken in a totally innocent moment, but context is everything. Be careful.
You do not know if the story you are repeating is true. The rumor you hear can have lasting consequences for someone. We can often speak words and forget we said them, but if they are damaging to someone’s reputation, it can be difficult to stop the damage once it’s inflicted. Hannah experienced this first hand.
Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that are really complicated and confusing. It’s not a weakness to ask for help when we do not know what to do or how to handle a situation, but make sure you ask for help of the right people. Our friends may not always be the right people to advise us, or may have a vested interest in giving us a certain kind of advice. As I watched Clay struggle with going through the tapes, I wondered what his experience would have been like if he had reached out to someone for help. Hannah could have spoken up about what happened to Jessica, but she was afraid; how would Jessica’s story been different? Some things are too complicated and painful for us to deal with on our own, so let’s stop trying to do it by ourselves.
I am a nun, so obviously I believe in God, but I wasn’t always a nun and when I was a teenager, I did not always believe in God. Life was pretty hopeless when I felt there was no God, and hence no greater plan or meaning to life. Hope is something we are offered by Jesus. Hope should define Christians, but often we Christians do not communicate or represent it well. For those of us who do so poorly, I apologize, but I can tell you with all sincerity, that having hope, believing that our lives have meaning and that God can bring good out of any situation, is empowering.
Every day we are presented with countless opportunities to tell people that they matter, to listen to their stories, to offer support, or even just to be with those who are lonely. Yes, some people are “different”, but aren’t we all different, just some in less socially acceptable ways than others? One of the greatest experiences in life is when two “different” people discover their commonalities and become friends, but that can never happen if we keep our eyes glued to our shoes as we walk down hallways. Try to make at least one person smile everyday, and you will find yourself smiling more.
Find out what you love to do, and develop it. Spend time with people who bring you joy. Learn a skill that you can be proud of. Visit places that are off the beaten path, not just so you can post about it on Tumblr or Instagram, but so that you can enjoy being alive. Life is full of so many beautiful things, sometimes it takes just unplugging from the “everyday” or putting down the cell phone to enjoy it.
If you or someone you know needs help, please contact The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. 1- 800- 273- 8255