13 Ways to Save a Life: Inspired by 13 Reasons Why

Nobody wants to be the one asking what they could have done after someone they care about has committed suicide.  Unfortunately, those suffering often don’t ask for help and do everything to protect the secret that is destroying them.  

So, how do we get through to them before it’s too late?  How do we tell them they are loved and that people care?  How do we spare them from further pain when they no longer trust anyone?  

HERE are 13 WAYS TO SAVE A LIFE:

WHAT ANYONE CAN DO

SHARE YOUR STORIES!  Whether you’re a parent, someone who works directly with teens, or just a concerned human being, you can help save a life by sharing your story.

13 reasons 

Those who suffer with suicidal thoughts, say they feel empty or alone.  Sharing your personal stories and how you got through it, could save a life.  It shows suffering teens that their pain is real and by acknowledging it, you’re giving them a chance to feel safe and express their own story.

The Netflix series 13 Reasons Why deals with real high school issues, such as, gossip and how it can destroy a reputation, social hierarchy/bullying, sexual assault, and substance abuse.  This is not a “kids these days” problem, and it’s not one we can ignore.  Real people suffer, I suffered, my mother suffered, and future generations will suffer if we don’t put a stop to it.

So, how do we spare kids like Hannah Baker from a broken heart, a destroyed reputation, and a soul so broken, they feel taking their life is their only option?

  1. SHARE YOUR STORIES!  Stories of teenage sexuality, struggles and overcoming pain  
  2. Stop brushing off teenage drama as natural rebellion and hormones.  
  3. Stop normalizing bullying as a right of passage.

Seems simple, but it’s only a start.  Shows like 13 Reasons Why and your stories will get the conversation going but putting an end to things like social hierarchy in schools and sexual entitlement means changing patterns that have been in place for decades.

WHAT TEACHERS CAN DO

I’m not a psychiatrist, but as a high school teacher, I have experience working with teenagers and here is what I’ve learned:

4.  Give them outlets.  

    • Outlets are a way for them to express themselves and can be anything from writing in a journal, to creating art, or playing a sport. 

5.  Tell them they can come to you with anything

  • When they do, stop what you’re doing, put everything down and give them your full attention.

6.  LISTEN

  • Don’t talk, just LISTEN. Did I say LISTEN?

7.  Offer understanding and validation when they’re done talking

  • Thank them for trusting you to share their feelings with you.  Share a time when you felt that way.  Tell them you’re worried about them but give them confidence by mentioning their strengths.
  • Whatever you do, do not make a generalized statement.  Phrases like “suck it up,” or “you just gotta get through it,” don’t acknowledge their personal feelings and could make them feel even more hopeless.

8.  Offer a safe place

  • A crowded hallway, a lunchroom where they don’t have a seat, can be very overwhelming.  Offer your classroom as a safe place.

I listened a lot and I wanted to save every single one of them.  I never lost one, but I know teachers who did.  It’s devastating and something nobody ever gets over.  So, let’s stop minimizing our kids problems and start dealing with them together.   

WHAT PARENTS CAN DO

Teachers save lives and the burden to reach every student is huge, but it doesn’t compare to the responsibility a parent has to their own child.  In the show, Hannah had great parents.  They were caring and attentive yet she still felt she couldn’t talk to them about what she was going through.  Why?

  • Teens want their parents to be proud of them. They’d never want you to think they’d put themselves in a harmful situation
  • Teens want to spare their parents from pain and worry.  Sometimes it’s because they think they’ll lose their independence and other times they’d rather burden the pain than have you hurting too.
  • Teens don’t want their parents marching into their school pointing fingers at every “bully” who hurt their wittle baby.  Embarrassment is the ultimate betrayal to a teen.

So what do parents do?  I’m a loving mom to 3 girls who are entering this stage of life.  I want to preserve their innocence and protect them, but I know they are entering a world of chaos that I can’t completely spare them from.  Here’s what I can do:

9.  Stop looking for answers in everything and everyone else, and get real with them.

  • My kid is not perfect and neither am I, but as a parent, I always want to believe that my child is better, they’re a representation of me, after all.  This is a flaw!  Allowing our kids to fail and holding them accountable is part of the maturation process.  The key is making sure one mistake doesn’t spiral into 10.

