I have heard parents say with a resigned air (after it comes to light that their child is reading something less than savory), “At least she’s reading!”
I know that many busy parents feel overwhelmed & often let books (or music or movies) slide by that don’t seem to be too objectionable, and some think it is absurd, overprotective, or even counterproductive to monitor our children’s reading, listening, & watching so closely.
Personally, I stand at the other end of the spectrum, as I prevent my children from reading, watching or listening to anything I have not screened and vetted (and often read myself). At the very least I research the book, movie, or song, reading several reviews and a thorough summary (or the lyrics).
When my kids object (vehemently & often), I explain (again) that just as I do not allow them to subsist on candy & junk food because of the damage it would do to their bodies, it is of even greater importance that we nourish their minds & souls on healthy fare. Every book you read, song you listen to, & movie you watch – particularly during the incredible brain development of childhood & adolescence – is absorbed into the person you are becoming. They are contributing to (or corrupting) the formation of your child’s character.
Of course, every once in a while I let my kids have some candy or ice cream. Respectively, I let them read some “fluff” books, which I define as books that are not very well written, certainly not classics, or just plain silly. Even these, however, must uphold the moral principles we teach. Otherwise, it would be like letting my kids smoke crack rather than just indulging in a sonic burger.
Why are the arts – literature, music, drama/film – so formative? Unlike a theology lecture, which addresses itself to the prefrontal cortex (the rational, thinking brain), the arts address themselves directly to our souls. They are “supra-rational” – not beneath reason, but above it. We can understand them on an intellectual level as well, of course, but they get inside our limbic brains (the deeper, more primal core) & our hearts & subtly form our view of the world & our Creator. It is why even as adults, we must be discerning about what art we allow in our lives.
When I transferred as a Protestant into a Catholic university my junior year, I was exposed to unexpected & transformative forms of the arts that redefined who I was. Although I eagerly read & discussed the philosophy & theology I was studying, it was the work of Dostoevsky that lead to my conversion. The powerful concept of redemptive suffering became real in my very being as I lived vicariously the sacrificial confession of Dmitri, the confusion of Ivan, & the coming of age (to use a loaded phrase) of Alyosha.
Story changes us, so choose your stories wisely. Next time your child wants to read a questionable book, listen to the latest radio clean version of some pop star’s agenda-ridden song, or watch the life story of a celebrity sex addict, perhaps you could ask him if it lines up with St. Paul’s guidelines in Phillipians 4:8. Is it true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent & praiseworthy? Well OK, then.