True confession… I binge-watched the entire Netflix series titled “13 Reasons Why!” My initial reaction was that it was a show that covered truisms that many adolescents face in today’s world (bullying, sexual assault, sexual harassment, isolation, drunk driving, parent-teen communication issues). The characters were well developed and, while often graphic and painful to watch, I thought it did a good job of addressing some pretty dicey subject matter. But after processing the series more with colleagues, I began to have concerns about some of the missed opportunities to more transparently shed light on the theme of mental illness; something that impacts one in five teens in our society today. While we occasionally see Hannah and Clay (two of the main characters), sitting alone in the lunchroom or apparently feeling invisible in classroom scenes, the only references to mental illness are within Clay’s family scenes, when mom identifies that perhaps he might want to return to therapy or re-start some medication; she’s concerned about him.
When I speak to parents and members of our community about bullying, I most often am asked the following question: “What’s the big deal? Bullying happened when we were kids and we all survived!”
Flashback some 35-40 years ago and yes, bullying happened – on the playground, walking home, on the school bus, in the locker room. Some of us were teased (“four-eyes,” “uni-brow,” “brown-nose”). And yes, teasing is quite different from bullying. How so, you may ask?
Mischa comes home crying because the kids “bullied her” during lunch again. Luke is upset that “the bullies” wouldn’t include him in basketball after school. The principal called because your angel Tom pushed another student down in the hallway. Is it bullying?