‘13 Reasons Why’ highlights latest challenge for parents in a new streaming world
TORONTO — Annie Boucher is coming to terms with parenting in the Netflix era.
The Ottawa-based mom had to do her homework when her 12-year-old daughter asked to watch the streaming service’s new teen drama, “13 Reasons Why.”
Boucher heard about the show rattling educators and captivating students with its depictions of suicide and sexual assault, but hadn’t seen it for herself.
Before giving her daughter permission to start the series, she wanted to thoroughly examine its content by embarking on the monumental task of squeezing all 13 episodes into her schedule.
“If I’m making a coffee I’ll spend, like, three minutes watching it. Or, if I’m having lunch, I’ll spend 15 minutes,” she says.
“I’m kind of piecing it together ... As a parent you can’t binge-watch anything.”
Boucher finally made it through the episodes a couple of days ago. Now she plans to revisit the climactic, graphic finale alongside her daughter to discuss it.
Hopefully, she says, that will prepare the girl for the inevitable conversations she’ll encounter in school hallways. Already her classmates are dissecting the specifics of each pivotal scene.
Yet Boucher acknowledges that “13 Reasons Why” doesn’t stand alone. While potentially objectionable shows broadcast on TV, like “Game of Thrones” or “The Walking Dead,” are easier for parents to stay on top of with weekly instalments, the arrival of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video changed everything.
Instead of revealing an episode per week, the streaming platforms dump an entire season in one fell swoop.
And parents are finding themselves overwhelmed by the mounting quantity of content.
“Every day I log in and there’s a new series,” Boucher says. “It used to be that everybody would talk about the same thing, now you don’t even know there’s a phenomenon like ‘13 Reasons Why.’”
Many parents felt blindsided by the series, which arrived in late March and exploded in popularity almost immediately, driven by social media buzz from its executive producer Selena Gomez and an established awareness as a 2007 youth adult novel.
Its storyline focuses on a high school student who kills herself and leaves behind 13 cassette tapes outlining events that pushed her to make the decision. Some of the more intense moments visualize rape, substance abuse and cyberbullying.
Hetty Alcuitas hadn’t heard of the show until Facebook posts started appearing from concerned parents. When someone explained the most troubling scenes to her, she asked her 16-year-old daughter whether she’d watched the episodes.
Alcuitas was surprised to learn her daughter had already finished the series.
“I do want to watch it, but it’s like, ‘Oh my god, do I have time?’” says the single mom who lives in New Westminster, B.C.
While Netflix classifies the series with a mature rating, not all parents have activated the service’s content filter. That means a binge through all of the episodes could go almost undetected on a user’s account — unless parents dig into their viewing history.
It’s one of the reasons why numerous schools across the country have alerted parents about the series and its content. Some have even asked parents to notify their children that “13 Reasons Why” shouldn’t be discussed on school grounds.
Kathy Short, director of School Mental Health Assist, an organization supporting mental health in Ontario schools, sent a note to school boards saying the Netflix series shouldn’t be used as a “teaching tool.”
Short says while most teens will handle what’s depicted on the show, not everyone is prepared for the topics it addresses.
“It’s the young person who’s already not feeling well, maybe is feeling alone, and picks up some of these messages having binge-watched it alone at two in the morning — those are the kids we’re worried about.”
Katherine Langford in a scene from the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” about a teenager who dies by suicide.