Do You Know What Your Children Read?
“MOMMY, I’m not going to read her books anymore,” declared 11-year-old Shana. She referred to a well-known author of children’s books. When asked why, she showed her mother several passages from the book containing obscenities. Says the mother: “I was shocked, because until then I thought I had checked the books our children were reading, usually reading the book covers to determine the subject matter. But I never dreamed that books written for 10- to 12-year-olds would contain such language. So after commending her for coming to me, I resolved to screen their reading material more carefully in the future.”
For years some TV stations throughout the United States have aired this ten-word message: “It’s ten o’clock. Do you know where your children are?” No loving parent wants his child to be out on the street at night with undesirables. But when was the last time you checked your child’s reading material? Could it be that by means of what they read, your children are associating with people who promote laziness, rebellion, stealing, prostitution, homosexuality and even murder? Do you really KNOW what your children are reading?
What They Read
One mother discovered her nine-year-old with his head buried in a book. But to her delight it turned out to be an encyclopedia! Needless to say, though, this is the exception—not the rule. Far more often a child that age is poring over a comic book or a picture magazine. Such magazines may have their place. But, to be honest, they generally have limited use in teaching good reading habits.*
And what of teenagers? Says Seventeen magazine: “A large chunk of today’s teenage market is focused on romance.” One 16-year-old girl is quoted as saying: “The books are so real. You feel as if you were the main character . . . I can lose myself in them.” A romantic story can have the effect of stimulating fantasies on love and romance long before a youth is in a position to act on those emotions. And in some cases youths have become addicted to such novels, even moving on to romance novels that are sexually graphic.
For example, one young woman started out by reading the older romance novels. But soon, she says, “I just couldn’t get through a day without reading at least one.” To satisfy her desire to read she found herself reading the newer romance novels. “They went into very detailed accounts of immoral sex before marriage,” she recalls.
And what about young boys? They may be turned off by romance, but equally hooked on science fiction, adventure and sports stories. Some are wholesome; some are not.
Not to be overlooked either is what children are assigned to read in school. School often means exposure to such things as the theory of evolution, false religious theories, even sexually explicit films and books. Parents are often unaware of what their children are being taught.
What Parents Can Do
So what can you as a parent do to help your children? Begin by setting a good example yourself. Now, admittedly, this may not be easy for everyone. A missionary of Jehovah’s Witnesses serving in Kenya observed: “In most cases the parents have not had much or any schooling themselves and they do not read very well. So they do not know what their children are being taught in school or what they read on their own.” It may therefore be necessary for parents in such countries to undertake reading instruction themselves. Congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses often make such training available.
In the more affluent countries, however, parents are generally literate. If this is true of you, how can you capitalize on such an advantage? Simply stated, if you want your children to read, they must see you reading. If you want them to be readers of good books, they must see you reading good books.
Interestingly, the Bible points to the value of such early training. It tells of an outstanding young man named Timothy who ‘from infancy knew the holy writings.’ (2 Timothy 3:15) Apparently Timothy’s mother read the Scriptures to him even when he was an infant! The apostle Paul at least partially credits Timothy’s great love of God’s Word to this training.
Similarly today, reading to children from infancy is vital. One child prodigy (a premed student at age 11) and her three sisters reportedly developed into geniuses because of early parental training. Says their father: “Our children aren’t special. They just had a chance to learn at an early age.” True, it is not likely that you expect your child to be a genius. But the example does highlight the value of establishing good reading habits at an early age. In fact, Dr. Bettelheim observed: “It’s been found that who will do well in school and who will do poorly is largely determined by the end of the third grade. Thus, reading instruction during the first three grades is crucial.”
As your youngsters make efforts to improve their reading, they will need much encouragement and commendation from you. The book How to Motivate Adolescents states: “Praise is probably the most powerful yet the most ignored incentive adults can provide for adolescents!”
But how do parents supervise a child’s reading? Some have found their children, supposedly asleep, reading pornographic material under the covers by flashlight. This does not mean, of course, that parents should resort to snooping and police tactics. But it does emphasize the need for open communication between parents and child. Why not have a frank discussion, explaining to your child just what is objectionable and why you find it so? If you do so in a calm, open and frank way, there will likely be little, if any, resentment. Showing a child the proper “way” often has long-lasting results.—Proverbs 22:6.
Do not take an entirely negative approach to your child’s reading. Instead of wringing your hands over the kind of material filtering down to the young, do something about it! Provide decent literature for your children. The aforementioned youth who perused encyclopedias could only do so because they were in his home in the first place. Might an encyclopedia be a wise investment for your family? And what about the “classics”? Many tell stories of adventure, highlight dependability and loyalty, as well as enlarge a child’s imagination. Do you have such books in your home? If books are too expensive to buy, see if there are public library facilities your child can be encouraged to use.
What about magazines? Many feature photography, history, geography and animals. Publications such as The Watchtower and Awake! can stimulate your child’s interest in the Creator. And when subscriptions to these are sent in the child’s own name, he will be more prone to read them.
But what about material your child may be taught in school? Some parents have been concerned enough to speak to the school authorities and request that their children be excused from reading certain material the parents found objectionable. Nevertheless, there is a need for balance in this regard. For one thing, life will constantly expose your child to ideas and concepts that are not harmonious with the Bible. And your child will eventually be out on his own in the world. He or she will need the “shrewdness” and “thinking ability” that Solomon encouraged youths to develop so as to be able to sift the true from the false. (Proverbs 1:4) Will endeavoring to shield children from every erroneous idea help them to cultivate these abilities?
Some parents therefore allow their children to carry out their regular homework assignments, while at the same time closely monitoring what they are being taught. They examine the textbooks assigned to their children. On a daily basis they discuss what the children have been taught in school. Regular study of the Bible and frank and open communication help them keep their children’s thinking on the right track.—Deuteronomy 6:6-9.
Of course, there may at times be a real need to approach school authorities, especially when material that is blatantly objectionable is taught. Remember, however, that your child’s teachers are not your adversaries. Teachers generally are conscientious and just as concerned about your child’s scholastic abilities as you are. So periodically visit the classroom and get acquainted with the teachers as your time and circumstances permit.
The ability to read is basic to learning. Without it, learning is difficult. With it, there is hardly anything one cannot learn. Children who enjoy reading have a real advantage.
See the article “Comic Books—Should Your Child Read Them?” appearing in Awake! of June 22, 1983.
[Blurb on page 13]
If you want them to read good books, they must see you reading good books