By Kevin Canessa Jr.
Back in December 1985 – I was 11 – my mom made the pretty easy decision to move us from Jersey City to Kearny. Being 11 was, perhaps, the most awkward time I can ever recall. I was on the chubby side. The glasses I wore back then were so big I could practically use them in a wood-working shop for eye protection. My voice – let’s just say it was squeaky enough to drive people in another direction when I spoke.
So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that when I first got here, I was picked on. Here I was the nerdy kid from Jersey City entering a sixth-grade classroom – right in the middle of the academic year – that was filled with kids who had been going to Schuyler School together since they were in kindergarten in 1979.
The teasing didn’t last long, but when it was happening, it seemed like my world was crumbling down. I wanted no part of the place at first. In fact, my mom even agreed to let me go back to the Catholic school I was attending in Jersey City for seventh-grade. But I ultimately decided to stay, because after a while, I fought back, and somehow started to “fit in” sometime in February 1986.
I share this story not for pity, but because I was reminded of it all after watching 13 episodes of the Netflix series released March 31 called “13 Reasons Why.” It’s the fictional story of a young girl, called Hannah Baker, who left a series of 13 cassette tapes behind after she took her own life following a series of incidents of extreme bullying.
Each of the 13 tapes was designed for a different person. Each person, in his/her own way, contributed to Hannah’s decision to take her own life.
To say the very least, the series, produced in part by Salena Gomez (she had the title executive producer), was as riveting a TV series as I’ve seen in a long time. It was designed to be a talking point for teenagers, parents, guardians, bullies, the bullied, teachers, guidance counselors, police, school administrators – you name it.
The series was done so well and was so realistic (and not sensationalized as so much from Hollywood is) that it’s truly must-see viewing for the aforementioned.
If I had my way, it would be required viewing for every single teenager, parent, school official, etc.It’s one of the first times the bullying epidemic has been squarely addressed by a “TV” series. (We use the word “TV” in quotes since it’s not a TV-series, per-se, with it being on Netflix. And yes, we do realize the topic has been addressed in documentaries.)
Truth be told, however, anyone with any connection to a kid who could be bullied at school – or online or anywhere for that matter – should take the time to watch the 13-part series because it’s a true eye opener as to how rampant bullying is – and how so often, if flies under the radar for the people in the lives of the bullied.
Without giving away too much of the storyline, in the case of lead character Hannah Baker, even the people who knew her best didn’t realize how hurtful their actions were. None had so much as a tiny clue she was considering suicide. Then again, how often do high school sophomores really take time to consider how their classmates and friends “feel?”
Not often – or so it seems.
They called her names. They circulated photos of her via text messages. They shamed her. They abandoned her. They did it all to Hannah.
Fictionally, because so few realized Hannah’s despair, it ended in tragedy. But a series like “13 Reasons Why” truly should and will open a dialogue between adults and teenagers. In fact, we’ve already heard of school districts around the country bringing the series to guidance classes or social-studies classes (so far, most have been in New England, including Massachusetts and Rhode Island.)
The show is rated TV-MA, so it’s likely that permission would have to be granted by parents for their kids to watch this in a school setting.
Now it may not solve the bullying issue completely. And of course, not all teens will take it seriously. But if somehow only a handful of lives are saved because someone sees a sign of bullying because of what they viewed in “13 Reasons Why” – or if it helps one kid make a decision not to end his life – it will have served its purpose.
But it should do much more than that.
And that’s why if you’re that parent, that teacher, that kid who feels like there is no answer to being bullied, you’ve got to take the time to watch this series. I finished all episodes in just three days.
What are you waiting for?
Don’t wait until it’s too late.
“13 Reasons Why” can be viewed on Netflix on a variety of platforms. If you’re not a Netflix subscriber, free trials are available under which you’ll be able to view the entire series.