I wasn’t a teenager that long ago, and I remember high school as though it was yesterday. I remember witnessing girls being called sluts, boys sending demeaning messages around about said girls, and so many school fights that I lost count half way through my first year. So maybe that’s why 13 Reasons Why resonates with me, and so many other viewers; it actually shows real-life problems that teenagers face every single day.
I can remember so many girls going through the same thing as Hannah Baker- thankfully, suicide wasn’t a result in any of the cases I have witnessed, although whether or not it was ever considered I don’t know.
Yet whilst I’ve grown up and left high school and teenage dramas behind me, my little sister is just beginning that cycle of life. And, in all honesty, that terrifies me. Kids are so much cruller now, especially with the emergence of social media- when I was in school, Facebook and Myspace were our only forms of social media.
I, like many others, binge-watched 13 Reasons Why. The strangest thing happened; instead of simply feeling empathy for Hannah and Clay, I began to feel oddly protective. I felt this sudden need to tell every single teenager that I saw that everything would be okay eventually; in five years, you won’t even see the kids that are giving you a hard time now, and all those rumours won’t matter.
The thing is, I can relate to so many aspects of Hannah’s life. I too, was called a slut in the corridor because of an entirely false rumour, and I was featured on a list that labelled me as ‘best legs’. But I didn’t feel suicidal, I didn’t hurt myself in any way. And that got me thinking; are teenagers actually trying to offend and hurt each other, or are they simply immature and don’t realise what they’re doing can have really awful consequences?
So, like the protective big sister that I am, I gathered my little sister and cousin and a few of their friends for a viewing party. (This might sound odd, but we actually do it a lot). Three episodes in and they decided they wanted to talk. First, they voiced their anger; that was great, they knew that what people were doing to Hannah was wrong. But then I asked what they would do if they saw someone being treated like that, or heard a rumour about someone. And then there was silence.
Not a single one of them knew what they would do. One of the girls said they would stay out of the drama to avoid getting bullied herself; and this was what concerned me most. The fact they were aware that calling girls sluts and spreading false rumours is bullying, but they would simply ignore it to avoid getting sucked in themselves. So clearly, that’s a problem.
Why aren’t kids being taught what to do about bullying? Why aren’t they given information on how to help each other? Or are they given it, and are simply too scared of consequences? Most importantly, how can we, as a society, stop teenagers being pushed to the point where they simply can’t go on?
It’s a huge, global crisis, in my opinion. Teenagers are breakable; more so than any other age group. They’re sensitive, they’re shy about stuff, they’re trying to hard to be independent yet they still have that child-like vulnerability.
We, as adults, need to be aware of how to help the next generation. Because honestly, we’ve all been in their shoes. Being a teenager is shit, we all know it. So let’s make a promise, right now, to help out all the Hannah Baker’s.
*if you are concerned about anyone’s mental health, listed below are places you can receive help or advice:
You can also meet with your GP, or make an appointment with a guidance counsellor in your school/college/university. Or, my email is always open for a chat.