I just finished watching this series on Netflix. Parents, know that your teens have probably watched it. If you have not watched it and talked to them about the show, it might be a good idea to do so. The series covers 13 reasons why a particular teen chose to end her life. It covers some very serious topics that teens face, suicide, rape, bullying, “frenimies”, drugs, and relationships.
Two statements from the movie stuck with me.
- “Losing a friend is never easy, especially when you don’t understand why you lost them in the first place.”
- “Nowhere is safe.”
Even as an adult, I have lost friends and never knew why. To this day, I wonder why one of my friends ended our friendship and it bothers me. I even confronted this friend to ask why and was given an answer of “we don’t run in the same circles.”
If this continues to haunt me, and I am an adult, how do teens handle this? Are they equipped with the coping skills or support system to understand that – their value is not based on whether another person likes them or not? I have to question whether a teen can understand that, if it even sticks with me.
You see, although we like to say we are independent, as humans, we are all actually very dependent. Social interaction and engagement are crucial to our survival. Studies have shown that infants who are not held or nurtured will fail to thrive, despite the best food and diaper changes given. We need human interaction and touch.
When our social relationships are challenged or we don’t feel worthy of them, then problems begin. Social isolation is one of the main reasons for someone to consider ending their life.
Someone can also appear to be surrounded by friends and still feel very alone. I used the term “frenimies” in the first paragraph. If you are not familiar with the term, it means people you socialize with and, to an outside person, appear as though they are friends; however, in reality, they frequently undermine or hurt them. A person gets linked to a “frenimie” when they can gain social status or simply because having someone, is better than not having anyone at all. Be aware of these relationships and know they are very unstable and likely to cause problems.
Some of you may recall reading my blog about Bullies. In that blog, I wrote about being someone available to talk to a teen, being that someone. That leads me into the next line of the movie that moved me: “Nowhere was safe.”
Having a safe place to go where you feel accepted, loved, and that you are a priority is so important to all of us. Create a safe place for your teen where they know they’re not only valued when they exceed expectations, but that even when they are feeling their worst, they are loved. Even when they behave their worst, they are still valued.
If I could give one tip to parents, one that I also need to work on, it would be to listen to your teens. Engage them in conversation, not to give advice or to reprimand, but simply to listen. Put your screens down and look them eye-to-eye, or side-by-side, and give them your full attention. You might learn something new or, more importantly, they will feel valued and know they have one safe place.
This series was powerful and hard to watch. It showed the mistakes we all make everyday in interactions. It even addressed how mental health providers can miss the mark. I know I have personally worked with teens that have ended their lives and left all of us, as a professional team, feeling like we fell short.
We are fallible, yet we can and do have the ability to learn and try harder. If you know someone who took their life, there are things we should learn from it, even if we can’t change what happened. One way to honor that person is to take what we learned and make changes.