One of the best things about Facebook and other social media is that it allows us to chat about interesting and controversial topics with people all over the world. (This is also one of the WORST things about Facebook and other social media, but that’s a different entry altogether.)
Last week my friend Beth posted a YouTube link to a video entitled, “Letter From Ex-Witch Regarding Harry Potter.” (The link is below, if you’re interested; like Beth, I recommend you mute the sound and just read the scrolled text; there’s just someone reading the words and her voice is rushed and distracting.) She wanted to know what other people thought about it, because her 12-year-old son is interested in reading the books and – since Beth is a Christian mother – she’s trying to make up her mind whether a series that features witchcraft will undermine the values that she and her husband are instilling in their children.
As you can imagine, her friends had strong opinions. Here’s what I wrote:
I usually stay out of discussions like this because most people are just looking for ammo to bolster the opinion they've already formed. Since I've read the Harry Potter series to all my kids once (and most of them re-read it on their own) and the Narnia series several times, obviously I don't feel either one of them is harmful to children. Where I think the trouble comes in is when someone decides, "Well, I can certainly understand metaphor, simile, fantasy and the difference between fact and fiction, but then most people aren't as intelligent and socially conscious as I. Why, what if someone plays a game of Dungeons and Dragons, for example, and suddenly they can't distinguish between their friendly mail carrier and an Orc? I think I read about that happening somewhere, sometime! This menace must be stopped! Think of the children!"
I don't think it is ever necessary to let someone else do all of one's thinking for one - not even (or maybe especially) in the case of one's children. Parents naturally want to protect their children from harm, but I don't think ideas or concepts are harmful in themselves. I think that by segregating some themes or concepts into a great "We Do Not Discuss It" pile, we not only confer upon those subjects the irresistible cachet of "forbidden knowledge" - we deprive ourselves of a natural springboard to discussing our own ideals and beliefs. Of course, it is possible to live in a manner that excludes all fiction or entertainment as lies and frivolity, and some extremist religious or political sects do just that. I don't think this approach armors children to live in today's world, but then - they're not my children, it's not my business.
In short, I don't think reading Harry Potter - or The Necronomicon, or Spell Casting for Dummies - will turn someone into a witch or a Satanist, any more than reading Arnold Schwarzenegger's biography will turn someone into a body-builder. Ideas and beliefs are not mental land-mines, quiescent until they're stepped on by the unwary and explode with soul-destroying reverberations. If a child understands poetic license - and they all do, otherwise every sponge in the U.S. would be wearing pants - they will know fiction for what it is. I think the important thing is that the child knows what his parents believe, and how the world fits into that viewpoint. "Of course we know there's no such thing as The Easter Bunny/ black magic/ talking trees, but it's fun to think about" seems a lot less damaging to me than "OMIGOD YOU READ A CHILDREN'S BOOK AND NOW YOU'LL BURN IN HELL." So many people don't give their kids credit for any sense, when most children have a pretty good grasp of what's real and what isn't even if it's not something tangible. If a person grows up to become a mass-murderer, there was a lot more going wrong in his life than his choice of childhood reading material.
This is what we think, the decisions we've made for our children.
What do you think? I’m really askin’.