Should Christian Kids Read Books From a Non Christian Worldview?

If you’re a Christian parent who has visited the library or a book store with your children recently, you’ve probably noticed that much of modern literature doesn’t exactly come from a Christian worldview. And, in fact, some of the books we consider classics definitely don’t come from a Christian worldview either.

So, what’s a Christian parent to do? Do you allow your children to read these books or do you search for only books that have the same values that your family holds? In our family, we’ve made the decision to allow books that don’t necessarily share our values. Here are the things we consider when we’re choosing books and teaching the kids how to make good choices on their own.

Books for Christian kids

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Consider the age of the child.

Obviously an older teen can read a book and process it differently than an early reader. For that reason, I’m more selective when my children are small and allow more freedom as they grow older. When they’re younger they aren’t yet prepared to identify how things in the book are different from our value system. For that reason I’m especially careful about books that send a subtle message that some kinds of behaviors are “normal.”

For instance, in some early chapter books the norm is for the hero or heroine of the story to be argumentative and disrespectful of authority. The book certainly doesn’t come out and promote the behavior, but it’s just ever present. I don’t want my children to read these as young readers. That behavior is not one I want them to think is appropriate.

Read aloud frequently and use a variety of books.

When I’m reading aloud and we come to a character who acts inappropriately or a statement that is throw in that is contrary to our value system, we can discuss it. This is one of the greatest benefits of reading aloud for me. When we take time to talk through these things that come up, we’re teaching the kids by example the way that they should critically examine what they are reading. There have been many times that I’ve finished reading about something that happened in the story and then stopped and began asking questions. “Do you think that was the right response?” “How might the character have acted differently?” “Is there any circumstance in which that would have been okay?”

I do this with nonfiction books as well. There have been times when were were reading a science or history book written from a secular perspective and I’ve stopped and asked the kids what they thought. One of the best questions when they disagree with a statement is to ask “What would you tell someone who agreed with this?” That question teaches children to not just mimic my response without knowing why but to be able to think critically and give an answer for their belief.

Establish the practice of checking through their books.

Obviously I cannot pre read every single book that all four of my kids want to read- especially my voracious readers. But from the time they are old enough to peruse the library shelves for themselves, I establish the practice of having them bring books to me for approval. I look at several things when I skim through the books they bring me.

  1. I read the book’s synopsis. What is the feel I get from what the book is about? Is is about something that is obviously contrary to our values?
  2. I look at the author. Do I recognize the name from other books we’ve read?
  3. I skim for bad words. Of course I can’t catch every word, but if the book uses frequent words that we don’t or takes the Lord’s name in vain frequently, I’ll probably notice it.
  4. I read the beginning pages of a couple of chapters. This helps me to get the tone of the book. Do the characters seem to be sarcastic? Are they being unkind to each other?
  5. If I’m still feeling uncertain and they really want the book, I pull out my phone and look it up on Common Sense Media. This site reviews many, many books as well as movies, television, and video games. If it’s a currently popular kids’ book, chances are I’ll find it.
This process takes some time. Yes, it’s hard to do when the toddler is running around the library pulling books off the shelves and the baby begins screaming because she’s hungry. But I’ve done it in these circumstances anyway. If I absolutely can’t do it, I’ll let the child check it out conditionally, knowing that I’ll look it over at home. 
Don’t be afraid of discussing books that turn out to be controversial.
There have been times- especially as the kids have gotten older and my checking is more lax- that the kids will begin to read a book, discover it isn’t great and come and tell me. They tell me because they know I’m not going to overreact. If I find out the book they’re reading has some things in it we don’t agree with, we talk about why we don’t agree. Are the characters acting in ways they shouldn’t? Is there bad language? I don’t necessarily make them stop reading it. We can talk about whether or not they should. But not overreacting is the key.
At one point I saw a free young adult Kindle book. I had read adult books from the author before and remembered her as being good. So I got the book for my young teen daughter and told her it was on her Kindle. She began reading it and later that day came and asked me if I had read the book before I sent it to her. No, I hadn’t. I trusted the author. She then began to tell me of some pretty controversial things in the book. I was surprised. But I was able to discuss it calmly. Because I didn’t overreact, she’s more likely to tell me about things that come up in her reading that bother her.
Allow older kids to experience different worldviews safely in a book.
A book provides a “safe” way for kids to be exposed to different ideas and worldviews as they grow older. This is why, as the kids are older and older, we allow them to read a wide variety of books. Along with this, though, we are constantly having discussions and encouraging critical thinking. The fact is that as these children become teens and then young adults, they are going to encounter many things that are contrary to our worldview. Allowing them to experience these things from the safety of an interaction with a book can help them begin to think critically when they encounter ideas that are different from what they believe.
Because we have developed a rapport with our kids and because we encourage them to talk through things they encounter that are contrary to our worldview, they’ve come many times and talked to me about a book they’re reading that has ideas or elements that have made them uncomfortable or made them pause to think. Having the opportunity to discuss these things in the context of a book can give kids the tools to think about things like this that happen in real life. 

Books for Christian kids

As a parent, the struggle to maintain a balance between keeping our children safe from wrong worldviews but at the same time preparing them to think about and deal with these worldviews is always there. I think that choosing wisely the books that we allow our kids to read can bring good opportunities to teach a Christian worldview as well as help our kids deal with contrary views.

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