While Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why has received significant criticism for its “dangerous” themes, among teens, it’s become somewhat of a cult show.
The series has attracted the most social media attention of any series, and is so popular with young people, schools have started to issue warnings to parents, teachers have found themselves discussing the show with their students, and in online forums, teenagers have praised the show for “saving their lives”.
There’s undeniably something about 13 Reasons Why, and the themes it addresses, that resonates strongly with an adolescent audience. So we asked four teenage girls what they think adults are ‘missing’ about the show.
May*, 17, said Hannah Baker’s story was more familiar than most adults might think. “The things that happened to Hannah Baker actually happen in real life,” she said. “And people do stupid things without realising the consequences of their actions.”
While she found the infamous ‘suicide scene’ graphic, May said it also “raises awareness of what bullying can do… and how your actions can affect another person”.
She said ultimately, "adults don't understand what it's like to be in high school". For May, and presumably for her peers, 13 Reasons Why depicts a world they feel like the adults around them have never seen. "Times have changed since they were here," she said, "and they don't understand the atmosphere and the vibe of social media and the pressures of fitting in".
Indeed, the significance of social media as a tool to bully and humiliate others was noted by the other teens we spoke to. Sarah*, also 17, said she thinks her parents and teachers are completely "clueless" when it comes to the damage social media can do. "People can use it to be really cruel," she said. "Teachers tell you to block it and ignore it but that's not how it works. And the bullying isn't as obvious as hitting someone or calling them names at school."
Other teens, however, acknowledged the show is an "exaggeration".
"I don't think kids really are that vicious," said Amy*, 19. "But reading other reactions and reviews it was eye opening to just how intense high school can be for some people."
Amy thought the most relatable aspect of the show was the "slut-shaming" Hannah received, "regardless of whether she did anything or not".