’13 Reasons Why’: Catholic Mom and Therapist Says Netflix Hit Is Problematic

Our Catholic-mom blogger Korbi Ghosh Biggins, who normally focuses on family-friendly fare, puts on her Marriage, Family & Individual Therapist hat to examine Netflix’s teen-suicide drama “13 Reasons Why.”

With so many options for entertainment available to teenagers and young adults today, a new series that catches the interest of the 12-to-17 and 18-to-24 demographics is noteworthy. On March 31st, Netflix released “13 Reasons Why” and it quickly became the company’s most popular show, breaking records in viewership and on social media.

Adding to the show’s cachet among the young is that one of the executive producers is singer/actress Selena Gomez, formerly of Disney Channel’s “Wizards of Waverly Place” (and former girlfriend of singer Justin Bieber).

Based on a 2007 book by Jay Asher, “13 Reasons Why” depicts the events that preceded the suicide of high-school student Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford). Hannah leaves behind a box of cassette tapes for her friend Clay (Dylan Minnette), which tell the story of the experiences and the people she holds responsible for her decision to end her life — experiences that include cyber-bullying and rape, as well as overwhelming pressure to live up to a specific standard of physical perfection.

With topics like suicide, bullying, sexual assault and a general lack of empathy or respect for others, being important and relevant to young people, it’s not surprising that the series is so successful and that it has garnered so much attention. However, writing strictly from a mental-health perspective, there are several problems with “13 Reasons Why” that are important for parents to consider before making a decision about whether the show is appropriate content for their children.

While the series certainly opens the door to explore and discuss difficult subjects with teenagers, it also portrays suicide —and the process by which a person may get to that place in life— quite inaccurately. “13 Reasons” depicts Hannah’s decision as an act of revenge against the people who hurt her or let her down. In reality, people at risk for suicide are very rarely thinking about others when contemplating or preparing to end their life. Suicide is a mental health issue and the vast majority of people at risk are suffering from a debilitating mental health disorder such as major depression or bipolar disorder.

Traumatic events, like being raped or mercilessly bullied, can certainly contribute to the onset of mental-health issues like depression. However, post-traumatic stress, depression and bipolar disorder are all treatable. There is a way out for those who feel trapped in hopelessness — ways that do not include suicide. Unfortunately, “13 Reasons Why” fails to give the viewer any credible insight into their options for seeking help, which is troubling and dangerous.

In fact, the series seems to effectively romanticize suicide. I would go as far as saying that, for the impressionable and possibly desperate, it glamorizes suicide to some degree.

Research shows that when a teenager commits suicide, the likelihood of other suicides increases. Suicide-prevention experts have long warned that sensationalizing a suicide or graphically detailing the means by which a suicide was carried out can lead to suicide contagion, otherwise known as copycat suicides. For this very reason, experts strongly advise media outlets and journalists to avoid explicitly describing the suicide method when reporting on a suicide.

Meanwhile, the scenes in which Hannah ends her life in “13 Reasons Why” play out in painful, excruciating detail. When you add to this the fact that young viewers are watching interesting and attractive actors play these parts, in a series which everyone seems to be talking about, the glamorization of the act increases.

Though I imagine it was not the intent of the producers of “13 Reasons,” the underlying message of the show is that committing suicide can provide a troubled teen with something that may be otherwise elusive: finally being understood and taken seriously.

As mental-health professionals, our responsibilities revolve around hearing and understanding our clients. Good therapists know that if a person feels understood, they feel hope. In the case of “13 Reasons,” choosing to die is what provides Hannah with the opportunity to feel understood. It’s a misleading and dangerous message for those who suffer from mental health problems — adolescents and adults alike.

I’m not saying the series is completely without merit. As I mentioned, it does raise several relevant issues for adolescents today. It could help to open a dialogue between parents and children, perhaps even help parents gain a clearer perspective of the pressures and challenges that kids are facing today.

It also underscores the importance of treating others with kindness and respect, and emphasizes the deep impact that gossip and rumors can have on a young person. But because there are several heart-wrenching and graphic scenes which depict controversial and difficult topics, it is my opinion that no teenager should be left to view and process the series alone. More importantly, anyone struggling with mental-health issues, including those who are prone to depression, should steer clear of the show entirely.

If you do feel that your child is mature enough to handle the series and they have expressed an interest in doing so, I encourage you to watch the series with them so that you can discuss the thoughts and feelings that come up as the story plays out.

It is a devastating story, which will evoke emotional reactions from even from the most healthy and stable adult. It’s vitally important to let your kids know that you’re there for them and that you want to hear what they’re thinking, feeling and experiencing—whether they watch the series or not.

CatholicLink has done a nice job of outlining several talking points that may help start the conversation between parents and children. CatholicMom also put out a comprehensive list of resources..

