I grew up in the 70s and 80s when Mrs. Blume's books were especially popular - and controversial, as her books touched on adolescent topics that were considered on the edge at the time. So her opinion was not surprising to me. But reading it from a parent's perspective, especially as we are trying to intentionally raise our children with a biblical worldview, showed me three fallacies that are very popular today.
Fallacy #1: Learning to "love reading" trumps the content of what you read.
This was also a popular opinion when the Harry Potter books came out in the 1990s and people were up in arms about the popularity of a series that set witchcraft and wizardry in a positive light. "But children are reading - even children who have never wanted to read before. And it is all because of the Harry Potter books!"
The love of reading has become such a desired goal on education that some would suggest that what is being read is not as important as reaching that goal. And yet, as any author knows, the written word is powerful. So much so that it has sparked revolutions and revivals alike. So much so that the apostle John chose the word "Word" as a metaphor for the living Son of God. Shouldn't we respect that power by being careful what books fall into our children's hands?
Philippians 4 admonishes us to dwell on that which is good and pure. Books have the power to subtly change the heart. Not just with obvious topics like sex and wizardry, but with less blatant ones. Are you there God? It's me, Margaret, is one of Mrs. Blume's most popular, and most controversial, books because of the topic of menstruation and other aspects of female adolescent development that runs throughout. What is often overlooked is the more subtle message that one's religious beliefs are unimportant compared to believing in God, as the title character learns from a year-long attempt to choose between her Christian and Jewish roots. In the end, she makes no choice, and from her perspective, that is okay. I remember reading that book as a teenager and struggling to reconcile it with what I was learning at church.
What is notable to remember is that some of the earliest schools in America were established to teach people to read so they would be able to read the Bible. They understood that the ability to read, and the pleasure gained by it, is not an end in itself, but a means to the greater end of being able to study and understand God's word and to be inspired and motivated by writers who honor it.
Fallacy #2: Any censorship is Bad because it could turn you off from the love of reading (which is the Ultimate Good).
Censorship is the unforgivable sin in the world of books and reading, but a lot of things get called censorship that aren't. Censorship properly defined, and that which is forbidden by the U.S. Constitution, is when the government steps in and decides what may and may not be printed and shared with others. When parents decide what their children may and may not read, that is not censorship; it is parenting. When citizens suggest that schools not use taxpayer money to put certain books in classes or allow certain books in school libraries, that is not censorship; is it exercising your rights as a citizen in a democratic society. You may not agree with it. So argue it out in the court of public opinion, but don't call it what it isn't. And restricting a child's access to certain reading material doesn't have to interfere with growing a love for reading in general if that love is nurtured with excellent literature with positive messages.
Fallacy #3: One's discomfort (even as a child) with the reading content is sufficient to censor yourself; the child knows better than a parent what he or she can "handle".
This is another popular opinion which, in the end, encourages a parent to be more hands-off because children will "self-censor" their own reading if they are uncomfortable and, after all, if they have an open and trusting relationship with you, then they will feel free to come to you with their questions. This ignores, however, the nature of fallen humanity, including children. Jeremiah tells us, "the heart is deceitfully wicked..." We cannot trust our hearts to tell us when we are treading on thin ice, although as we grow in Christ and learn to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit we will understand more how he pricks our conscience in matters like this.
But children in particular, including teenagers, are still developing that skill. They need us to put up the fences that give them safety and definition in their world, and that help them learn how to make wise choices, in the same way that we protect them in other ways. Although there may be exceptions, most children do not know better than their parents and instead of putting a book aside, will continue to read and take in the material that either subtly or more blatantly challenges the biblical worldview that we need to have.
With all due repspect to Mrs. Blume, I don't believe parents worry too much about what their children read. Rather, I suspect we don't worry enough, having been lured into complacency about the power of the written word by the fallacies that Mrs. Blume herself shared. But as Christian parents, we have been given a most sacred trust, the responsibility of shaping our children's worldview for a very small window of time before sending them out into the world. One thing I am going to do in the near future as part of that is to purge our children's book collection, comparing it to the command of Phil. 4:8- whatever is true, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy. Yes, I want my children to love reading...but only as far as that love will grow the much nobler love of God Himself.
How do you help guide your children to good choices in what they read? What are your favorite books to help them develop a biblical worldview?