DR. JAMES WELLBORN: Thirteen things to talk to your teens about ’13 Reasons Why’

DR. JAMES WELLBORN: Thirteen things to talk to your teens about ’13 Reasons Why’


Episode 2 (Tape 1B): Hope and Respect

Thirteen Reasons Why, a video series based on a best-selling teen novel, is the story of a 17-year-old girl, Hannah who commits suicide and leaves 13 tapes for each of the people who contributed to her decision to commit suicide. This is the third in a series of blogs that identify issues raised in each episode with
some ideas about how parents can address them with their teenager.

Episode Highlights
In this episode, Hannah talks about her friend Alex putting her on a “hot or not” list to get back at his ex-girlfriend. It just added to the view of Hannah as a sexual object.

When she jerked away after a guy grabbed her, he said “I’m only playing Hannah. Just relax.”

Clay has increasing difficulty listening to the tapes without getting more anxious and upset.

Hannah’s parents are looking for answers and considering suing the district for not addressing possible bullying.

Two themes that are worth addressing from this episode are kids having (and losing) hope and the importance of treating people with respect.

Thanks to the Internet, 21st century teenagers are the most informed and educated generation in history. They have access to and are exposed to what has become a vast and overwhelming amount of information and opinions. This can lead to amazing learning opportunities, knowledge and insights. But
only if there is a context and perspective for all this information.

With all the remarkable benefits of the Internet, there are some serious problems. As humans, we are drawn to (and advertisers present us with) stimuli that get our attention, namely fear and sexual desire. So, people posting on the Internet try to attract the viewer’s attention by inundating us with tragedy, trauma, catastrophe, drama, violence, destruction, cruelty, mayhem and sex, sex, sex. It makes teenagers cynical (“I’ve seen it all”) and pessimistic (“and everything sucks”). This is magnified by actual bad, cruel and painful things that
happen to teens, as happens to Hannah and most of her friends portrayed in this series.

Because of the influence of the Internet, it is more important than ever to help your kids keep a hopeful perspective.

There is beauty in the world. There is kindness in the world. There is love and charity and generosity. We learn and become accomplished. We create and inspire. We can contemplate the future and have the actual potential to bring aspects of our dreams into reality. Funny, humorous things happen all the time.

Don’t forget to notice the beauty and wonder and glory of the world. Out loud. To
your kid. Ask them what beautiful, promising, productive, positive, kind, generous, funny (especially funny) things happened today. Tell them about yours. Every night share positive things that happened (and that you, yourselves, have done) that day.
You are the harbinger of hope for your teenager. If you have lost hope yourself, fake it for your kid and get some therapy, for everybody’s sake.

Take a look at the pages on my website relating to hope and positivity for more information.

Hunting for Hope by Scott Russell Sanders is an interesting book about a man struggling to instill hope in his kids.

Dignity and Respect

One of the cornerstones of civilization (and our constitution) is the right of every person to be treated in a dignified and respectful manner. (It’s the “Life” in “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” part).

This means interacting with people in considerate, tolerant and appropriate ways; the way your grandmother would expect you to act (if your grandmother is a polite and well-mannered person). It is not something you earn (though you can act in ways that make people really not want to give it to you).

Treating people with dignity and respect can be difficult enough for us to manage as adults. It is particularly difficult for teenagers because of immaturity, inexperience, sexual desire and, now, the Internet and hate TV. Your kid will need help thinking through why it is right to be respectful of others and their boundaries regardless of who they are.

Your kid needs to know what you expect from them regarding how they treat other people; family and strangers, friends and enemies. This is about character. It can be worthwhile to do a quick review of your kid’s overall character development. You can find a checklist in my booklet Raising a Character:
Fostering Character Development in Teens. If you have concerns (and even if you don’t), it’s time to highlight the values you expect your kid to live and demonstrate. Look for opportunities to mention instances of important character traits or values you see in your day, in the news and, especially, that you see in your kid. They need to hear about values, morals and what it takes to be a good person on a regular basis; not just in formal lectures when there is a problem.

When it comes to respect, what do they (and you) think is the right way to treat someone who

  • is disfigured or physically impaired in some way
  • smells bad or is dirty and unkempt
  • has an opinion you don’t agree with
  • insults you
  • touches you inappropriately
  • is sexually promiscuous
  • is gay/lesbian
  • identifies as transgender
  • “identifies” as something unconventional or unusual
  • is weird
  • is “stupid”
  • is obese
  • is another race or ethnicity
  • doesn’t speak English
  • doesn’t share your political views
  • has different religious views from yours
  • does badly in school
  • is clumsy and uncoordinated
  • is the accidental or thoughtless cause of some kind of problem or damage
  • cuts you off in traffic or yells at you for your driving
  • falls down in a way that looks funny (but could be hurt)
  • hurts your feelings or makes you mad

Other considerations include respecting others when it comes to

  • using vulgarity, profanity or cursing in public
  • being reverent (i.e., quiet and calm) in a space others consider sacred or holy
  • blaring music in public spaces
  • interacting with strangers, service workers, people in public

Being respectful doesn’t mean you have to agree with another person’s beliefs, lifestyles or sensibilities.
It doesn’t mean that you have to give up your own fundamental rights or let people walk all over you. It means recognizing that in order to live in a free society, we must be respectful to each other. It means being nice.

There are quite a few resources for examining and promoting character develop in your kid. You can find a list of books on character and a booklet on character development on my website.

Note to reader: The teenagers represented in this series are upper middle and higher income, suburban teenagers. The ideas and strategies discussed in this blog are intended for kids in these social networks. They will not necessarily be effective or even appropriate for teenagers experiencing these issues in other socio-economic and cultural communities.

Episode 3: Communication and When A Peer is Troubled.  The next blog is inspired by episode 3 (which is tape side 2A) with some suggestions about improving communication with your teen.

It also addresses what your kid can do when they think a peer needs help.

Dr. Wellborn is an adolescent and family psychologist in Brentwood, Tennessee.  He is the author of the book Raising Teens in the 21st Century.  Find out more about him by visiting his website at www.drjameswellborn.com

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