In addition, take a moment to educate yourself on the possible symptoms of depression: declining performance in school, withdrawal from friends and family, lack of interest in activities or events, lack of energy or motivation, sadness, hopelessness, anger, agitation, low self-esteem, lack of concentration, restlessness, changes in appetite or sleeping patterns, substance abuse—and the warning signs of suicide or suicidal ideation, which can include talk of hopelessness or being in unbearable pain, feeling trapped, having no purpose, being a burden to others or displaying extreme mood swings.

If you, your child or someone you know is struggling with severe depression or thoughts of suicide, don’t hesitate to seek the help of a mental health professional who is trained in suicide prevention. Reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 24 hours a day at 1 800-273-TALK (8255).

EDITOR’S NOTE: Gomez has given interviews defending the intent behind the show, which will return for a second season (and it might do to remind youngsters that whatever happens to her friends down the line, Hannah’s decision means she won’t be there to experience it).

Image: Courtesy Netflix

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Former “Bad Boy” Mark Wahlberg Speaking Out for His Catholic Faith

Today, June 5, is the 46th birthday of actor and producer Mark Wahlberg, a Catholic and, like all of us, a work in progress.

In his youth, he committed crimes and acts of violence and served time in jail for them. As a rapper and actor, his music and roles have often employed foul language, overt sexuality and violence. He was also an underwear model.

But if a repentant thief crucified next to Christ could find his way into the kingdom, there is hope for us all.

In recent years, Wahlberg publicly recommitted to his Catholic faith and married longtime girlfriend Rhea Durham — at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Beverly Hills, where he has been a regular Mass attendee. Their children also attend a Catholic school.

While not all of his movies are family fare, he was a star and producer for “Deepwater Horizon,” the film about the 2010 explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and “Patriots Day,” about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Both of these films celebrated the heroism of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

He’s also spoken out publicly about the difference returning to the Church as made in his life.

From 2012, on Piers Morgan’s now-defunct CNN talk show:

As the Master of Ceremonies for the World Meeting of Families festival in 2015, during Pope Francis’ visit to America …

He also had to make a little apology to Pope Francis for his raunchy movie, “Ted” …

And from 2016, a viral video calling for vocations to the priesthood, and talking about what priests have meant to him …

We all make mistakes, sometimes terrible ones, and when you become a public figure, there’s no escaping your past. But if the best use of fame is to help others, Wahlberg is making good use of his celebrity to show what repentance and redemption can mean.

Happy Birthday, Mark!

Image: Courtesy Amazon Prime

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

5 for First Friday: Family-Friendly Viewing for June — ‘American Girl,’ ‘Funderdome,’ ‘Free Willy’

It’s the First Friday of the month, so we’re spotlighting some family friendly viewing options for June.

“An American Girl Story: Summer Camp, Friends for Life”: An Amazon Original Special premiering on Prime Video on June 8, this “American Girl” story follows the characters Z, Paz and Drew. Their friendship is cemented at S.T.E.A.M. (science, technology, engineering, art, math) camp when they find themselves working together to solve a summer mystery, without the help of smartphones or computers. The story encourages the kind of problem solving and perseverance vital to the academic success of young women in a fun way that will engage girls.

“Steve Harvey’s FUNDERDOME”: Based on the success of “Shark Tank,” ABC is hoping for another hit with this summer series, also from producer Mark Burnett, which helps contestants to chase the American dream. Premiering Sunday, June 11, “FUNDERDOME” is a seed-funding competition show where two hopeful entrepreneurs face off to win over a live studio audience. The prize? Financing of their ideas, products or companies.

In each of the 13 episodes, the audience will represent the “customer” and votes to determine the winner. After each round, and before host Steve Harvey reveals the results of the crowd’s majority vote, the entrepreneurs will be given a choice to cash out and walk away for a lesser amount. But if an entrepreneur cashes out, they forgo the opportunity to win the whole cash prize – a good move if they lost the crowd vote, but a bad move if they would have won it.

“Charlotte’s Web”: Available on Amazon Prime, the 1973 animated classic, based on E.B. White’s children’s book, follows Wilbur the pig, who worries about reaching the end of the season when he knows he’ll likely end up on someone’s dinner table. But a wise and sweet spider named Charlotte promises to spin a web that will save young Wilbur from his otherwise inevitable fate. The 2006 live-action version, starring Dakota Fanning, is also available, on Hulu.

“Free Willy”: In keeping with the animal-lover theme, this 1993 feature film, available on Amazon Prime, follows a young boy in foster care who bonds with an orca in captivity and does everything possible to save the whale and set him free. Its sequels, “Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home” and “Free Willy 3: The Rescue,” are available on Hulu.

“Battle of the Network Stars”: In a revival of the popular competition series that aired in the 1970s and ’80s, MMA fighter Ronda Rousey and NFL star DeMarcus Ware are the captains of rotating teams made up of 100 television stars from 14 different network and cable companies. Premiering June 29 on ABC, the summer series allows offers celebrities competing in events such as swimming, running, basketball-dunking and obstacle courses.

As in the original, the competition is held at Pepperdine University, on the shores of the Pacific Ocean in Malibu, California.

It may be an old concept, but one that families can always enjoy together.