10.  Make sure they feel safe enough to ask me personal questions rather than relying on technology or the school.

    • I do this by sharing odd questions I had as a teen and funny stories about how I found the answers.  One time I asked my mom what a period was and she said it’s the dot at the end of a sentence.

11.  Be open with them about my own choices and acknowledge how they are affected.  

    • For me this is divorce, marriage, moving schools, but for others it could be parental neglect, substance abuse, etc.  These choices affect our kids and can make them feel powerless.  

12.  Make sure they know that no matter what I will love them unconditionally

    • But also that my unconditional love does not mean their actions will not have consequences.

13.  Make sure they know I will drop everything to bail them out of a peer pressure situation.

    • I’m naive to think this will always happen but giving them the option could be the difference between life or death.  I have given them specific examples of how to do this. No matter the situation or where they are, if they text me 111 and drop a pin, I will pick them up. They can tell their friends their grandma is in the hospital or their mom is being a bitch, or just slip out when nobody’s looking.

You can’t parent high school kids thinking it’s going to be all rainbows, you have to prepare for the storms that come first.  Being open with your kids and making them feel safe enough to come to you is much better than ignoring the problems in hopes they’ll just go away.  If the end result is a Tropical Storm, instead of a Cat 5 hurricane, you’ve done your job well.

The show ends with Hannah saying, “I felt something shift after I poured it all out (on the tapes). I felt like I could beat this, but this time I was asking for help because I knew I couldn’t do it alone.”  Unfortunately, when she went for help she was told her pain was no big deal and she should try and get over it.

Rape is a big deal.  Safety is a big deal.  Protecting our children is a big deal.

State legislatures need to get active in making laws that allow schools to take action in the best interest of students, not funding.  Schools should focus on destroying social hierarchies, rather than minimizing a destroyed reputation.  

Schools do not bear this burden alone.  Many people blame schools for not using social media accounts in bullying cases, but guess what, that’s on the parent.  Parents should have full access to their child’s social media accounts and if you don’t, you can only point the finger at yourself.  If a naked photo of a minor or devastating texts come through that phone at the hands of your kid, why do they even still have the privilege of technology?  

We all have to find a way to work together because whether it happens on school grounds or off, it is embedded in these kids lives forever.

When it comes down to it, no single person is to blame for the death of Hannah Baker, or the 44,000 other people who died in 2015 at the hand of suicide, but we can all do something about it together.  We can all save a life, not just by talking about suicide, but by getting personal.


 

10 thoughts on “13 Ways to Save a Life: Inspired by 13 Reasons Why

  1. Melissa D says:

    This is an incredible post. Thank you for sharing real, tangible ways we can help our kids. I grew up in a very cold home (with some emotional abuse thrown in), and I wish I would’ve had a safe adult who would have listened to me and believed what was happening in our home. Sadly, my father was very charming and well-liked in public, so I don’t think anyone was aware.

  2. Elizabeth Brico says:

    This is a great post. Thoughtful, clearly written, and spot on. I love reading your unique perspective as a high school teacher. Middle and high school were nightmares for me and the things that happened during that time in my life destroyed my life. I did not have a support system (I still don’t) and it was horrific. If more people showed the care and empathy that you describe in this post, less kids would die by suicide or grow up with PTSD like I did.
    I have a couple posts that touch on this subject from a different perspective; that of a suicide survivor. I would love to hear your thoughts if you have the time, and if you would ever like to guest post on my blog, please just e-mail me: bettymama206@gmail.com
    http://www.bettysbattleground.com/2017/03/15/suicide/
    http://www.bettysbattleground.com/2017/03/22/recognizing-suicidal-behavior/

    • Lisa Simmerman says:

      I will definitely read your posts and reach out. I’d love to brainstorm ways we can help other people through it.

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