Skip to main content.

What Shall Our Children Read?

What shall our children read? This is a serious question and one that demands a serious answer. It troubles me to see in Sabbathkeeping families periodicals and newspapers containing continued stories which leave no impressions for good on the minds of children and youth. I have watched those whose taste for fiction was thus cultivated. They have had the privilege of listening to the truth, of becoming acquainted with the reasons of our faith; but they have grown to maturer years destitute of true piety and practical godliness. They manifest no devotion and reflect no heavenly light upon their associates to lead them to the fount of all true knowledge.

It is during the first years of a child's life that his mind is most susceptible to impressions either good or evil. During these years decided progress is made in either a right direction or a wrong one. On one hand, much worthless information may be gained; on the other, much solid, valuable knowledge. The strength of intellect, the substantial knowledge, are possessions which the gold of Ophir could not buy. Their price is above gold or silver.

The kind of education that fits the youth for practical life, they naturally do not choose. They urge their desires, their likes and dislikes, their preferences and inclinations; but if parents have correct views of God, of the truth, and of the influences and associations that should surround their children, they will feel that upon them rests the God-given responsibility of carefully guiding the inexperienced youth.

Many youth are eager for books. They read anything that they can obtain. I appeal to the parents of such children to control their desire for reading. Do not permit upon your tables the magazines and newspapers in which are found love stories. Supply their place with books that will help the youth to put into their character building the very best material--the love and fear of God, the knowledge of Christ. Encourage your children to store the mind with valuable knowledge, to let that which is good occupy the soul and control its powers, leaving no place for low, debasing thoughts. Restrict the desire for reading matter that does not furnish good food for the mind. The money expended for story magazines may not seem much, but it is too much to spend for that which gives so much that is misleading, and so little that is good in return. Those who are in God's service should spend neither time nor money in unprofitable reading.

Worthless Reading

The world is deluged with books that might better be consumed than circulated. Books on sensational topics, published and circulated as a money-making scheme, might better never be read by the youth. There is a satanic fascination in such books. The heartsickening recital of crimes and atrocities has a bewitching power upon many, exciting them to see what they can do to bring themselves into notice, even by the wickedest deeds. The enormities, the cruelties, the licentious practices, portrayed in some of the strictly historical writings, have acted as leaven on many minds, leading to the commission of similar acts.

Books that delineate the satanic practices of human beings are giving publicity to evil. These horrible particulars need not be lived over, and no one who believes the truth for this time should act a part in perpetuating the memory of them. When the intellect is fed and stimulated by this depraved food, the thoughts become impure and sensual.

There is another class of books--love stories and frivolous, exciting tales--which are a curse to everyone who reads them, even though the author may attach a good moral. Often religious statements are woven all through these books, but in most cases Satan is but clothed in angel robes to deceive and allure the unsuspicious. The practice of story reading is one of the means employed by Satan to destroy souls. It produces a false, unhealthy excitement, fevers the imagination, unfits the mind for usefulness, and disqualifies it for any spiritual exercise. It weans the soul from prayer and from the love of spiritual things.

Readers of frivolous, exciting tales become unfitted for the duties of practical life. They live in an unreal world. I have watched children who have been allowed to make a practice of reading such stories. Whether at home or abroad, they were restless, dreamy, unable to converse except upon the most commonplace subjects. Religious thought and conversation was entirely foreign to their minds. With the cultivation of an appetite for sensational stories, the mental taste is perverted, and the mind is not satisfied unless fed upon this unwholesome food. I can think of no more fitting name for those who indulge in such reading than mental inebriates. Intemperate habits of reading have an effect upon the brain similar to that which intemperate habits of eating and drinking have upon the body.

Those who indulge the habit of racing through an exciting story are simply crippling their mental strength and disqualifying their minds for vigorous thought and research. Some youth, and even some of mature age, have been afflicted with paralysis from no other cause than excess in reading. The nerve power of the brain was kept constantly excited, until the delicate machinery became worn and refused to act. Some of its fine mechanism gave way, and paralysis was the result.

There are men and women now in the decline of life who have never recovered from the effects of intemperance in reading. The habit formed in early years grew with their growth and strengthened with their strength. Their determined efforts to overcome the sin of abusing the intellect were partially successful, but they have never recovered the full vigor of mind that God bestowed upon them.

Infidel Authors

Another source of danger against which we should be constantly on guard is the reading of infidel authors. Such works are inspired by the enemy of truth, and no one can read them without imperiling the soul. It is true that some who are affected by them may finally recover; but all who tamper with their evil influence place themselves on Satan's ground, and he makes the most of his advantage. As they invite his temptations they have not wisdom to discern or strength to resist them. With a fascinating, bewitching power, unbelief and infidelity fasten themselves upon the mind.

