How I Decide What to Let My Kids Read

We all want our kids to be reading. 

But sometimes, it can be hard to know what they should be reading. 

For example, the Harry Potter books are rife with controversy among Christian parents. Some praise the themes of good versus evil and self-sacrifice, while others decry the use of witchcraft as dangerous for young minds.

So, who is right? And how do we know whether the books we are choosing for our children are appropriate? 

As an avid reader, and someone who used to work in a library, I get a lot of questions like this, and frequent requests for book recommendations, so I thought I’d spend a few minutes today sharing how I make those decision for my own family.

Let’s take the Harry Potter series as an example again, shall we?

The Harry Potter books weren’t on my radar when they first came out, so I didn’t get around to reading them until high school, at which point my parents trusted my judgment enough to let me make book choice decisions for myself, but after reading them, I honestly didn’t see what the big deal was. Now that I’m a parent of emerging readers, I thought I’d better read them again with an eye towards whether they were appropriate for my children.

I don’t want to get too deep into the merits of that particular book series, but instead pull back, and look at how I made those decisions as I read.

As I read, I thought about my children’s personalities, and what sorts of things influence them – both positively and negatively. I thought about the particularities of the world of books I was reading, and the maturity of the themes the books explored. I mentally compared them with other fantasy books I liked for my kids, and with ones I didn’t like.

My oldest son, Caleb, would probably love the Harry Potter books. But when he’s really into something, he gets a little obsessed with reliving every moment of it, whether it’s a book, or a movie, or some other kind of story or game. And while I’m not convinced that reading Harry Potter leads kids right into modern witchcraft practices like Wicca, I don’t know that it’s anything I want him acting out all day, every day, either.

Also, (spoiler alert!) some of the characters die in pretty gruesome ways, and that there is romance later on in the series. And while those things seems perfectly appropriate for a a high-schooler reader, I don’t think my 7-year-old is ready for them.

So once I considered those elements, it was pretty easy to decide that Harry Potter is something we’ll pass on as a family for at least 4 or 5 more years.

But that’s just one series. And some kids tear through books at such an impressive rate that it can be hard for us parents to keep up. So as you’re considering books for your kids, here are a few helpful principles to remember.

You are the parent.

That means you absolutely have the right to tell your child to put something back at the library, even if they really want to get it.

You can ask them to wait to start reading something from the school library until they’ve brought it home and you can look at it.

You can ask for your child to have an alternate book for required reading in an English class if the one they choose is particularly objectionable to you.

You reserve the right to change your mind.

God has put these children into your care, not someone else’s, and it’s okay to take to that responsibility seriously, and enforce the values that are important to you.

Know your kids’ triggers

Different kids are ready for different things at different ages. And kids with different personalities will respond differently to the same book.

Is your daughter easily frightened, or does she like scary stories? If your son reads a book with language in it, will it influence the words he uses?

The more you know your own children, the better you’ll be able to know what things are okay for them to read, and what to avoid.

Check out review sites for books you don’t have time to read yourself

I’ve shared before that I use Common Sense Media for information about movie content, but they have a lot of information about books, too.

Some parents, I know, like to pre-read everything their children read, but this isn’t realistic for every parent. But sites like this allow you to find out what kind of objectionable content a book might contain without having to read the entire thing yourself.

If it’s not on Common Sense Media, feel free to ask someone who might know about what’s in the book – a librarian, a bookseller, or a friend who reads a lot. Or veto the book until you have a chance to read it. You are the parent, after all. 

Use trusted booklists to find appropriate titles for your kiddos

This is one of my best tips.

If you don’t have time to read the books, and you can’t find the information you want about titles your kids are finding, the best thing you can do is to proactively choose excellent books for you kids.

There are well-written, wholesome books available at every reading level and on any topic that might interest your reader. You just need to know where to look to find them.

One the easiest ways to find quality books for my boys is through anthologies of booklists. There are books that were written specifically to help parents like us to find good titles for our kids. Two of my favorites are Honey for a Child’s Heart and Read for the Heart

There are also many websites dedicated to this purpose. I particularly like the monthly picture book lists at Read-Aloud Revival.

So that’s how I decide what to allow my children to read. Do you have any more tips for choosing books? Let me know in the comments!