The Hidden Villain In '13 Reasons Why' Is Bad Parenting
If there's one thing that being a parent and being a teenager have in common, it's that both experiences are unfathomably difficult. So difficult that you might want to tune out the hard parts — which is a tactic that a few of the characters on 13 Reasons Why use to get by. But, as we all witnessed, apathy and a lack of understanding are the exact things that led to Hannah's death and to the many other tragedies that happen over the course of the first season of this teen drama. In particular, the parents of 13 Reasons Why can't seem to understand or empathize with their kids, as hard as they try, and this only leads to more and more hurt as the series goes on. Hannah may have dedicated the tapes to her fellow students, but their parents also play a role in what went down.
13 Reasons Why is a teen tragedy of the highest order, and a large part of that tragedy is that the parents aren't able to see what pressures and traumas are affecting their children. The final moments of the season show Hannah's tapes being given to her parents, and, though we don't get to see the aftermath of that, when they listen to the tapes, it will be the first time Hannah's parents will hear about everything that she went through. It will be the first time they hear about the abuse the suffered, the assaults she witnessed or was the victim of, and all of the people who threw her in front of a metaphorical train to get ahead. Weeks after her suicide, her parents will finally have a chance to understand why she took her own life.
While Clay spends the first season of 13 Reasons Why reeling from the reasons Hannah killed herself, Hannah's parents suffer from a lack of any information surrounding their daughter's death. This affects their marriage and their individual well-being as her death lingers in their home, their pharmacy, and everywhere they go in Crestmont. From the series, there's no indication that Hannah's parents wouldn't have supported her through the many difficulties she faced — but the perceived need for both Hannah and her parents to believe that she was a fine young woman that nothing bad happened to helped drive Hannah to a place where she couldn't pretend to be alright anymore.
Hannah's parents not being able to see what was affecting their daughter is one of many depressing details in a tragic tale, but their plight should serve as a warning to every other parent in Crestmont. All the other students at Liberty High are similarly pulled in two directions when it comes to what their parents think of them compared to who they actually are. It's clear what happened to Hannah, but what will happen to other students who think they have to face the stress of life alone and that they can't reach out to their own parents for help?
What happens to Zack Dempsey, a top prospect in Basketball, whose mother expects him to be a "nice kid" but who falls far short of that? What happens to Courtney Crimson, who is scared of coming out because she's worried about being the gay daughter of two gay fathers in an unpredictable social environment? What happens to Jessica, who is terrified of telling anyone, let alone her father, about her sexual assault? What happens to Tyler, when he reveals to his parents that he was stalking Hannah Baker? All of these students want to be that "nice kid," who nothing bad ever happened to and who has done nothing wrong, because, for them, it feels like that image is the key to keeping their parents from being disappointed in them.
On the opposite end of the damaging spectrum are the parents who just don't care. Bryce Walker's parents are never seen, but their presence is felt in every scene that takes place at the Walkers' luxurious mansion — and their absence may explain why Bryce thinks he can get away with violent acts. Justin, on the other hand, has a mother who does care about her son, but not more than she cares about her addiction and her relationship with an aggressive, drug dealing boyfriend. Justin's need for another family leads to his actions being controlled by Bryce, who provides emotional and financial support — but expects to take what he wants from Justin in exchange.
No character gets the shorter end of the stick, however, than poor Alex Standall. The moment that septum-pierced, blonde-dyed Alex refers to his father as "Sir," their entire relationship is clearly illustrated. Having a father who just wanted results and had no time for emotion takes a toll on the heartbroken Alex; with no emotional support at home or at school, Alex Standall becomes the second teenager in 13 Reasons Why to attempt suicide.
The truly heartbreaking thing is that, in many cases, it would only take some effort from both sides to make a difference. For example, no one's parents try harder to actually understand their child than Clay's, but it's not as easy as asking "What's wrong?" at the dinner table. Clay becomes aggressive and distant, but, after persisting with a gentle touch and honest intentions, Clay's mother finally gets him to talk about everything he's been feeling. It doesn't fix everything in Clay's whirlwind life, but it's a start. More importantly, his parents are more than willing to do the tough emotional work needed to improve their connection to their son, allowing him to be himself and not the version of himself that he thinks his parents want.
The point of Hannah's tapes is that she suffered through a difficult life, and she suffered through it alone. The tragedy of Hannah's tapes is that she didn't have to be alone. 13 Reasons Why portrays the sad reality that, for a lot of people growing up or who have grown up, parental support just doesn't seem available or adequate. And this lack of support can have absolutely horrifying consequences.