Here’s a peek at the original, including Lynda Carter, the original “Wonder Woman”:

Korbi is a former full-time TV blogger, writing for sites such as E! Online and Yahoo!. She is now a full-time mom of twin boys. In her free time, she moonlights as a Marriage, Family & Individual Therapist.

Image: Courtesy Amazon Prime

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Protecting Kids (and Their Souls) in a Media/Digital World

While parents are rightly concerned what their kids see on television or hear in school, every laptop, tablet and smartphone opens a door to a digital world where the best and worst of humanity is on view.

There is software to help parents filter what their children can see — click here for a current rundown of top offerings, via PC Magazine — but social media especially opens up risks of trolling and cyberbullying, and may allow child predators to target potential victims.

How is the Church Helping Protect Kids in the Digital World?

This coming October, the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome is host for a congress called “Child Dignity in the Digital World.”

From Vatican Radio:

Spearheaded and hosted by the University’s Center for Child Protection headed by Prof. Hans Zollner SJ, the congress entitled “Child Dignity in the Digital World” will examine new forms of abuse children can be subjected to in the digital world, and discuss the risks and challenges of the digital age and its impact on the dignity of children.

The congress foresees the participation of global scientific and technical experts and decision makers, and aims to promote appropriate action.

The International event will take place from 3 to 6 October in partnership with WePROTECT Global Alliance. At the end of the congress a declaration will be presented to Pope Francis who is scheduled to receive the participants in audience.

Although hazards to children abound online, a lot of responsibility lies with those who create content, and those whose job it is to curate content, including parents and teachers. Even if they’re kept away from a TV screen, in many families, it’s extremely difficult to protect innocent young eyes from images on social media.

What Does Pope Francis Have to Say About Digital Communication?

A lot of what’s televised and posted online does no good for adults, either.

In his recent address for the 51st World Communications Day in January, Pope Francis spoke directly to content creators, appealing to the better angels of their nature:

I would like, then, to contribute to the search for an open and creative style of communication that never seeks to glamorize evil but instead to concentrate on solutions and to inspire a positive and responsible approach on the part of its recipients. I ask everyone to offer the people of our time storylines that are at heart “good news.”

What Can Parents and Parishes Do?

Along with commercial filtering programs, fellow Catholics can help each other find great, faith-affirming family content. Here’s one great resource, “Strong Catholic Family Faith,” formed with the help of experts from the dioceses of Jefferson City, Missouri; San Jose, California; St. Petersburg, Florida; and Joliet, Illinois. As described, “The Strong Catholic Family Faith website has been created to assist parish and school leaders in finding the best and most relevant content and experiences for developing faith-filled Catholic families.  All of these resources have been selected and reviewed by the Project Team and drawn from trusted sources.”

The site offers media resources (including reviews), faith practices, the liturgical calendar, parent and grandparent formation, information on the sacraments, and leadership training and other initiatives for adults and youth.

It’s impressive.

Here’s one of the videos:

Image: Courtesy Pixabay

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Beloved ‘A Christmas Story’ to Be a Live Musical on Fox

This December, Fox is responding to a live musical version of “Bye Bye Birdie” on NBC (starring Jennifer Lopez) with a musical production based on the 1983 cult classic film “A Christmas Story,” and “A Christmas Story: The Musical,” its 2012 Broadway adaptation.

While it’s not a strictly faith-centric story, “A Christmas Story” — which gets marathon airings each year on TBS — is widely considered a great family film. If you watch it on DVD, though, you may get some strong language that you won’t get in the TBS version.

Here’s what the USCCB had to say about it:

Adapted from Jean Shepherd’s nostalgic piece of whimsy, “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,” the movie re-creates what it was like to be a boy (Peter Billingsley) yearning for a genuine Red Ryder air rifle for Christmas in the Midwest of the 1940s.  Director Bob Clark gets some good performances from Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon as the understanding parents and the period atmosphere is nicely conveyed win what is essentially a warm celebration of a more innocent, less sophisticated America.  A few vulgar syllables.

Among the executive producers of Fox’s musical version is Marc Platt, who won an Emmy for Fox’s “Grease Live” musical in January 2016, and was an executive producer on the hit movie musical “La La Land.”

Says Warner Horizon Unscripted and Alternative Television president Mike Darnell (who was a driving force behind “American Idol” during his years at Fox), via The Hollywood Reporter:

“I can’t believe how incredibly lucky we are to have Marc Platt producing this iconic Christmas classic. Marc is the defining voice in this genre and it’s amazing to have this caliber of talent leading what is sure to be a new standard in live musical events.”

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who wrote lyrics to “City of Stars,” the Academy Award-winning  song from “La La Land,” and also scored “A Christmas Story: The Musical,” will add new songs to the live TV version, with Jonathan Tolins and Robert Cary adapting the story.

In the battle of the holiday-themed musicals, “A Christmas Story” follows NBC’s earlier announcement, reported here, of a live TV production of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” airing on Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018.

Image: Adapted from the original movie logo (not the new musical’s logo).

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.