A few years ago, we had a young family in our church move out of the area for work. We've stayed in contact with this family, and the mom recently emailed Katy asking about her child's use of media.
The mom's question and Katy's response are posted below.
Question: I wanted to ask you about parenting choices you and Matt have made in regards to movies, fiction novels, etc. [Our preschool aged son] is at that stage where he is interested in Disney movies that aren't always biblical or aligned with our beliefs. As he gets older, I know he will be exposed to more of that. We know we don't want to "shelter" our kids from books and movies because we know we can enjoy those things as a family. The bible doesn't specify, "You can't watch Harry Potter," but we wonder if there are verses or commentaries from other theologians that help us understand why it's ok to let our kiddos read/watch kid friendly stuff that aren't all Bible stories.
Katy's response: You're asking good questions. We have struggled with these exact issues and they are complex but I'll try to communicate what has helped us in thinking through them. The final goal of raising kids is for them to leave our homes and be able to navigate life in the world. So, we want to be taking baby steps along with them that will point them in that direction ultimately. Your kids are young so if that causes anxiety, know that you have lots of time to work out this process. My best suggestion is to be present with your kids and stay involved in what they are watching and reading. That doesn't mean watching every Thomas the Train episode. I realize you're in a very intense stage of parenting right now and there are times when you just need a break. But do watch movies together as a family and as your kids are able, talk about the themes in the movies.
Even kids' movies have powerful themes. For example, Cinderella is a woman of great character. She is extremely kind even though she is treated very unfairly. In the movie The Little Mermaid, the father, King Triton, sacrifices himself for his daughter. These are movies we have watched and talked about with our kids. Gospel themes run through these stories. They remind us of a bigger story, they are shadows of another who is kind even though treated unfairly, who made the biggest self-sacrifice possible. These stories point us to Jesus.
Matt and I were talking about Anne of Green Gables today in a conversation. He had been doing some reading that quoted this book (and movie). He mentioned that Anne, who is an orphan, brings up a lot of our need to belong, to be part of the family, to be adopted and be well loved. Like Anne, we all share in these longings. They're right and a normal part of being human. In the gospel, we have security. We're adopted by a loving Father. We're deeply known and deeply loved.
Many of the modern princess movies teach a different theme - reject your parent's and culture's rules and find your own way, be true to yourself. I think you could argue that Brave, Moana, and Mulan have aspects of this theme. It is a concerning theme since it's so powerful and prevalent in our culture right now. I’ve seen a lot of mugs and t-shirts that say "do more of what makes you happy." We want this to be true but the more we live for ourselves by our own rules, the more miserable we will be. What makes us ultimately happy is to live for the Lord by His rules. Do more of what makes Him happy and we will find ourselves deeply satisfied with life. It doesn't mean that your kids can't watch these movies but you want to be aware of what they are watching and talk about the movies.
One December when my girls were probably 3 and 5, I bought the movie Brave on DVD for my girls as a Christmas gift. None of us had ever seen the movie as it had recently been released. Matt and I got it on Redbox and watched it together one evening. One of our girls was especially headstrong and challenging at that stage and we decided that a movie that encouraged rejecting her parents counsel wasn't something we wanted her watching repeatedly. I returned the unopened Brave DVD.
Reading to our children and developing a love of reading in them has been important to my family. Reading books together and talking through the themes is a way to shape our children’s worldview. During the summers, when our kids have more time, we require them to spend time reading Christian worldview books. For elementary school aged children, we would recommend The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, books by Patricia St. Johns, and books about the lives of missionaries (Trailblazer series by Dave and Neta Jackson). Just to be clear, our kids have read and reread the Harry Potter series. Our three oldest (the youngest isn't old enough to understand them yet) are huge Harry Potter fans. They have hounded me for years to read this series myself and I'm finally reading the first book. A central theme of Harry Potter is self-sacrifice. (See this video by one of our beloved seminary professors speaking about the Harry Potter series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxySk24J_bs)
Again, my best recommendation is to watch movies and read books with your kids and talking about the themes that you encounter. Here are some questions to ask yourselves: what is it about this story that we love? How does this remind us of the gospel/Jesus? Or what theme of this movie is contrary to the gospel? Why would it be dangerous to believe it or live it out?
Maybe you feel like you need to grow in how to examine gospel themes and point your kids to the Jesus? I feel like that too. Pray that the Lord would sharpen your gospel shaped instincts. Talk with your husband about what you're watching/reading and practice finding Jesus. Keep growing in the Lord - spending time with Him in prayer and Bible study regularly. Trust that he will lead you in how to parent your kids.
I hope this helps you begin to work through these complex issues. Feel free to follow up with questions. Good job asking hard questions!