An open letter to teenage girls NOT watching Thirteen Reasons Why

For those of you who have not watched...

I know that it's hard to refrain from doing things that it feels like EVERYBODY around you is doing. Especially when 'everybody' includes most of your friends and classmates. I know it's hard when all of your friends are talking about something you haven't seen, so you can't join the conversation. I know it's painful to feel like an outsider when you're at school, and it feels impossible to stand up for things you feel strongly about when eyes are rolled and people tell you not to make such a big deal out of it... "it's not a big deal, calm down."

And I know the lines you've drawn can start to blur and zigzag a bit... maybe they're right... maybe if you just watch the first episode, then you can decide if it's really that big of a deal or not...

Girls, first, let me applaud your wisdom and maturity! I am so grateful you have listened to your heart telling you to keep this series far from it. Continue to stand your ground. There is a reason your heart has told you not to watch this series.

And it IS a big deal. The content of the show is a big deal, the way it is portrayed is a big deal, and your decision to spare your heart the potential trauma of watching it is a very. big. deal.

Keep these things in mind when you begin to waver:

  • You won't lose true friendships over a trendy TV show. 
  • There are traumatic scenes and experiences in this show that your heart and mind will never un-see or un-hear and may not be prepared to process in a healthy way.
  • This show has failed at it's goal, and your understanding of suicide, relationships, and mental health is SO much stronger being spared from these failures.

As you solidify and defend your decision to protect your heart, it's important that you understand where this show has failed at its intended goal, and how it has been quite successful at a hopefully unintended agenda:

  • It has triggered self-harm and suicidal-thoughts in young people who have struggled with those things and with various mental illnesses. If you are somebody who has experience with any of this, you have learned the importance of healthy boundaries and how to protect your heart from further trauma, and you are exercising those boundaries in this decision. I hope you are proud of where you are and of the wisdom you've shown in knowing what you should and shouldn’t expose your heart to! 
  • It has pointed fingers and created causes for suicide that are inaccurate at best. Perhaps bullying and sexual assault are risk factors that may trigger mental illness or substance abuse, but a risk factor and a cause are not the same thing. It is crucial to know the difference and understand that other people do not cause suicide. You may have questions about some of these things. In fact, I hope you do because it's incredibly important... Let's talk about it, bring your questions and let's learn together, outside of the influence of fiction.
  • It has shown that friendships are untrustworthy and possibly even too risky to pursue, while neglecting the importance of building healthy relationships with trustworthy people who want to hear about your struggles and walk through your pain with you. Make a list today of those people in your life who you can call upon when you're hurting, lonely, scared.
  • It has not taken advantage of an opportunity to shine light on the true causes of suicide and the help that is available, and instead made it look like a reasonable end to bullying, and a successful act of revenge. You have chosen not to support something that makes light of something so very serious, and that is an incredibly mature decision.
  • It has made silence look like an acceptable approach to high school bullying, sexual assault and suicidal thoughts. It has made it seem as if nobody would care if you shared these things, that help cannot be attained, and that is simply not true. Keep your list of trustworthy adults and friends at hand, you know the truth.
  • It has told its audience what not to do in order to "prevent suicide", but has offered no suggestions of what to do. There is no hope in this series, only vengeful blaming and hopelessness. Your decision has allowed you to remember and retain HOPE.
  • It has sparked widespread concern regarding suicide contagion, or copycat suicide.
  • It has caused people to defend suicide as an act of revenge and to criticize people who this series has affected in negative ways, calling it a "knee jerk reaction" and claiming that such a series wasn't meant to be educational, but only entertaining. These fans of the series have entirely missed the point that its critics are making. Whether it was intended to be educational or entertaining actually matters very little, because one in five of you are dealing with mental illness, suicide is the third leading cause of death in your age group and this series is affecting people just like you in extremely negative ways. You have kept your heart free so far, and I pray you will hold fast to your decision not to watch.

I spent some time yesterday reading some comments on a couple of blogs about this topic, and I want to share some of the things that real people are saying about how this series has affected them... I'm not going to directly quote them or link to the blogs because I believe some of the comments could be terribly damaging, but here is the gist of what so many are saying: 

The extremely graphic suicide scene made one young girl miss self-harming, and another was having thoughts of self-harm after so many years of freedom, but the show was too addictive to stop watching, despite these disturbing thoughts. Many people shared that they began having flashbacks to extremely traumatizing times in their lives. One young girl compared herself to the main character, and realized her life isn't nearly that terrible. This made her feel guilty for being depressed when others have it so much worse, and in turn furthered her depression. Many people shared that their depression was deepening since watching. Some talked about a mental hangover weeks after watching the series. Some people felt jealous of the main character for being free from pain. Some talked about panic attacks, nightmares, and dark suicidal thoughts, and others talked about not being able to get the images they saw on the show out of their head.

I hope you can see the wisdom in your decision to keep your heart far from the trauma and darkness in this series. I hope you are proud of your decision, and advocating for your position when others are wavering. 

But if your lines are blurring, and you're on the fence, wavering, considering taking a peek just to see what all the talk is about...

I need to tell you a personal story about an experience I had about six years ago. I was on a jury, it was an easy verdict, we were in court for a single day. I will not share details of the case or the images the court made us view but I will tell you that it has been six years, and those images are as vivid as if I had seen them this morning. The face of the guilty is burned in my memory, as are the faces of the two jurors who wanted to let him walk. I always assumed they were guilty of the same crimes as the defendant, because they so firmly fought for his freedom. We didn't need their votes in order to declare him guilty, but even still, I wanted to jump across the table and choke them for their assumed indiscretions. Why else would they have fought so hard for this criminal who was guilty far beyond any reasonable doubt? I still think of them often, and wonder how many crimes they have committed since that day they fought to let a dangerous man walk free. I drive by a road sometimes that bears the last name of the guilty, and will often have flashbacks of the images I saw that day. I couldn't sleep for weeks after the case. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw the images and wept. Sometimes I still find myself there. I would do anything to go back to those moments and simply close my eyes, choose not to see them, spare myself years of flashbacks and triggers. Unfortunately, that is something I can't do, I will never be able to unsee the things I saw that day. But you, you still have a choice, a chance to avoid an experience similar to this one! If you have spared your eyes and your ears so far, please, please, do not expose your precious mind and heart to the traumatic scenes this series would place in front of you. You won't know how they will affect your heart until it's too late, they will not easily leave your mind, you will remember them at the strangest times. Your mind and your heart don't need to see the absurdly graphic scenes they will see if you indulge your curiosity in this series.

Friends, Thirteen Reasons Why handles an extremely serious topic extremely recklessly and irresponsibly. 

You have made a decision to protect your hearts, despite what your friends are saying and doing. Your wisdom is so very admirable, as you are living out these words Paul wrote to the Romans:

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2)

"Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." (Proverbs 4:23)

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)