I made my 10-year-old really mad last week. She's been asking to read The Hunger Games. Nearly everyone in her grade has read it, and she feels like she's missing out.
Until last week, I had not read The Hunger Games. From what I had heard about the books, I didn't think they were appropriate for a 10-year-old, especially not one who is prone to nightmares. But instead of giving my daughter a flat-out "no" based on what I had read, I told her I had to read them first.
I'll be honest. I had no desire to read these books. Everything I had heard about them made them sound gruesome and without redeeming value. However, after I read them, I found that they were actually pretty good literature. They're thought-provoking and raise some great conversation points. But I still felt that they were not appropriate for my 10-year-old.
My concerns were three-fold. First, I felt there were certain scenes in the books that would give my daughter nightmares. We deal with nightmares on a fairly regular basis, so I'm not willing to do anything that's going to deprive us of even more sleep around here. Second, while I think the books raise some great questions about the role of government, the things people will do in extreme situations and what a world without God looks like, I don't think my 10-year-old is old enough to grasp those concepts. Last, one of the main story lines is a love triangle, which while very clean, I don't think my daughter would grasp all the nuances of and would raise more questions than she's ready to handle.
So, I made my daughter mad and told her she couldn't read the books right now. I told her other parents might make different decisions, but my decision for her was no, for now. I told her we would revisit the subject when she was older and I felt she would better understand the books, but for now, the answer is no. She thought I was being unfair. She thought I was the meanest mom in the world. And that's OK because I'm not always supposed to be her best friend. I am supposed to be her filter.
We have a screened-in back porch on our house. I love to leave the back door to my house open to let in the breeze. Yet, we also like to leave the door to the back porch open so the dog can go in and out freely. Leaving that porch door open, though, defeats the purpose of a screened in back porch, so a couple weeks ago, I bought one of those mesh screens that just hangs on the doorframe. It has magnets down the middle so people and animals can go in and out without letting in the bugs. It's not the perfect solution. Some bugs still get in, but it's a definite improvement over the open back door.
As parents, we're a lot like that hanging screen. It's our job to filter out the things that our kids aren't ready for. We want to be like the author of Proverbs, who says to his son, "I give you sound learning, so do not forsake my teaching" (Proverbs 4:2). My kids don't spend every waking hour with me. Just like the screen can't keep all of the bugs out, I can't keep every objectionable thing out of my kids' lives. But I can filter most of it.
Sometimes being the filter means we have to be unpopular with our kids. But it's important for our kids to know that we're not filtering things out because we're being legalistic or following a rigid set of rules. Our kids need to know that we act as a filter on the things they read, see or wear because we love them. If our filtering actions are motivated by love and our kids know that, then when we say "no" to certain things, our kids know that we aren't doing it just to be mean or to make them a social pariah. It's much easier to accept a decision motivated by love than one motivated by adherence to an unknown set of rules.
As I explained my decision about The Hunger Games to my daughter, I gently explained that I was telling her "no" because I love her. As the tears rolled down her cheeks, I explained all of my reasons. She went to bed upset with me, but the next day she came home from school and gave me a short list of the other kids in the grade who weren't allowed to read the books. "Those are the responsible parents," she said. I had to smile. She had taken our conversation and put it into the context of love.
Acting as a filter is hard. Sometimes it's way easier to say yes than it is to deal with the fallout from saying no. But acting as a screen for what our kids see, read and wear is a job we shouldn't take lightly. Protecting our kids hearts and minds and helping them to see the reasons for our decisions lets them know that we make our decisions with their best interests at heart.
Where do you need to act as a filter for your child today?