Grow: “Is that a good idea?” Teaching kids to look for truth in what they read and watch.
Books, TV, music, movies… They are all a part of our children’s lives, and as a Christian parent I believe that part of my job is to teach my kids good critical thinking skills so that they can analyze what they see and hear and decide whether it matches up with what the Bible says is true. There is SO MUCH that could be said on this topic, especially how it relates to older children. But let me just share a few ways that I try to teach my young children these important skills.
My six year old is a good reader, and while it’s great that he just finished kindergarten and can read at a third grade level, that presents some challenges to me as a parent. We are way past Frog and Toad, and as he’s reading books that are written for slightly older children, I am modeling the type of thinking skills I hope he will use when he reads by himself. For example, he likes the Magic Tree House books. I like them too – I think they are cute and it’s a fun way for children to learn about history. However, we have discussed as he has read them that in real life there are no circumstances where it would be appropriate for children to sneak out of their house without telling their parents. In fiction is fine. In our family – no way!
We’ve also been reading some Horrible Harry books. My son thinks they are funny, and while they are not my favorite books I would rather read them with him and model how to think about them, than say he can’t read them. The children in the books are in the middle of elementary school, and while there are some great examples of loyal friendship and good-humored fun, there are also examples of teasing, disobeying, and sneaking around. I don’t give a big lecture every time something comes up, but lots of times I ask a simple questions like, “Was that the right thing to do?” or “What does the Bible say we should do instead of that?” In one book he recently read the main character was frightened and was trying to count the seconds left that he had to endure a scary situation. To point out that as Christians we have other options available to us I asked my son, “What is something you would do if you were scared?” Right away he answered, “I would pray!”
I also try to take a moment to point out choices and attitudes that I would like to encourage in my children. For example, in one book we were reading recently, one character was trying to encourage a friend who was feeling afraid. We stopped briefly to talk about how we could tell this person was a good friend, and what kinds of things my son could do to be a good friend as well.
I aim to do the same thing when reading aloud to the boys. I don’t have to agree with everything that happens in a book in order to think it’s worth enjoying together; something that is also true in my reading life as an adult. It’s important to me that my children learn the same skill.
Now this is not a post about what we should or should not allow our kids to watch on TV. There are many people I respect on very opposite ends of that spectrum, and I’m sure you can find plenty of resources to support whatever your view is on the topic. My encouragement to you is this, whatever you let your children watch, teach them to think about it.
This was really brought home to me as a parent sometime last year when the boys were watching the PBS show Super Why while I was making lunch. Since I was just in the next room I could hear what the show was about (something that I think is very important), and I had a chance to talk about it with them afterwards. In the episode they had watched, Princess Pea was feeling nervous about her dance recital. The Super Readers “looked in a book” and solved the problem by teaching Princess Pea to sing a song about believing in herself. As I sat with my boys I told them, “You know, it’s pretty fun to watch how the Super Readers solve problems by looking in a book. I actually solve problems by looking in a book too – the Bible! The Bible has a lot to say about what we should do when we feel nervous or scared, and it doesn’t say that we conquer the situation by believing in ourselves.” I asked the boys to give me some examples of people in the Bible who faced scary situations, and they came up with Daniel and David. We continued our discussion by talking about how these men believed in God, not in themselves. Even though show they were watching was non-violent, had no bad language, and taught the ABC’s, it still had a message that was completely opposite of my worldview.
It can be easy to focus on the superficial things, like how many times the characters in Toy Story say “stupid”, but that can really be addressed in a straight forward manner (i.e. “Stop saying stupid or you won’t be allowed to watch Toy Story any more). What I’m more concerned about is the overall message of a show or movie (i.e. The Little Mermaid… disobey your parents, run away from home, sell your soul to the devil, and you’ll get to get to be a princess because you followed your heart. Honestly if I had to choose I would rather have my kids say “stupid” than believe all that!). I hope that as I continue to have conversations about these things with my children the idea that they need to ask themselves, “Is this true?” will become more and more automatic. (and yes, the kids are still allowed to watch Super Why… and The Little Mermaid).
I have no desire to raise my children in a bubble, and while I strive to protect their innocence in many ways I also recognize that I am doing them a disservice if I don’t teach them the skills to think about what the see, read, and hear. The enormity of this challenge makes me thankful for the verse in James that says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”
As a parent, how do you deal with movies and books that present something opposite from your beliefs?