Age & Stage
Understanding our children’s mental and spiritual development plays an important role in how they will interpret the worldview presented in today’s media.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
With entertainment available 24 hours a day, how do we as parents navigate the magic that shows up in our media?
Magic has been a part of children’s literature for centuries. Our modern entertainment from Disney’s Magic Kingdom has many roots going back to Grimm’s Fairy Tales dating back to the 19th century. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, which was the very first Disney film, was released in 1937, featuring an evil stepmother who uses potions, an enchanted mirror, and a magical kiss that breaks a spell.
Fast forward to today’s entertainment for kids and we see magic, witches, and the supernatural everywhere. A Christian parent has to be aware, and wise, to the wide array of programs that target their children.
A small sampling would include:
With the boom of streaming, there is a never-ending supply of entertainment for kids and teens–every hour of the day. But when it comes to new films and TV shows, there are so many issues for Christian parents to consider. When children consume media, they learn the worldview of the creator of the show. That worldview can be damaging in a variety of ways.
Parents have several responses available to them when it comes to media. However, all of those responses come with an expiration. At some point, your children will need to make responsible decisions about the media they consume. That’s why it’s so important to spend time modeling how to do this and to include them in the conversations.
We have this amazing window of opportunity to help them learn to evaluate media and make Biblically-based decisions.
You can decide what you subscribe to in your own home. Nevertheless, you never know what they see in someone else’s home. And honestly, when you add in phones, another child can share a show clip right at the lunch table at school. We only truly have control over what kids watch in our own homes, in front of us, so be sure to give them the tools to navigate the media jungle.
It can be tempting to ban everything simply because it’s easier than sorting through the mass of options out there. But there are still pockets of great stories out there so don’t give up completely!
The age of your children has a lot to do with what their level of understanding will be. Piaget developed an outline of the different stages kids go through during their cognitive development. Under the age of 12, kids are still in the “concrete operational stage” which means that they tend to think concretely and logically and they are starting to understand that people around them have different opinions than their own. They don’t begin to develop “abstract reasoning” until at least 11 or 12, and sometimes even later–every child is different.
So let’s take a closer look.
When you have talking dogs and flying dragons, it can be easier for young children to understand that the story is make-believe. When the elements are things that cannot occur in the real world around them, separating “real” from “fantasy” is easier to grasp. A movie about talking pets is not likely going to cause spiritual confusion.
Although, they might ask why animals can’t talk and you can amaze them and point out the one time in Scripture (Num. 22: 21-39) when God made a donkey talk!
When you start considering many Disney films (and let’s face it, they produce much of the media for kids and families), this is the area many would fall under. They are frequently set in fantastical kingdoms or places that don’t exist but can contain magic or enchanted elements. The classic Disney films have enchanted apples or spindles and spells that are broken with “true love’s kiss.” Even young children can understand that these stories are also make-believe.
Since most of the spells are perpetrated by the “evil” characters, you can begin to set the stage that those are “bad choices being made by bad characters.” It gets trickier when spells are used by good characters, so if that is the case, that kind of movie might be better viewed over the age of 12 when they can begin understanding that “bad choices” can be made by good characters.
Harry Potter is probably the best example of this and since it is still widely read and viewed by new generations, I believe it is applicable. While getting to Hogwarts required a magical train that kids cannot get on (fantasy), Harry’s world feels very, very real. Witchcraft (spells) are used by the good characters and the evil ones. So instead of showing witchcraft as evil, it is shown to be powerful and is only different depending on who is wielding that power. It’s a troublesome idea and one not easily understood by younger kids.
Whether or not to allow your child to read these types of books, or view these films, is a hotly contested debate that continues even today, years after their release.
A great alternative is The Chronicles of Narnia, the seven-book series first published in 1950. Three of the novels were adapted into films. C.S. Lewis embedded Biblical ideas into his work, and while there are fantastical elements and some real-world settings, his novels are healthier, Christian-based options for a deep dive into the meanings behind the story.
Just like the doctor looks for milestones, by tracking your child’s height and weight, so should parents track their child’s spiritual growth. Helping them establish healthy disciplines is critical, but it is in conversation that we discover where their true thoughts lie.
Be sure to ask open-ended questions and do spiritual check-ins to see where they are spiritually. A child who is struggling spiritually may be more susceptible to ideas that come from their media, while older children who exhibit spiritual maturity may be more ready to handle making wise decisions about their media. Kids are smart. They learn very quickly what the “right” answers are. So get them talking about their ideas and beliefs.
I had three daughters and each was very different. What could be a problem for one of them, might not be a problem for another. Our personalities are unique and so are our spiritual walks.
It’s good to use words like “make-believe” or “pretend” when kids are young, then use more precise language as they get older. You can begin dissecting pieces of a film or tv show and talk about how a spell used by a witch in a make-believe story is still something that God considers wrong.
While getting into the deeper nuances of that discussion is something best saved for older teens, you can still establish with younger ones that witchcraft is something that God does not like, and does not want us to participate in.
Our primary job is to “train up our kids” (Prov. 22: 6) and this requires that we teach them, and give them the tools to weigh and evaluate the world around them, so they are capable of making wise decisions.
This is what gives them the strategies they need to make those discerning decisions on their own as they get older and are confronted with tricky situations. Talk about how you make decisions about your media, and discuss the messages of the media regularly as a family.
Make them part of the decision process as they grow older. If there is a questionable movie or TV show that your child wants to watch, sit down and watch it with them. Pause and discuss issues that may come up.
They will be making their own media decisions before you know it, so sorting through it together can be very beneficial. You will be able to communicate your concerns and how you weigh and measure possibilities. This kind of modeling can be invaluable to them as future adults.
©2023 Sarah Anne Sumpolec.
Used by permission. Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.
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