Are Christian Kid Shows Good for Teaching?

November 15, 2022

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Shows like Superbook and VeggieTales can be entertaining for kids, but some parents wonder if they should be used as a teaching tool. Is "Christian media" good for teaching? In this episode, Elizabeth Urbanowicz provides Christian parents with a framework to evaluate the cartoons and shows their kids are consuming.


Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.

Hello friends, and welcome to the Foundation Worldview podcast, where we seek to equip you to get the kids in your care carefully evaluating every idea they encounter so they can understand the truth of the biblical worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz and I'm thrilled that you joined me today for another episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast.

Today's question says, what is your perspective about animated children's Christian series like Super Book for teaching children? And now, I really appreciated this question because this is a question that we receive a lot. Not necessarily about Super Book, but just about what's your perspective of this Christian series or that Christian series? And personally for this question, I have never seen Super Book. However, I think that there are certain principles that we can apply to any series of Christian media to really make sure that we're equipping our kids to understand the truth of the biblical narrative, and also to make sure that they're carefully evaluating every idea they encounter.

Because sometimes what we do is we set up this false dichotomy where we have our kids think, okay, anything that's Christian is safe and it's good, and anything that's non-Christian is not safe and it's bad. And now this dichotomy is very dangerous because what it does is it teaches our children just to shut off their minds, which is not at all what we want them to do because there are many things that are labeled Christian that actually do not align with what is taught in scripture. And so we want our children to always be carefully evaluating any idea that's labeled Christian and seeing, okay, does this align with what is taught in the Bible? And then by God's common grace, there are many things that are not Christian that are actually true and good. Now, there's also many things that are not true and are not good, but we want to make sure that our children are constantly asking themselves the question, is this true? Does it line up with scripture? How do I know this?

Because if we give them this false dichotomy, they're going to believe many false ideas that are just snuck into the Christian community under the guise of the label Christian, but aren't distinctly Christian. And then one day when they grow up and they realize, you know what? Not everything that's out in the world, not every single thing is bad or untrue or evil. They're going to think that we lied to them. So we need to instead teach them to be careful evaluators.

Now, for media that's specifically depicting the Bible, now I could be off on this, but I think Super Book is actually showing different Bible stories. So the format that I would recommend for that is watch whatever it is, whether it's Super Book, whether it's Veggie Tales, whether it's another animated series that's teaching a Bible story. And then after you're done, go read the parallel passage in the Bible. So if the story you just watched was Daniel in the Lions Den, go read in the book of Daniel, the narrative of Daniel in the lions den, so that your children have in their mind, okay, this is what Super Book taught, or this is what Veggie Tales taught, or this is what I saw on the Chosen or whatever it is. And then read that passage in the Bible so that then they have the biblical narrative, the actual biblical narrative in their mind as well.

Now, if you're reading with little kids, what you can do is you can ask them to draw a picture of what things were similar both in the animated series and in the Bible, and then on the opposite side of that page, have them draw a picture of any things that were different in the animated series and in the actual biblical narrative. If you're working with older kids, you can actually just draw a Venn diagram on the page and say, okay, after we read this narrative in the Bible, I want you to make a list. Okay, what are the things that were similar between what we just watched and what we just read in scripture? And then what are the things that are different there?

And I used to do this all the time with my students. The Bible curriculum that we used in third grade at the school where I used to teach went through the first eight books of the Bible. And so whenever we came to the Book of Exodus, I knew that most of my students had already seen the movie The Prince of Egypt. And so that's what they had in their minds when they were thinking of the story of the Exodus.

So what we'd do is we would read... We would actually... It was an academic setting, so we didn't watch the movie first. We'd actually read in scripture first what God had revealed. And then after that, we'd watch a portion of the Prince of Egypt. And what I would have my students do is I would have them then fill in the Venn diagram, what things are similar, what things are different? And they were able to pick out so quickly things that were similar and things that were different. I know I mentioned recently on another webinar that my students would notice every single year that in the biblical narrative, it's very clear that Moses purposely killed the Egyptian who was beating the Hebrew slave, where in the Prince of Egypt, it's very much portrayed as if it was an accident. Moses comes in to rescue this Hebrew slave, he accidentally knocks the Egyptian off the scaffolding and the Egyptian accidentally dies.

