I know some parents are wondering about whether to let their kids read the Twilight books or watch the movies.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had, a decade ago, with a mother whom I really respect. The Twilight of the time was Harry Potter. Less teen-angsty than Twilight, but some of the same concerns for parents (dark realms, glorifying life without parents, the casting of unproven British actors . . .). She had two girls, the younger in 5th grade, the older in middle school. The 5th grader was pretty into the book. I asked her mom, “So, I guess you’re letting your kids read the book?”

This is what a lot of you parents live with

Before I tell you what she said, let me pause the flashback and think about the various ways parents might answer that question. One, possibly tempting for an ambitious immigrant, is “Of course, it’s a book! And it’s long! SATs, here we come!” Two, tempting for parents concerned about their kids’ fitting in, is “Of course, everyone’s doing it!” Three, tempting for many Christians, is “Of course not! A book written by a non-Christian about witchcraft!?” While these all actually have some legitimate concerns in mind, the mother speaking with me chose a fourth option. “We’re reading it together,” she said. “We read chapters and talk about what we’re reading. It’s been fun.”

The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) issues movie ratings–G, PG, PG-13, R–to help parents decide what to allow their kids to watch. While that service is helpful, I wonder if, for Christians, every movie is rated PG, that is, requiring parental guidance.

It’s in the Bible, or at least I think it is. Specifically in Deuteronomy 6:6-7. “These words that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

Put into our world, it might read something like: “These words I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you watch TV, when you talk about school, when you drive to soccer practice, when you read the news, and when you say goodnight.”

What are those “words” we’re always supposed to be talking about with our kids? Well, in the New Testament, the word that is corresponds most to “word” in the Old Testament is “the gospel,” the “good news” about Jesus. That is to say, for the New Testament writers and readers, Deut 6:6-7 meant that they were supposed to be talking about the gospel, the message that brings lost people to God. And I don’t see why it wouldn’t mean the same for us. What we talk about with our kids, what we impress on them through day to day life together, is the gospel of Jesus.

So whether you decide to let your kids read Twilight or not, maybe the best advice to keep in mind is the advice from Deuteronomy: talk about the books, talk about your decision to read it or not to read it, talk about the movies, and when you talk about them, be impressing the gospel on your kids’ hearts.

(This actually applies to the Bible too, which is not really written for kids [or anyone?] to digest by themselves. The Bible would actually not make it into a lot of school libraries, I think, if librarians knew more of the stories told in the book.)

Admittedly, just going by the MPAA is easier–“my kid is 14 and the movie is PG-13, so let him watch it”–than Deut 6’s “everything is PG.” Any parent who has ever needed a childless getaway can tell you that. But that’s the way our kids grow best. And that’s how a lot of stuff that’s out there–TV, the internet, movies, music, books–can get redeemed and become instruments of growth.

This is what I live with

Practically speaking, this means to do it together and talk about it. Watch, read, listen, play with your kids; talk about what they’re watching and hearing. And the most helpful perspective you can bring to the conversation is how it relates to Jesus and the gospel. My own daughter is too young for Twilight, but we’ve tried to do this with the stuff she reads and watches. Dora the Explorer? “Swiper, no swiping!” is just like how Jesus gives us authority to stand up to and beat things that are not right. Disney Princesses? If you’re a daughter of God the King . . . guess what, kiddo, you’re a princess. So be a good princess, one who’s generous and kind. (And, fine, you can wear the heels.)

So should I let my kids read Twilight? That’s ultimately your decision, but, either way, use it to impress the gospel on your kids. If you don’t let them read it, talk about what Jesus values and modeled–independence from a herd mentality, growing our purity of thought, and willingness to let go of desirable things.

If you do, remember that most, if not all, of the stories our culture tells have a basis in truth. It’s just that usually they miss something. But Jesus has a way of revising these stories to make them his own. Let’s help our kids hear his revisions, by hearing and processing these stories with them. Who knows? Maybe a story about a teenage crush on a vampire can actually help set “the words,” the gospel of Jesus, on their hearts.

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