Warning: Spoiler Alert!!!
Season Two of 13 Reasons Why is back on Netflix and whereas school districts are sending mass emails of the graphic nature of the show, most teens and adults are binging the entire season in shock and awe, drawing connections, and possibly building empathy for the people in their school and community. Based on the young adult novel by the same name, Season 2 goes beyond the book and looks at the characters more closely as a trial unfolds against the school district for their responsibility in Hannah Baker’s suicide.
Watching Season 2, the role of the teachers, parents, and adults stood out for their lack of presence and negative impact or role in the show. It is not until Episode 8 or 9 that there is a shift in Jessica and Clay’s families where parenting becomes the forefront of the series in honest and imperfect ways. At the same time, I found myself critical of the lack of presence of teachers and school support staff throughout the school scenes that seemed inauthentic and the failures among parents aloof to these teenagers in crisis and need. Here are thirteen critical failures from the adults in the show:
- Teachers are invisible or erased from the story. Walking down the hallways of the high school there are literally no teachers. There are only two teachers who have a role throughout the series – I will talk about the math teacher/coach separately. In schools today there are multiple security guards, cameras, and more presence in the hallways. Additionally, the mop left in the boys bathroom by a janitor in Episode 13 can cost someone his/her job.
- The principal is driven by outside money and ignorant about the rumors and activity happening on campus. He never takes an active role to interact with his students or staff until it’s too late. When the guidance counselor, Mr. Porter, gives the principal the files of students he has red flagged, the principal doesn’t even look at the files but leaves them on the counselor’s desk.
- The guidance counselor goes on a home visit and ends up in a physical altercation with the parent – really, parents and school faculty in physical altercations?
- The baseball coach walks into the locker room and announces to his athletes that he has synthetic urine for any of his players who need it for a drug test the following day.
- In Episode 12 the same baseball coach tells his players “I don’t know and I don’t want to know” about the polaroid pictures. He seems only focused on his championships and not wanting to address the violence, drug use, or the fact that the entire team is labelled rapists.
- Justin’s mother is a junkie a chooses her drug dealer boyfriend over her own son. Justin mom has failed him from a young age and this clearly impacts his actions.
- Austin and Clay’s parents are lied to regularly and the parents never question their son’s credibility or actions, despite their stories not measuring up or their bad behavior.
- Clay’s parents buy him a car after he yells at them and his bike is totaled. He puts a lock on his door and stays out late. They question his behavior and he is not truthful and yet, he still got a car.
- Zack’s mother is emotionless and cold and after her son confides in her that he is struggling she turns her back and walks away.
- Bryce’s parent are egotistical and stoic. The father never questions his son’s actions. When Bryce’s mother asks about Hannah he tells her a graphic play by play what he did to her in the hot tub. She smacks him across the face and he stands there unfazed. In fact, he threatens his mother and there are no repercussions.
- Hannah’s dad has moved in with another woman less than six months after his daughter’s death and seemingly moved on with his life.
- Clay’s parents get into a huge argument and his mother leaves for a week to “let off steam and work things out.”
- The school says nothing about the suicide and violence happening on campus because of the fear of copycat suicides.
There are a few scenes where the parents are supportive and helpful for their children. Specifically, Clay’s father and Jessica’s parents. After Clay testifies, he and his father share Starbucks coffee and talk. Clay’s father mostly listens. Jessica’s father is truly supportive of his daughter and the scene where he tucks her into bed is memorable. Her father struggles between overprotecting his daughter and letting her grow. He has the most scenes throughout Season 2 finding a balance between trusting his daughter and being present in a positive and supportive way.
Austin’s parents are upsetting to watch because of how aloof they are to their son’s bullying, anger, and isolation. His fascination in guns from the beginning of the series clearly maps out the extent of violence we will see by the last episode. Once he pulls out his arsenal of weapons he hides in the basement with his parents clearly unaware, I was reminded of Sue Klebold, mother of 1999 Columbine High School Shooter, Eric Klebold’s book, A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy (2016) and TED Talk (see below). This is a fascinating read for any teacher or parent and sheds light on the teenage brain, depression, and school violence.
Before you quickly dismiss Thirteen Reasons Why, it is an imperative series for all educators and parents to see with teens. The show raises important topics of bullying, addiction, suicide, rape, violence, and empathy. At the very least, it helps initiate conversations about the stress, loneliness, and choices young people might be facing.