Parents and Harry Potter

Like many mothers and fathers confronted with the Harry Potter phenomenon, I was unsure of how to respond to my daughter's casual interest in seeing the movie. So I read articles, interviews and reviews, and came to a conclusion – I cannot let someone else do my thinking on this, or on any other cultural influence, that could impact my child. I need to give all such influences – not just Harry Potter – my rigorous attention.

From that parental perspective the high profile of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a plus. The scrutiny it has come under has helped put it on our radar screens – and has forced us to make informed decisions. But what about other lesser-known films we allow our kids to see, or the music they listen to? Are we examining these with the same level of intensity? If so, great, if not be aware that questionable messages are prevalent everywhere – in books, on TV and the Internet. And most of these messages – and messengers – are subtler and not as highly publicized as Harry Potter. Therefore, we must be alert to all of our children's interests, and all of their viewing and listening habits.

When that alertness leads to alarm, consider the recent words of youth culture analyst Lindy Beam. Using Harry Potter and its tendencies toward the occult, sorcery and witchcraft as an example, Beam admonishes us not to commit a "fault of logic in saying that reading about witches and wizards necessarily translates into these occult practices." She proposes "that Harry Potter produces curiosity, and that it is what we do with that curiosity that makes all the difference."

We need to realize that curiosity is a natural part of growing up.

As children approach adolescence, curiosities about smoking, alcohol, drug use and sex are quite common. Left unattended, however, all of these curiosities can lead to experimentation, which can lead to trouble. A parent's job then is to respond to every curiosity (before it advances to experimentation) by being actively involved in their children's lives. Use these curiosities as an opportunity to teach the discernment skills your kids will need throughout life. Even if you have a black and white approach to these issues, talking to your kids accomplishes so much more than just handing down a blanket ruling. But this type of parenting requires a lot more of our effort, energy and commitment.

To relate to our children at the above-mentioned level, we need to build a bond with them. We build this bond by spending time together. Unfortunately though, parents today spend on average only 14.5 minutes a day interacting with their children, 12 of which are spent in a setting of critique, instruction or criticism – feedback with a negative tone. Even 14 minutes of positive interaction is insufficient to instill values, build security and earn trust.

Once you've committed your time, build the bond with your children by accepting and loving them unconditionally.

Love them not for what they achieve; love them because they are your child. All children need to feel loved and will find a way to prove they are lovable. If they don't get this from you they will get it from somewhere else. This is where unchecked curiosities can lead to terrible consequences. Involvement in occultism, like other social experimentation, is often the result of seeking the attention and acceptance not received at home.

Strengthen the bond by being what the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse calls a "hands-on parent." Hands-on parents are actively involved in their children's lives. They know where their kids are at all times, they monitor their TV and Internet use, they're involved with their schoolwork, and they let their children know that smoking, drinking and drugs will not be tolerated. What do kids think about parents who are hands-on? Over half of kids living in homes with hands-on parents report having an excellent relationship with their mom and dad. Contrast that with kids in hands-off households where less than 20% report having an excellent relationship with their parents.

So, clearly, while Harry Potter might cloud some issues of good and evil, it doesn't present nearly the danger to our children that uninvolved parenting does.

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