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Harry Potter: The Issue is Parental Responsibility

The danger in Harry Potter isn't necessarily that the story lines revolve around magic.  Even stories written by Christian authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis contain magic.  It isn't that the stories could encourage children to be less respectful of adults or authority.  This is rampant in children's entertainment.  The true danger of Harry Potter lies with parents who allow their children to read the books or watch the movies with little or no supervision.  


Parents who regularly turn to social conservative leaders to guide their families' media choices, or who simply go by the American Library Association's list of banned books, are going to have to decide for themselves whether their families should be watching or reading Harry Potter stories.


The July 18 Washington Post reports that “Catholic News Service, an entity of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has put the Potter books on its list of recommended children's books.”  The same article also says “the series is on the American Library Association's list of most frequently challenged books at school libraries.”  What a mixed message. 


A 2006 Parents Television Council study cites a 2001 commentary from Pediatrics journal by Michael Rich, MD.  Rich said, “Remembering that children under the age of 8 years are developmentally incapable of making a clear distinction between fantasy and reality, we need to reexamine what even our “safest” media are portraying as the ways of the world.”  Parents especially need to think about this when deciding whether Harry Potter will make it onto their families' must read/see book and movie lists. 


Without a solid understanding of what is real and what is make-believe, a child could easily be seduced by the potions, charms and curses the series illustrates.  Magic, both good and bad, can be viewed as a quick fix for problems that otherwise appear insoluble. 


With a solid understanding however, and some discussion, a child could pull the good elements out of the story.  The good elements include the importance of family, friendship, bravery, loyalty, and above all else, the redeeming power of love and the destructiveness of hate. 


Parents will find a range of opinions about Harry Potter.  Dr. Ted Baehr, founder of Movieguide.org and chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission, labeled the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix “abhorrent” and wrote the following in his review of the film:


[T]he movie version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is liable to still do great business at the box office.  Regrettably, however, this means that even more children will be lured away from God and His Infallible Word, which says that witchcraft is evil and abhorrent.  Instead of dreaming about the joys that God gives us through Jesus Christ, they will be dreaming of casting spells, using magic spells, riding brooms, and rebelling against their parents.


Further along the spectrum is Plugged In Online, a division of Dr. James Dobson's organization, Focus on the Family.  Critic Lindy Keffer wrote in her review of the latest Potter movie, “Even with all the magic in the air, the worldview of Phoenix can't be called consistently occult.  Like the world we live in today, it's a hodgepodge of ideas that are accepted simultaneously, even if they don't really fit together.”


On the far end of the spectrum is Nancy Brown.  According to The Christian Post, Brown is a “home-schooling mother [who] recently had a change of heart when she read the books.”  In a statement, the Christian Post reported, Brown says


After reading Harry Potter for myself, I had to conclude that the Potter series is not about the occult or witchcraft but actually just the opposite. The stories are morality tales filled with excellent opportunities for family discussions.  In short, the Harry Potter books are great for all families and especially Christian parents, who for centuries have used literature to illustrate the struggle between good and evil when teaching their children.


The controversy surrounding this series simply reminds parents that ultimately, they have to decide which media images are appropriate for their children. 


Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.