It’s now my second Halloween as a Christian parent. I have yet to get around to forwarding emails about children reading Harry Potter then becoming witches, and I still have yet to pass out my first chocolate-covered New Testament to trick-or-treaters. But my daughter is getting old enough now that I have to start thinking through exactly how I am going to let my daughter interact with alot of themes that Halloween brings to the forefront every year. Will we read books with magic in them as she’s growing up? Will we watch movies with wizards, monsters, etc? What sorts of Halloween parties (if any) will we attend as a family? What will I do when I find her playing in her room and she tells me she’s pretending to be a witch?
Now these are important questions to me for at least two reasons. First, children process information very differently from adults. So while I can watch a movie about an evil sorcerer or a giant dragon terrorize humanity, my daughter won’t be watching those sorts of things until she is much older. Why? Because children have a very hard time processing abstract concepts, symbolism, etc. They also have a hard time distinguishing reality and fiction.
Daddy! That symbolic representation of the
consequences of corporate greed is in my closet again!
But I have a second, larger concern, as well. You see, I believe there really is a spiritual reality, that there are supernatural beings and supernatural power at work in the world. And I believe that how my daughter thinks about these things is important. Now I’m fine with my daughter dressing up as a fairy princess for Halloween, and I have no intention of burning my copies of Lord of the Rings just in case my daughter takes a shining to ole Sauron. But I’m going to expose my daughter to these things in a controlled manner. It’s like giving your child a vaccine to protect her against things you don’t particularly like. I don’t mind my daughter being exposed in controlled doses to false ways of seeing spiritual reality, but I want to be the one administering the vaccine.
Take one overextended metaphor and call me in the morning.
In fact, there are many wonderful stories and movies in our culture that incorporate supernatural or magical themes that can have a very beneficial impact on a child’s development. For example, I have no doubt we’ll read The Chronicles of Narnia together as my daughter gets older. In addition, there are stories and movies that incorporate supernatural or magical themes in ways that are harmless (maybe even teaching a few life lessons along the way). I’ve never heard of a child starting to worship Satan after watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory or Mary Poppins.
But again, for me it goes beyond making sure my daughter is old enough to distinguish real from fake. It’s also a matter of there being a real spiritual reality that is being falsely displayed. I’m not saying there is some vast conspiracy involved in the way we portray supernatural things in our culture. Indeed, I think that much of our literature and films are produced not by those trying to create a counter view of spiritual reality, but by those who think no such reality exists!
Since everyone knows there’s no such thing as crocodiles,
let’s teach children that they are musical vegetarians who only use their sharp teeth to punish bad vegetables.
However, while I know my daughter isn’t going to run into fairies, white wizards, and the like, she still may very well encounter spiritual beings and have spiritual experiences over the course of her life. I want her to think correctly about these things. That doesn’t mean that we are going to avoid magic and supernatural themes in books and movies. It just means that we are going to be talking about those things as she watches them, and I will be making sure she understands them in light of the spiritual reality that God has created.
Now, honey, what did we learn about eating creepy people’s houses?
This is how my wife and I will navigate raising a child in a culture full of magical and supernatural themes. We’re certainly not going to avoid these things and pretend they don’t exist. We’re also not going to de facto villainize everything we don’t 100 percent agree with. What we will do is help our daughter navigate this part of our culture, as with every other part of our culture, in a discerning way as we try to help her understand the world as God has made it.
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)