• What Isn’t Being Said About 13 Reasons Why

    by  • May 3, 2017 • Internet Safety • 5 Comments

    The science of brain processing and development reveals the true dangers of media for children. 

    A lot has been written about the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, which is a fictional story depicting the suicide of a teenage girl. What’s most disturbing about this “conversation starter” that some are billing as a sign of the times and a type of coming of age story, is what isn’t being said.

    Despite full beards or breasts, children and teens are not yet adults; and treating them as though they are helps feed the problem. They do not yet possess the emotional capacity to process issues, and the growing dysfunction in violence, sexuality, and mental health disorders are proof of that. There seems to be a disconnect about why some believe students viewing this series can be harmful. There probably are parents in denial, who believe they can shield their children from the realities of the world. But it’s the science of brain processing and development that reveals the true dangers.

    The brain is the control center for the entire body and is a multi-processing engineering marvel. The eyes, ears, nose, etc. are pathways that imprint on the brain and on our subconscious in multiple ways and places all at the same time, while unconsciously releasing powerful chemicals and hormones (cortisol, steroids, oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, etc.), which then become part of the imprinting process, resulting in synaptic growth, development, pruning, and shedding. Neurons that fire together, wire together. A variety of other cell transactions are also active, including “mirror” neurons, which explains why our unconscious automatic response is to smile when someone smiles at us (profoundly visible in babies) and which are integral to bonding, another critical component within the imprinting process.

    The brain’s physical growth goes on until the mid-twenties, and neuroplastic growth is occurring all throughout life. The frontal lobe, where reasoning and decision making develop, is the last part of the brain to mature. The mid lobe, in control of limbic and emotional function (which some refer to as the “reptile” brain), controls the powerful survival urges for food, water, and sex and can in some situations override the sympathetic nervous system. Awakening some parts of the brain at age-inappropriate times (such as before the frontal lobe develops) can begin to feed powerful, age-inappropriate, destructive appetites, reinforcing the notion that “what we feed, grows.” These brain changes help explain why pornography is the number one form of child sexual abuse, and at epidemic levels, occurring now at the average age of eight. The porn that young people are now increasingly being exposed to and consuming is also more graphic and violent. Combining graphic sexualization and violence in prolific ways, the likes of which have never been seen before this age of electronics, is a multiplier and a cultural game changer. The program¬†13 Reasons Why includes scenes of graphic and violent rape that we shouldn’t expect students, who don’t yet possess the capacity (and don’t know they don’t possess the capacity) to adequately process.

    Then, there is the actual suicide scene in the series and all that it triggers. Like a magnet, we are drawn to the things we identify with, whether it’s a hobby, idea, or emotion. Our minds are the product of our unique biology and experiences. Even though many individuals might be looking at the same thing, each interprets it in their own way based on personal knowledge and experience. Someone who is vulnerable, has experienced neglect or abuse, or who does not yet possess a physically and emotionally mature, healthy, and optimally functioning brain, is at risk of having powerful emotions triggered through the effect of mirror neurons, setting up the phenomenon that allows suicide (cutting, drug use, sexual urgency, etc.) to become overpowering and even contagious.

    Mental health, violence, and sexualization are intricately and co-morbidly linked. There is so much more that should be said, and it could be said in the very same hours it takes to watch 13 Reasons Why. The same imprinting and chemical response system at the root of so many of these struggles can also be harnessed in powerful and healthy ways. The key is in adults being adults who quit seeing and treating children and teens as if they already are adults. It’s never too late to start doing the right thing — and we could see dramatic improvement in a short amount of time when we do.

    Comment below. What are your thoughts on 13 Reasons Why? Concerned? Great opportunity for dialogue?




    Grassroots Chapter Director in Nashville, Tennessee

    5 Responses to What Isn’t Being Said About 13 Reasons Why

    1. Bobby
      June 12, 2017 at 7:34 am

      These shows are TV-MA, the equivalent of the NC-17 rating in the movies. There is a reasoning for this — show how the raunchier and more graphic shows advertisers and Americans won’t support on broadcast or basic cable, or even the movie theaters, air on streaming over the top services and get away with it.

    2. APOLONIO Baca
      May 7, 2017 at 2:38 pm

      I think kids need to live life as it comes and not let anyone or anything guide them except their parents. Life is,tough and the only way to grow through tough times and events is with a spiritual basis and good parents who stand with you. Our society today seems to believe we must keep our kids from the tough lessons of life. Then when reality meets them they can cope and they look to the “easy way out”
      PS I am not a psychiatrist or a social worker Just a Christian parent who grew up with a widowed mom with five children oldest 13 and me 3. But not one of us committed suicide.

      • Debra
        May 12, 2017 at 5:32 pm

        To the comment above, you also need to be responsible. You should not just allow your child to be exposed to whatever comes their way. I am also a Christian. We try our best to protect our teens, and while it is impossible to protect them from everything they should learn guidelines from their home. As the article said, their brains are not physically ready to see these things so why, as a parent, allow it??

    3. Lori Ponec
      May 6, 2017 at 8:45 am

      I totally get everything you said about the brain but kids are watching all these things. From horrible violence and gore in the games they are playing and movies they are watching to life in general. I don’t condone this, in fact my kids were not allowed cell phones, their own computers, access at our house to anything over PG-13, etc. until they had graduated. But they did read, and boy did they read a lot. Some of the books my girls read were pretty edgy and this was one of them. This doesn’t mean that they don’t see it or participate in it. Unless you put your kids in a plastic bubble, they will be part of “being a kid”. That being said, I watched the series with my 19 year old daughter. She has had two high school friends commit suicide. I agree, the parts in the show where they portray the suicide and rape are pretty gritty and awful. But that’s what they are, awful. There was no romanticizing those parts. It was horrifying to watch. It did not glorify suicide. What she and I took from it, be nice. Be there for people. Don’t say nasty things, don’t write nasty texts, don’t be nasty on social media. The discussions that I have had with other teen girls is the same. You never know what your words or actions can do to a person.

    4. Mary Coakley
      May 5, 2017 at 1:53 pm

      Excellent commentary. As a psychologist who works with kids, I sounded the alarm about this series as soon as I heard about it, which was only 2 weeks ago. Your explanation of the neurological underpinnings of what appears to be “just” a behavioral response is so helpful. It is the same thing that goes on for the person who views pornography, as you rightly pointed out in the article. Unfortunately because media is mobile nowadays, it is very very difficult for parents to stop their children from seeing something they don’t want them to see. That is why parents need to educate their children (hopefully in advance) to install a “brain filter” so that when they see disturbing images they know to close their eyes, turn it off, activate the thinking brain by labeling it as pornography or “disturbing” or whatever, and then tell a parent to process it with them. I refer you to Kristen Jensen’s work on “porn-proofing” children for a better explanation.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *