How to Help Your Child Read with Discernment
"Mom, I'm out of books to read again."
"Really? Didn't I just give you a few the other day?"
My son is a voracious reader. He gets it from me. As a child I often stayed up late into the night just to read one more chapter. I am grateful that he loves to read, but too often I can't keep up with his appetite.
When my children are physically hungry, I sometimes give them whatever I can find just to boost their blood sugar and to stop the whining. But when it comes to my son's appetite for books, I cannot just give him anything to read. Prepackaged food and a good homemade meal will equally fill the belly, but the latter is better for the body. When it comes to feeding my son's desire to read, I want to give him what is healthy for his mind, heart, and soul.
Selecting good books for our kids to read is important to their growth in faith as well as in their literacy, knowledge, and emotional life. Teaching them how to do it themselves is even better.
I once did an object lesson to help my children understand how they need to process what they learn, whether from books, television, online, friends, or in school. Using a mesh strainer placed over a bowl, I had them pour canned tomatoes into the strainer. I told them that the strainer represents the Word of God, and the canned food is what they have learned. They have to filter everything they learn through God's Word. Whatever remained in the strainer was true, and whatever settled in the bowl beneath was false. The books our children read need to be evaluated through our biblical worldview.
So how do we as parents determine what is a good book for our children to read?
Worldview: What is the author's worldview? Is it contrary to the Bible? Are there common grace insights in the book that can be pulled out? Even if it is not written from a biblical worldview, the book may still include many biblical truths. If you are uncertain, consider reading it first or reading it alongside your children and discussing it with them. In his book Lit!, Tony Reinke says this about reading books not written from a Christian worldview:
Scripture provides us with the only cohesive and consistent worldview. Scripture equips us to evaluate what we read in books, and helps us better perceive truth wherever it appears. Christians can read a broad array of books for our personal benefit, but only if we read with discernment. And we will only read with discernment if the biblical convictions are firmly settled in our minds and hearts. Once they are, we have a touchstone to determine what is pure gold and what is worthless.
When our children are first reading, and as they mature, they need the Word of God implanted in their hearts. If they have read and memorized Scripture, they will be better able to filter truth from lies.
Character: What kind of character traits does the book highlight and promote? For example, if one of the characters in a book tells a lie, is there a consequence, or is the lie excused or even encouraged? This problem wouldn't necessarily rule out a book, but it is a factor to consider. How are issues of morality handled? Does it glorify sin in some way?
I faced this issue recently in my own book selections for my son. Because he loves mysteries I thought he might enjoy reading the classic Sherlock Holmes. Having never read it myself, I didn't know much about it. But after he read the first few pages and asked me questions about the character's behavior ("Mommy, what is cocaine?"), I realized that it was not appropriate for him, mostly because he is 8 years old and too immature to filter the content on his own.
Another example comes from the classic Hardy Boys books. Both the narrator and also the main characters make fun of an overweight friend in every book. In fact, each time the friend is mentioned in the books, he is described using just about every known adjective to describe his weight. This is something I point out to my son, and we talk about what the author's intent might be as well as how God wants us to encourage our friends, not put them down.
Literature: Is it good literature? Does it use words that help your child learn new vocabulary, or are they banal, everyday words? Much of what is written today is written to sell, not necessarily because it is good literature. Even for early readers, there is a difference between Dr. Seuss books and books based on popular cartoon characters. Good books enrich children's vocabulary, enlighten their imagination, increase their knowledge, and encourage their desire to read.
Read Together: For any book you don't know if you can fully trust, read it together as a family. This way you can stop and discuss any questions or concerns. Reading together is also beneficial in developing your relationship as a family, enjoying time together, and nurturing your child's growth in faith. Tony Reinke says this about reading together:
Reading literature together allows parents to read about sin and evil and goodness and beauty—and to pause and help the child interpret those realities in light of Scripture. In this way books (even non-Christian fiction) provide parents with a way to train and prepare our children to confront real-life situations, sinful attitudes, and worldly thinking. Ultimately we can use books to show our children where a biblical worldview and real life connect or clash.
Helping your child learn how to read with discernment is one of the best gifts a parent can give. Giving them a solid biblical foundation and worldview is the key. Rather than feed your children books to keep them busy, choose books that nourish their heart and soul. And, as C. S. Lewis once said, "a children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest."