‘13 Rea­sons Why’ high­lights lat­est chal­lenge for par­ents in a new stream­ing world

The Hamilton Spectator - - LIVING - DAVID FRIEND

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.

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