In Exodus 31 and 32, Moses ascended Mount Sinai to communicate with God. Meanwhile, the Israelites grew impatient for his return.
So impatient, in fact, that they asked Aaron to make them gods to worship (Exodus 32:4).
They were like small children, quick to disobey when they thought the Lord wasn’t watching. And like small children, they needed structure and simple rules to point their hearts toward truth.
Shepherding our children is no different than God’s progressive revelation. Parents start by teaching their children through rules, then progressively give them more freedom to make decisions for themselves as they mature in wisdom. We follow the same process when we teach children to think through speculative fiction in age-appropriate ways.
With the help of Tony Reinke’s book Lit: A Christian Guide to Reading Books, I’d like to offer a few parenting strategies on how to connect with your kids through fiction.
Although these tips can be applied to all genres, they are especially important for speculative literature. Fear and censorship are often the go-to response for parents who are unsure their child should be reading about magic.
Remember, these strategies are meant as flexible suggestions, not laws to set up before the world. The goal is to become a critically thinking Christian parent who raises critically thinking Christian children. That might look differently in your home than in someone else’s.
First, keep the lines of communication open.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but modern western culture values individualism to an idolatrous degree and that has a huge impact on parenting. Talk to your child about they’re reading choices, even if you wouldn’t have chosen the book yourself. Make sure they know they can approach you to share concerns about their books.
Recently my preteen niece read Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles. The political themes caused her a lot of anxiety, but she felt comfortable talking with her mother about the story, rather than dealing with that anxiety on her own.
Second, give your children books for private reading and books for public reading.
Reinke suggests how we can determine the right time for your child to read a book:
“It is wise not to read some books because of their timing, not merely because of their content. . . . We are not trying to shield him from the world. We have chosen to limit his private reading diet for the same fundamental reason that we don’t send young boys into war. . . . So, too, our children—and those who are children in the faith—need time to grow the deep roots of a biblical worldview before being called to exercise that worldview against the force of culture displayed in non-Christian books.”
Timing is important and age isn’t always the determining factor. Knowing your child’s strengths and weaknesses well can aid them in choosing appropriate literature for their private reading time.
Third, read together to prioritize literature and to teach critical thinking skills.
Reinke continues, “This conviction does not prevent me from reading spiritually challenging fiction books to our children verbally. In those settings I can stop and address concerns as we go along.”
Reading aloud as a family is a lost art. When once families would gather to listen to literature together, we now think of reading aloud as something only done for children too young to read for themselves. Yet enjoying books as a family is something we can do with all ages.
Fourth, teach your children to stop in the middle of a story.
Reinke says, “Choosing what books to read is often not a yes/no decision but a now/later decision. The same is true for young Christians who are new to the faith. Be cautious of reading literature that you are ill-equipped to read with discernment. Sometimes the proper Christian approach to literature is humble postponement.”
When my niece informed her mother of her anxiety while reading The Lunar Chronicles, they not only discussed the book and my niece’s fear, they also came to the conclusion that she needed to stop reading. Of course, if you stop in the middle of a book or series, this can feel taboo, or even like failure. Yet, is it weakness to put a book down when you wisely discern—or help your child to discern—that a book is causing you mental or spiritual harm? In my niece’s case, she wasn’t permanently setting the book down, but setting it aside for a time when she is older.
Proverbs 19:18 says, “Discipline your son while there is hope.” This verse harkens back to the example God set with Israel. He disciplined them while they were still young because there was hope. They could go either way, becoming wise or foolish. If history is any indication, we can assume that our parenting won’t guarantee perfect Christian children. Nor is anyone ever beyond God’s reach. Yet, young children are naive and teachable. Speculative fiction can shape their imagination in God-glorifying ways, but parents must be wise and understand the needs of their own children when they engage with fiction.