Like any parent, we want to make sure our kids are exposed to the right kinds of things and the right kinds of media. Most agree that reading books is a great way to help your kids develop and grow well. For all ages, reading books aloud is a great way to connect and share an experience together. The all-pro parent has a kid who chooses books over TV any day. And, of course, the stellar parent avoids screens and instead lets dead, flattened trees be the primary source of wisdom. Movies are bad and turn your brain to mush, right?
I’ll just lay it out there straight: we do love books. But we also love movies (and some TV shows, too).
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Being people of the Word, we naturally want our kids to love words and to be adept readers and study-ers. We want them to diagram sentences and understand how to evaluate the main themes of an author’s work. We want them to understand character development and imagery. We want them to discover authorial intent.
The Glory of Story
More fundamentally, though, we have a desire to use whatever tools we can to give our kids pictures of who God the Father is, how God the Son has redeemed us, and how God the Spirit is working in us. Sometimes a strong catechism and a handy Bible study are the way to do that. Sometimes, though, story is the way. Not only do we want them to know the tools of literary analysis, we also want them to get wrapped up in a good story, to weep and laugh and feel indignant, right along with each tale.
This really ought to make more sense. Allegory and prophetic imagery are all over the place. Probably the best known instance is when Nathan the prophet confronts King David’s adultery with a story. There are also examples in Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, to name a few more. Jesus is the most obvious example. Almost everything he taught was a parable, which is just a super spiritual way of saying Jesus taught using stories. He used neither books nor movies, ironically.
Jesus particularly cut to the heart of issues by letting story, not propositions, carry his point. That’s the way we want to use story, too. We’re glad to use whatever form of media helps make wisdom and goodness and nobility and kindness clearer for our kids.
How We Use Story
There are several books we love as a family. We read the Harry Potter books to see the importance of friendship, the necessity of sacrifice, and the relentlessness of evil. We read the Little House books to be reminded of the hardships of a fallen world and the glory of exercising dominion over creation. We read Anne of Green Gables to see the rejection of the orphan and the joy of finding a place to belong (as well as the wonder of seeing life through the lens of imagination). We read 100 Cupboards to see how adventure comes at the most unlikely times and that winning a war against evil is a community effort. We read A Long Walk to Water to see the plight of many in the world and be reminded that something as simple as clean water is not a given everywhere.
But we love movies, too. We watch Hidden Figures to remember that God’s gifts come to all kinds of people and that heroes don’t always have big muscles. We watch Captain America to see nobility at work and find out that a hero isn’t a hero after they get super serum, but before that when they’re willing to jump on a grenade. We watch Finding Nemo to see a father’s love that travels the world to rescue his foolish son. We watch Wonder Woman to be reminded that fighting evil isn’t something we do because we enjoy it, but because it’s right. We watch Ender’s Game to be reminded that war is ugly and sometimes our enemies aren’t what we think they are. (Even though some of these were originally books, our family has experienced them primarily through film.)
More Than Just Watching
It’s not enough, though, to just read and watch. Like Jesus would do with his disciples privately, we have to explain what it all means. Otherwise it’ll just be stories and not Stories. We need to fill in the gaps. We need to connect the stories we hear and see (which are almost always fantastical) to the ordinary and mundane tasks of doing schoolwork, obeying parents, scrubbing floors, and being kind to siblings. And we also choose the right time and age for these stories, understanding that we neither shelter our kids from the harsh realities of a broken world nor do we shove them into it thoughtlessly.
We also have the task to choose good stories. Not every book is worth reading, nor is every movie worth watching. Some things we watch for fun and to laugh—Phineas and Ferb comes to mind—not because it’s a great story, but because it brings a smile. But movies that delight in darkness or glory in wickedness are not the stories I want my kids (or me!) to internalize. We want them to take in stories that would show them pictures of what it’s like to faithfully follow a good God. And it’s our hope that all of these stories together will shape their minds in a gospel-ward direction.
So we watch movies. A lot. And read books. A lot. The Great Author is still weaving a story all around us. It’s within this Story that he’s showing us who he is, over and over and over again. And we’ll use movies or books or whatever to get and give glimpses of that Glorious Tale, the one where the hero slays the dragon and gets the girl.