Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Mothers and More 13 Reasons Why

This past weekend was Mother's Day, and it got me thinking about a lot of stuff.

First of all, I am very lucky. My husband made the day wonderful for me, and I got to spend time with him and our beautiful, happy, healthy son. I know that Mother's Day isn't as simple as breakfast in bed/flowers/handmade cards for everyone, though. Some people never knew their mother, some people have strained or estranged relationships, and some have been abused by mothers. And the day can also be hard for mothers, such as mothers who have outlived their children, or women who desperately wanted to be mothers but were never able to. Whoever you are, reader, I hope the day meant something to you.

I just finished Jodi Picoult's book Change of Heart. Ever since I first started reading her books, I have maintained that she is gifted at describing the mystery of motherhood. I don't know how she manages to capture the essence of the bond over and over again in ways that are so relatable, and with words that are sincere and not cliche.

"We pretend that we know our children, because it's easier than admitting the truth- from the minute that cord is cut, they are strangers. It's far easier to tell yourself your daughter is still a little girl than to see her in a bikini and realize she has the curves of a young woman; it's safer to say you are a good parent who has had all the right conversations about drugs and sex than to acknowledge there are a thousand things she would never tell you."

The plot of the book isn't important right now because I want to focus on that one paragraph, and how it relate to a very hot topic right now: Thirteen Reasons Why. The 2007 YA novel by Jay Asher was recently adapted into a Netflix series, and it has schools and parents in an uproar.

I have read numerous Facebooks posts and blogs and articles that decry this tv show because of the suicide storyline. Hannah Baker slits her wrists, and the scene is intended to be raw and disturbing. But before she did that, she recorded her experiences on audio cassette tapes, and bundled them all together in a box. Each side of a tape narrates an incident or relationship with a specific friend or schoolmate, and the people on the tapes are all given the opportunity to listen to them, and learn what role, deliberately or unwittingly they played in Hannah's high school career.

Critics of the show say that it's romanticizing suicide, and that Hannah blames others for her decision to end her life. I read the book, and watched the show, and that's not the way I see it at all. She's not blaming other people, she's just exposing the conflicts that teens face in the hidden worlds they navigate. I was a teen; there was a lot that I never told my parents. And now that I work around teens, and I watch how they interact with each other, I know they are not inviting adults into every aspect of their lives. Even the best kids, who are smart and nice and responsible and come from good families and get along well with their parents are not telling their parents everything. Sometimes they're embarrassed, sometimes they're ashamed, sometimes they just are starting to desire privacy, even about silly things like listening to music alone, and sometimes it's because they think they should be able to "handle it" (whatever it is) by themselves.

Whatever their reasons are, they are real, and they are often valid. All teens have secrets. Some teens also struggle with issues such as depression or PTSD or other circumstances which might make them vulnerable to suicidal thoughts. But I still fail to see how schools and parents banning the show, or the book is going to help. If a school library removes the book from the shelf,  it just means the teens are going to find it someplace else. And rather than have someone to talk to about it, like a parent or a guidance counselor or even a librarian, (if they choose to talk about it) they're going to end up going it alone.

It's easier for us to say that we should not allow teens to watch this show because it might give them ideas, rather than admit to ourselves that the ideas might already be there. We like to pretend that as adults we remember accurately what adolescence was like, when of course we don't. We also like to pretend that teens are overdramatic and lack a firm grasp on reality, believing everything they see on a TV or computer screen, when in fact adults are the ones creating the content they are watching, and marketing our products to them, flooding them with technology and tornadoes of mixed messages and misinformation.

It's easier to remove a book from a shelf, or post something on Facebook about why we shouldn't let kids watch the TV show rather than reflect on why the story is attracting so many teens in the first place.

If none of them watched the show, nobody would be worried.

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