Though there’s still room for improvement, season 2 of 13 Reasons Why better encourages teens to talk to their parents, and encourages parents to have more open conversations with their kids.
In season 1 of 13 Reasons Why, the adult figures were largely portrayed as distant, verging non-existent entities, or secondary ‘enemies.’ Despite the struggles and hardships these teens were dealing with, they rarely, if ever, went to their parents for support or guidance.
Of course, it’s not at all unrealistic for teens to not talk to their parents about their problems. The 13 Reasons Why parents weren’t exactly model parents either. From Clay’s overbearing ‘don’t shut your bedroom door’ mother, to Justin’s drug-addled, distant mother, it was no surprise parents were kept out of the loop.
It’s obviously a problem when a show about mental health among young people doesn’t present parents, or any trusted adult, as a viable outreach solution. To be sure, there were attempts in season 1 to show healthy child/parent relationships.
At the end of season 1, Jessi6ca told her father what happened to her, but we didn’t get to see the falling action. Fortunately for season 2, 13 Reasons Why has tried to rectify this untrustworthy parent problem. It isn’t perfectly done, but it certainly tries its best to toe the line between realistic and hopeful.
In season 1, Jessica bravely confided in her dad that she was raped. He didn’t doubt her, or question her, and in season 2, we see how supportive he is of her getting whatever help she needs. He’s protective as well. When he sees Justin in the school parking lot, his immediate reaction is to put Justin in his place (unknowingly thinking Justin is the one who raped Jessica). When Jessica explains to her dad that his reaction is doing more damage to her than anyone else, he checks himself and stops. He realizes this isn’t about him and his anger. It’s about his daughter and what’s best for her.
Clay’s parents have also grown in season 2, allowing him more freedom than he’s had previously. His girlfriend is allowed over, with open arms; he’s allowed to shut his bedroom door; he’s even given a car as a gesture of good faith
since most kids in their neighborhood already have one. What’s more, Clay’s parents aren’t just agreeable with Justin living with them, they’re willing to adopt him.
Seeing parents react calmly to their children’s misbehavior doesn’t just show teens they can trust their parents, it’s also a lesson for parents who are watching. An emotional, angry response to something your child does or says is not necessarily going to build trust between you two.
When Cyrus and Tyler’s parents find out their sons have been secretly shooting guns in the woods, they don’t confiscate Tyler’s weapons and make the boys swear to never use a gun again. Instead, Tyler and Cyrus are taken to a gun range and taught proper gun safety from an officer. Try as their parents might, odds are if the boys attained access to guns once, they can again if they want to. They’re better off at least learning how to use them safely.
There’s also the surprisingly nuanced portrayal of Bryce’s mother. It can’t be easy to hear that the boy you raised has committed a monstrous act. It’s understandable that a parent’s first instinct would be to defend their son. Ultimately, though, your child is their own person, and you’re not around them most of the day. How well do you really know them, past what they tell you?
Bryce’s mom allows herself to be open to the possibility that the boy she raised could be capable of the accusations. She may never speak out against him publicly, but she’s able to admit to herself that perhaps she didn’t raise him as well as she thought. Maybe her son hasn’t grown into the respectable man she wanted him to be. There’s a level of accountability on her part to call him out for what he’s done, even though, at the end of the day, he’s still her son.
Throughout the season, there are many examples of supportive parents who try to take an active role in their kid’s life. Courtney, Tyler, and Alex’s parents all actively try to keep open dialogue with their children, checking up on them and giving them space when asked. As ideal as these relationships are, they’re unfortunately not always the reality.
Not everyone has a parent or guardian they can confide in. Justin’s mother is an addict who can barely keep herself together, let alone take care of her son, forcing Justin to fend for himself until taken in by the Jensens.
Then there’s Zach’s mother, a far more common representation of an unapproachable parent. She’s unwilling to hear Zach’s pleas that he isn’t okay. Perhaps Zach’s mom is having her own coping problems after the death of her husband, but at the end of the day, her son needs her and is asking for her help. Somehow she needs to get it together for him, but as of now, she just won’t.
For teens who don’t have a parent to talk to, the obvious next place to look is the school. 13 Reasons Why leaves much to be desired when it comes to confidence in the school system though.
A huge mistake the school makes is to forbid anyone from talking about Hannah’s suicide, and Alex’s attempted suicide, for fear of suicide contagion. All it does, however, is inhibit open dialogue, and make it unclear to kids what is and isn’t appropriate to talk about. Traumatic events happened, and students should be encouraged to talk about it. Left to their own thoughts, or secretly amongst each other, will only lead to misinformation and damaging mentality.
The school also fails to exhibit healthy teacher/student relationships. The presence of teachers at Liberty High is minimal. The only teacher who’s given any characterization is the coach, whose complacency of his team’s behavior is highly problematic. Likewise, the principal is unsympathetic to students’ plights, only caring so far as saving the school’s reputation. As for Mr. Porter, while he does his best in season 2 to right his wrongs from season 1, he’s ultimately written as being inexperienced and undertrained.
Any teenager watching 13 Reasons Why would understandably question whether their school is a safe space, which is one of the show’s biggest failings. However, season 2 has done a respectable job presenting parents and guardians as open-minded and willing to listen.
There are valuable takeaways from 13 Reasons Why, whether you’re a son, daughter, mom, or dad. It’s important for children, or teenagers, to feel supported and safe talking to their parents, and it’s important for parents to make sure their children feel that comfort they all need.