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How Can the Church Respond to '13 Reasons Why'?

13 Reasons Why
The mischievous boys of "13 Reasons Why" carry some big secrets. |

Season Two of 13 Reasons Why released May 18th. Despite its TV-MA rating, teens and young adults are binge watching content that highlights intense issues in graphically dramatized, highly emotional narratives. A question remains: How can we, as minsters of the Gospel, be most effective in reaching those who are either triggered by 13 Reasons Why or face the core issues the show highlights?

13 Reasons Why is Here to Stay

Though I do not condone the show—it is out for good. Its damage is done and continues. We do not do ourselves favors to hope it and the issues it presents, will just go away. Yes, the show depicts graphic displays of sin—along with heartbreaking choices with high consequences. I do not wish for its episodes to be the leading voice that those who are hurting turn to. But with the phenomena in play—what do we do? We find positive ways to engage with the hurting. We lean in to listen. We become familiar with resources and walk alongside of those who need them. We remain as an advocate for their healing, hope and restoration.

Recognize Viewers Feel a Sense of Belonging

Over and over, viewers told me they felt understood by the characters. The relatability piece gave them a sense of belonging. They had a script with which to attach their confusions, emotions and hurt.

I never want a streaming TV service to be the source for the hurting to find language for what they feel. Knowing that content like 13 Reasons Why is out there should push us towards leaning in to others in appropriate avenues. This may mean initiating one on one meetings with those we know are struggling, forming small groups in which it's safe to ask messy questions or housing forums for "tough stuff" nights. Anytime we can communicate to those in our communities, "Your confusion is welcome here, let me help you find the language and tools to work through it in a healthy way" we form the sense of belonging they crave.

Differentiate Fact from Fiction

In the same way that a song's lyrics can provide an outlet to explain the most intricate of emotions—a TV show's script can provide an outlet of relief. Few people who are hurting have the articulation the 13 Reasons Why characters did. Season 2 teased this idea in several scenes in which characters said in a variety of ways, "I don't know how to explain what I am feeling, so how can I talk to you?" But the truth is—the characters did talk. It was just rare that they talked to people who could provide actual care. When the characters did express themselves—it gave viewers a pathway. The problem was that the pathway was often harmful.

It is our job, as ministers of the Gospel, to provide a different way for the hurting.

We teach them how to find that language and articulate their emotions—leading them to work through tough issues in a healthy, balanced way when we process alongside of them. It is why I created a Season Two Processing Guide for viewers, parents and youth workers. Hurting individuals and especially teen and young adult viewers need help understanding the complex nature of issues like abuse, addiction, bullying, depression, hardship at home, image, self-harm and suicide. As we give them room to talk freely about their thoughts on these matters—we teach them how to handle them in a manner that lines up with the Gospel.

Provide Real Avenues for hope

Those watching13 Reasons Why are also set up for disappointment once the season concludes. While Netflix did air a "Beyond the Reasons" special to address viewer concerns and offer helpline numbers—it isn't enough. To stir up emotions to that magnitude and not have a pathway of hope is a real problem.

The one thing that a streaming media service does not have, that we do, is a reason for our hope. We, as Believers, are the ones who carry a message of hope for those who are hurting. How do we share that? Often if comes with leaning in to listen, earning trust, providing wise counsel and sharing the Gospel in the right way, at the right time, when a hurting heart is open to receiving it. It is a delicate balance—but through appropriate, intentional pursuit we have the ability to model the hope of Jesus to those looking for it.

Remember God is with You in The Battle

Remember that you are not alone in the fight. There are many resources and networks for believers to come together to support one another in difficult spaces. The truth is—there is no good way to walk away from a meeting someone who revealed abuse, suicidal intention, assault or addiction. In those moments, we remember Jesus—who was well acquainted with our suffering. It is His Word which promises to provide me the strength I need to walk with the hurting as they journey through a long process of healing. The Lord promises me that:

He will be...a source of strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate. —Isaiah 28:6 NIV

13 Reasons Why reminds us that the battle is at the gate. Death and destruction are actively seeking to destroy lives. Yet I take great comfort to know that my God not only sees this and knows the state of the battle—but He promises to provide me strength in it.

For the 13 Reasons Why Season Two Processing Guide or resources to help your community work through difficult topics go to

Through fifteen years as a youth worker, crisis counseling, non-profit work, mentorship and training of millennial's, Cassandra Smith seeks to direct teens and young adults towards a pathway of hope. Her Processing Guide for 13 Reasons Why is now available at Follow her at and on Instagram and Facebook

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