With classic children's’ pastimes dying to the habits of the digital age, we’ll do anything to get our kids noses out of screens. It’s a rare and valuable thing to pull them out of the virtual world and into the real world where they get exercise for their bodies and minds! So when our kids take interest in a book, that’s always a win, right? Anything, as long as they are reading! Drop them off at the library, set them free and meet them at the checkout counter!
Well, it might not be that easy. Moms, have you stepped into the youth section of a bookstore lately? Unfortunately, the classics aren’t what publishers are marketing to our kids. “Little Women”, “The Boxcar Children”, and “The Chronicles of Narnia” have been pushed off the shelves for themes that sell-- darkness, temptation, and blurring the lines of good and evil.
You might be thinking “Okay, but does it really matter what my children read?” or more likely “My children are mature enough to make good judgments about the goings-on of a fictional story! We’ve raised them to be discerning!”
Allow me to humbly suggest that yes, it so matters what your kids are reading. First off, because the Bible commands us to take care what we put into our minds, and gives good reason.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2
God gave us these commands not just because it’s good Christian practice or because He likes to set mindless rules. He gave them because He, the creator of mankind, knows the science of how we’re wired. He knows why it matters. And we’re now discovering why too. In 2012, The New York Times shared studies that prove that works of fiction can influence us in ways we hadn’t imagined: “Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life” (Annie Murphy Paul, New York Times).
These studies show that when we read detailed imagery of a scene or a compelling description of an action, the words fire up the parts of our brain that process those things as if we actually experience them. For example, we could read about a freshly-dipped homemade banana split comprised of velvety chocolate sauce atop tart strawberries, mellow banana, and cold, rich, creamy ice cream. Are you drooling? When we read about something irresistible like this, the part of our brain that experiences taste fires up and processes those thoughts like they’re real! Annie Murphy Paul summed it up this way in the New York Times:
“The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life.” -Annie Murphy Paul, New York Times
The brain cannot distinguish between what is real and what is read! So the themes and experiences that we read about in fiction actually play a role in forming our values in reality! Which leads us to this question: what values are we forming? The Bible gives us another clear directive to test the content that we consume:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things... And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9
When we choose to reflect on these things-- the noble, right, and pure things-- the peace of God will be with us. When we choose to form values around what is right, we choose to embrace a lifestyle filled with God’s peace. And this is more than just a holy calm that we’re talking about. God’s peace has a purpose. Take a look at the verse that comes before the one we just read.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7
God commanded us to guard our hearts and transform our minds because the things we expose them to affect us in very real ways. And living in this commandment is a very attainable thing--
he provides the means! It happens when we choose to live in His peace through practical means--through things like choosing appropriate books to read. The peace of God that we obtain when we read what is good, is what allows us to live out good values. Because when we read these true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable things--our brain will process them as if they were real, and we will infuse these qualities into our lives.
So next time you hit the library with your kiddos, check out what they're checking out. Talk to them about the content that they are reading. Dig deep into the implications of the characters' actions. Help them to work through what their brains are experiencing, and help them mold their values.
P.S. If you're looking for some new reading for your tween, check out our fiction series!