We are constantly surrounded by unbelief. The very atmosphere seems charged with it. Only by constant effort can we resist its power. Those who value their salvation should shun infidel writings as they would shun the leprosy.

Preoccupy the Soil

The best way to prevent the growth of evil is to preoccupy the soil. Instead of recommending your children to read Robinson Crusoe, or fascinating stories of real life, such as Uncle Tom's Cabin, open the Scriptures to them, and spend some time each day in reading and studying God's word. The mental tastes must be disciplined and educated with the greatest care. Parents must begin early to unfold the Scriptures to the expanding minds of their children, that proper habits of thought may be formed.

No effort should be spared to establish right habits of study. If the mind wanders, bring it back. If the intellectual and moral tastes have been perverted by overwrought and exciting tales of fiction, so that there is a disinclination to apply the mind, there is a battle to be fought to overcome this habit. A love for fictitious reading should be overcome at once. Rigid rules should be enforced to hold the mind in the proper channel.

Between an uncultivated field and an untrained mind there is a striking similarity. In the minds of children and youth the enemy sows tares, and unless parents keep watchful guard, these will spring up to bear their evil fruit. Unceasing care is needed in cultivating the soil of the mind and sowing it with the precious seed of Bible truth. Children should be taught to reject trashy, exciting tales, and to turn to sensible reading, which will lead the mind to take an interest in Bible story, history, and argument. Reading that will throw light upon the Sacred Volume and quicken the desire to study it is not dangerous, but beneficial.

The Sabbath School Lesson

The Sabbath school affords to parents and children an opportunity for the study of God's word. But in order for them to gain that benefit which they should gain in the Sabbath school, both parents and children should devote time to the study of the lesson, seeking to obtain a thorough knowledge of the facts presented and also of the spiritual truths which these facts are designed to teach. We should especially impress upon the minds of the youth the importance of seeking the full significance of the scripture under consideration. Parents, set apart a little time each day for the study of the Sabbath school lesson with your children. Give up the social visit if need be, rather than sacrifice the hour devoted to the lessons of sacred history. Parents as well as children will receive benefit from this study. Let the more important passages of Scripture connected with the lesson be committed to memory, not as a task, but as a privilege. Though at first the memory be defective, it will gain strength by exercise, so that after a time you will delight thus to treasure up the words of truth. And the habit will prove a most valuable aid to spiritual growth.

The Home Reading Circle

Let our people show that they have a live interest in medical missionary work. Let them prepare themselves for usefulness by studying the literature that has been prepared for our instruction on these subjects. Those who study and practice the principles of right living will be greatly blessed, both physically and spiritually. An understanding of the philosophy of health is a safeguard against many of the evils that are continually increasing.

Fathers and mothers, obtain all the help you can from the study of our books and publications. Take time to read to your children from the health books, as well as from the books treating more particularly on religious subjects. Teach them the importance of caring for the body, the house they live in. Form a home reading circle, in which every member of the family shall lay aside the busy cares of the day and unite in study. Especially will the youth who have been accustomed to reading novels and cheap storybooks, receive benefit from joining in the evening family study.

The Bible

Above all, take time to read the Bible--the Book of books. A daily study of the Scriptures has a sanctifying, uplifting influence upon the mind. Bind the Holy Volume to your hearts. It will prove to you a friend and guide in perplexity.

Both old and young neglect the Bible. They do not make it their study, the rule of their life. Especially are the young guilty of this neglect. Most of them find time to read other books, but the Book that points out the way to eternal life is not daily studied. Idle stories are attentively read, while the Bible is neglected. This Book is our guide to a higher, holier life. The youth would pronounce it the most interesting book they ever read had not their imagination been perverted by the reading of fictitious stories.

Youthful minds fail to reach their noblest development when they neglect the highest source of wisdom--the word of God. That we are in God's world, in the presence of the Creator; that we are made in His likeness; that He watches over us and loves us and cares for us--these are wonderful themes for thought, and lead the mind into broad, exalted fields of meditation. He who opens mind and heart to the contemplation of such themes as these will never be satisfied with trivial, sensational subjects.

The importance of seeking a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures can hardly be estimated. "Given by inspiration of God," able to make us "wise unto salvation," rendering the man of God "perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Timothy 3:15-17), the Bible has the highest claim to our reverent attention. We should not be satisfied with a superficial knowledge, but should seek to learn the full meaning of the words of truth, to drink deep of the spirit of the Holy Oracles.

Mrs. E. G. White
Chapter 15, What Shall Our Children Read?
Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students 132.1-139.2