All the clever titles have been used up, but over the last week I watched to the new Netflix Original Series, 13 Reasons Why.
The series is based on a young adult novel by Jay Asher that centers on the characters of Clay Jensen and Hannah Baker. Hannah is dead and has left behind a 13 part suicide note in the form of a series of tapes that each focus on one reason, and the person behind each reason. Clay was a close friend of Hannah’s that was romantically interested in her. The story follows Clay’s experiences of listening to the tapes, the impact on him as he realizes what happened to his friend, and the repercussions on those responsible.
So like always, youth workers have been going nuts about what this means for their youth programs. Should we watch it? Talk about it? Should I bring it up? Should I even watch it? Is it good for youth? Harmful? Can I build a four part teaching series on it? Host viewing parties so we can host discussion groups? Does it hurt the conversation? Help the conversation? A whole host of questions that are real and invented.
After watching the series over the course of about a week her are 6 points I would take away from the series and how it might impact your ministry.
- Don’t dismiss it. It’s worth taking the time to watch a few episodes even if you are not going to watch the whole thing (or better yet read it). The issues brought up in 13RW are real. They happen. Teen suicide, depression, bullying, rape, isolation, family pressure, and sexual inequality. These are real issues. You should take a little time to make sure you are reasonably familiar with this pop culture exploration of those ideas. That said…
- It’s probably not going to be a major conversation at your youth nights, and it probably shouldn’t be. Because these are important issues, and trying to just use a cheap hook does not do them the service they need. It may come up in small groups, but the show is a TV-MA show and it’s not appropriate for you to bring it up. If the youth in the ministry do so, you should respond, but you don’t need to use this to instigate.
- Use this as a point to check yourself and your ministry. Do you have a pastoral care plan in place for extreme needs? Rape, suicide, homelessness, drug abuse, emotional and physical abuse, bullying? Why do you do when youth in your community confront these issues directly or through friends. You need to have plans, policies, and processes in place and you need to train your leaders to respond in these situations.
- Things are worse for girls. If you don’t see this, that’s a problem. Young women are continually abused, bullied, shamed, and blamed for what happens to them. It happens everyday, and it probably happens somewhere in your ministry.
- Speak to the issue, not the situation. We often wait until it’s too late to in a given situation. We talk about it, not because it’s the truth, but because something has happened and we want to put a band aid on it. A public response to a private issue is always inappropriate. We need to be aware of and forming our young people around issues well before they are problems.
- Your ministry is not a mental health support group, and you are (probably) not a mental health professional. You need to make sure you are connected to people who are, and your focus needs to be tackling these issues in light of the Gospel.
If you are looking for more help on supporting youth in your ministry who are struggling with mental health issues please check out the great ministry of my friend Roy Petitfils. Roy is a phenomenal minister and thinker who would be a great resource for you. You can find resources by Roy at RoyPetitfils.com. He also just covered the topic in Facebook Live! You can check out the video below.