And my students would pick that up every year. Miss U, in the Bible, Moses murdered this man, and in the movie, he accidentally knocked him off the scaffolding. So if we train our kids to do this, to look at a biblical story that's animated or just filmed, and then to use the Bible as the anchor for what parts of this accurately depict what's in the Bible, and then what parts do not. If you're working with kids like nine on up, you can actually then talk about the difference between something where they've actually gotten details wrong in that Prince of Egypt example and things where they have just embellished. A good example of this would be the Chosen. Now that I haven't seen every single episode of the Chosen, but the episodes that I have seen, I've seen a lot of things that have aligned with the biblical narrative.

But then because they're focusing so much on the life of the disciples, in that they have to embellish a lot, because we're not told a lot about the personal lives of the disciples except for a few of their occupations. And so they embellish a lot. So when you're working with kids nine on up, you can just say, well, where did they add details that the Bible doesn't tell us? Now those details could possibly be true, but we shouldn't read the Bible having in our minds the picture of the characters in the Chosen. I know for example, in the Chosen, the character of Matthew, very clearly, he is on the autism spectrum. Is it possible that Matthew, the tax collector, could have been on the autism spectrum? Absolutely. But should we view Matthew every time we're reading the Gospel of Matthew as someone who's on the spectrum? No, because we're not given that detail in scripture.

So that's another thing when we're working with older kids, we can identify three different things, things that were true to the biblical narrative, things that were not true, and then things that were, we don't know whether or not they're true. They're just embellished for the purpose of taking some artistic license. And if you're going to make a very long series on Jesus and the disciples, you have to embellish a little bit because we don't have as many details as it would take for multiple seasons of a series like that. And then just the discussion. Discussing that together and having these discussions, because the more times we have these discussions, the more these thought patterns actually become ingrained patterns in our kids' minds, even if they don't appreciate it, even if they don't like to do it, we just want to equip them to think this way.

I've mentioned multiple times, my mom, when she was raising us, she didn't go into this much detail when she'd have us evaluate what we were watching. And she did a lot more explaining than asking questions. But still, every time she would pause a movie and would explain something to us, it at least got us thinking so that we were used to actually thinking every time we watched something. And I mean that pattern that my mom set, I mean, for a very large part, that's why I do what I do today, actually helping parents and pastors and Christian educators get the kids God has placed in our care thinking critically. It's due to that pattern that my mom set when I was growing up and that just has continued to develop throughout the years.

Now, for media where it's not necessarily teaching a biblical narrative, it's not necessarily teaching Daniel in the lions den or David and Goliath or the life of Jesus and the disciples, but where it's teaching Christian principles. Maybe it's like a video teaching on the fruits of the spirit or how to be kind to one another. What I would suggest for that is to first watch the video together, and again, this is something that's key. I know a lot of times adults like to think of like, oh, screen time. Yes, it's like my break. But if we want to train the kids in our care really to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter, we need to stop viewing screen time as our break time and instead view it as time of continued investment and training. So we need to watch these things alongside our kids. Now, there's nothing saying that you can't be chopping vegetables in the kitchen and listening along and then afterwards having a conversation. But our kids shouldn't be off in their bedroom alone with the iPad watching something, and we have no idea whether or what it was about.

Even if it's something Christian, we should really be there with them engaging in this. Then what I would do is whatever was taught, whether it's the fruits of the spirit or kindness or fairness or something like that, read a passage, a longer passage of scripture than with the kids that talks about this Christian principle and then discuss, okay, the way that this was presented in the video or the show. Sorry, I'm dating myself saying video. I know nothing is like VHS anymore. But the show did what was presented in the show actually line up with how it's presented in scripture. Again, we're wanting to anchor everything back to scripture, and does this align with what God has revealed in his word? And then we want to do the same thing in secular media as well. If they're watching something on PBS Kids or they're watching an episode of Wild Kratts, or they're watching something on Disney Plus, we want them to constantly be evaluating, what did I just see? What does scripture say? Do the two align? Do they contradict or do we need to investigate a little more?

Because just the goal in all of this is to establish patterns and habits of thinking that our kids are going to take with them, whether they're still in our home or whether they're off at college, or whether they're an adult. We want to just establish these patterns of thinking, making sure that we're rooting everything in scripture so that they're constantly coming back and asking, okay, what did I see? Does this align with scripture? What do I do with it now?

Well, that's a wrap for this episode of the Foundation Worldview podcast, but as always, my prayer for you as you go on from here is that God would richly bless you as you continue to disciple the children he's placed in your care. I'll see you next time.

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