Entertainment today is extremely accessible. We can watch videos and read articles whenever we want. Each of these pieces of media, however, has its own ideology. But often, we do not even notice this ideology that is being presented to us, or the underlying assumptions of the creators.
As Frances Schaeffer explained: “The results of [people’s] thought world flow through their fingers or from their tongues into the external world. This is true of Michelangelo’s chisel, and it is true of the dictator’s sword.” Everything people create is the product of their worldview, so being able to recognize the underlying beliefs in media and entertainment is an important skill.
The danger is that this skill often isn’t taught.
When parents do not intentionally engage with their children to evaluate the ideologies of their media and entertainment, those children will not be prepared to notice when they are being presented with a subtle lie. The kids then will grow up unable to discern truth from falsehoods when they decide what to believe, whom to trust, and what to support.
In high school, my mom spent hours talking with me about the books I read. Our conversations ranged from classical texts such as Beowulf to modern novels. In these hours we spent together, we discussed the themes and thoughts laid out in the books. Those hours my mother spent with me increased my ability to critically examine the world around me.
With all the evil and dangers of the world, it’s tempting for parents to be afraid of all entertainment. C.S. Lewis wrote that people seem to think that “we must try to keep out of [a child’s] mind the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil. … [This] would indeed be to give children a false impression and feed them on escapism in the bad sense.” Children are already encountering false, misleading, and destructive ideas in the media they consume and their daily lives, often without even knowing it. By equipping them to be able to discern the worldviews behind the stories they like or shows they watch, parents are giving children a guardrail to keep them from falling headlong for every idea that comes their way. Similarly, parents should discuss wholesome entertainment with their children because it is important to be able to identify what is good as well as what is false.
In addition to training children to be discerning, having open conversations with kids about entertainment can strengthen the child-parent relationship. I enjoyed discussing books with my mom and thinking together about their elements and themes. Because we often both read the book, we could each talk about what we’d noticed. At first, my mom did most of the talking, and I learned how to think deeply about what I was reading from her example. As I grew, I contributed more of my thoughts, sometimes pointing out aspects of the book that my mom had not paid as much attention to. While there was an instructional side to our conversations, we also had fun talking about twists we had not expected and characters we liked.
Learning how to study books and discern the underlying worldviews they exhibit has been valuable in multiple areas of my life. Training a child in discernment in one area leads to the skill spilling over into other areas as well. When my mother discussed books with me, she was also helping me build a foundation for understanding the worldview of speakers I listen to, textbooks I read, and movies I watch.
Helping children develop the skill to think critically is one of the best defenses parents can give them against the faulty ideologies they will inevitably run across. It is also a great way for children to recognize that which is excellent. Take it from someone who is immensely grateful to her parents for teaching her discernment: This skill is not a nice add-on. It is essential.
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