How Harry Potter Can Help You Parent Better
The best childhoods are filled with wonder and imagination. For many millennials, it was also filled with magic. By magic, I mean J.K. Rowling's 4,224 pages of mind-blowing, ass-kicking adventure. We were enthralled by the riveting tale of Harry Potter. Saying goodbye when the series finally came to a close was like saying goodbye to our own childhoods. The lessons learned by Harry, Ron and Hermione were poignant as we came of age ourselves, and as we become parents, we can take those lessons a step further.
The magic of J.K. Rowling's words doesn’t end at adulthood: It can remind us of how to live with love and how to help our kids to do the same. The messages passed on by the likes of Remus and Tonks, Hermione, Sirius and Snape are many. Since a comprehensive list could fill another novel, we’ve picked the top 13 bits of wizard wisdom your kids will thank you for.
Teaching Wisdom Is More Important Than Teaching Facts
From the respectable McGonagall to the affable and sage Dumbledore, it’s hard not to love the professors of Hogwarts. Although offering classes like “Defense Against the Dark Arts” would be particularly useful today, we love Harry, Ron and Hermione’s teachers because of something else entirely. Each teacher, in one way or another, plays an essential role in the development of J.K. Rowling’s young protagonists, often by teaching them not just how to perform magic, but when.
Case in point: When Harry discovers the Mirror of Erised, a magical mirror that shows the heart’s deepest desire, he can’t resist its bittersweet reflection. Donning his late father’s invisibility cloak, he creeps to the mirror in secret. At first, Dumbledore allows him this exploration, but when the mirror’s power becomes too strong for Harry, the teacher steps in. However, he doesn’t punish Harry. He simply tells him, “The mirror will be moved to a new home tomorrow, Harry, and I ask you not to go looking for it again. If you ever do run across it, you will now be prepared. It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.”
Instead of inflicting punishment, he offers guidance and wisdom. As parents, that’s exactly what we can hope to achieve. Just like in Harry Potter, the world isn’t black and white. It’s our job to teach our kids how to navigate our complicated world with every ounce of wisdom and determination we have to offer. And remember that a good teacher also leads by example.
Money Isn’t Everything
Harry’s first trip to the bank is something out of our wildest dreams; he walks into Gringotts and is escorted directly to his very own vault … a vault filled with an almost unlimited supply of gold. At 11 years old, Harry never has to worry about money again. As parents, being able to live however we please and give our kids every opportunity without a second thought sounds pretty freakin’ magical. But then again, we must also recall another momentous day at Hogwarts. In “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” Harry spends the holidays at school and receives his first real Christmas present: a hand-knit sweater from Ron’s mom.
When he opens the box, Harry’s face lights up with utter joy. A simple sweater was worth far more to him than all the gold in the world. Ron was never rich, but he was blessed with something priceless: family. When your 14-year-old begs for the newest iPhone or the latest fad fashion, take a deep breath. Our kids don’t need everything to be happy. The best gift we can give them is our presence. In the long run, a little support and affection is worth a million iPhones.
Don’t Skimp on Empathy
The characters of Harry Potter are colorful, but one defining characteristic draws the line between the good guys and the bad guys: empathy. While Harry and Ron often have teenage moments of self-absorption, they always gravitate back towards concern and respect for their friends. As they grow up, they also develop a sense of compassion and understanding for those who haven’t always made the best decisions. They learn to seek the “why” behind actions, rather than jumping to conclusions.
They initially assume Professor Snape is evil, for example. Admittedly, his record wasn’t exactly clean, but Harry later discovers the motive behind his mistake was something not so foreign to him: heartbreak. Despite that heartbreak and ensuing bitterness, Snape’s love ultimately fueled a 180-degree change in character.
Parents, too, can learn from this. As frustrating as negative behavior and disobedience can be, we have to understand our kids on a deeper level to get to the root of these problems. Anger and aggression do not inspire improvement. Empathy and respect do.
Things Aren’t Always What They Seem
I recently chatted with my 4-year-old about strangers. I tried to walk the fine line between teaching her caution and instilling fear. I wish the world was a safe enough place that parents didn’t have to perform that balancing act; between innocence and awareness, which do we choose?
From Book 1, Harry quickly discovers that innocence can’t protect you. After being thrown into a world of wizardry he didn’t know existed, he learns of his own parents’ legacy. They fought to bring awareness of Voldemort’s rise to power, but few wanted to believe it. However, their unawareness wasn’t enough to protect them — or Harry’s parents. By the end of the “Sorcerer’s Stone,” Harry also realizes that Voldemort had been lurking on school grounds the entire year, hiding behind the face of the awkward and bumbling Professor Quirrell.
It’s important to be alert and wary of new people and situations because insidious characters can hide in plain sight. While we don’t want to terrify our kids, we do want to arm them with the tools they need to stay safe.
Don’t Be So Cautious You Fail to Live
In a similar vein, knowing that the world is scary can tempt us to shelter our kids. Who wants their kindergartener to run into something like the rumored “Momo” hoax on YouTube? While a little supervision can protect kids from that new brand of evil, parents can’t supervise every second of real life … and we shouldn’t. Life is inherently risky, and that’s part of what makes it so precious. As Dumbledore put it, “Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and above all, those who live without love.”
In other words, we only have one life. Without taking risks, no one would ever have learned to walk, explored a new city or fallen in love. Instead of teaching kids to avoid risk entirely, teach them how to choose the risks they take wisely.
What’s More Dangerous Than Evil? Apathy
Since the world is so risky and complicated, some of us have opted to shut it all out. Not caring comes with a sense of peace. When we choose to do nothing, however, we become part of the problem. Many wizards knew of the return of Voldemort. They were aware that ominous Death Eaters were rising once again, yet they left the action to someone else.
In reality, this happens ALL THE TIME. From political cover-ups to schoolyard bullying, people often choose to turn a blind eye for the sake of their own comfort. Instead, do your part to make the world a better place. If you see something, say something, and teach your kids to do the same.
If You Want Big Change, Take Big Action
The spirit of every student in Gryffindor is one of action — a spirit that quickly spreads when students in every house realize what’s at stake. When a problem arises, they don’t hesitate to take matters into their own hands.
Parents can teach this habit by example. Want better funding for arts programs? Fight for it. Want a safer neighborhood? Help mentor local youths, so they realize what they’re capable of. Want your neighbor to fix their ugly old fence? Volunteer to help them paint it. Skip the complaining and take action, and your kids will learn to follow suit.
Face Fear Head On
When taking risks and fighting for justice, fear is a pretty normal emotion to experience. If Harry and his friends hadn’t faced their fears, the series would have ended within a few chapters. Had Ron and Harry succumbed to fear in Chapter 10, Hermione would have been troll food. Had they taken the safest path, they never would have ended up face to face with a vicious, three-headed dog or wandering through the Forbidden Forest, but they also wouldn’t have earned indispensable clues. Without facing their fears, all would have been lost.
Fear is a normal part of life, and nothing great can be accomplished without overcoming it. Teach your kids that it’s okay to be afraid, but it’s not OK to allow that fear to control us. Fear is just a feeling. Once kids push through that first scary day at a new school, a big audition or a first job interview, they’ll be happy they did!
Asking for Help Is a Brave Choice
For some reason, few of us relish the moment when we need to ask for help. It can feel embarrassing to reach out and admit we can’t do it all on our own, but it’s also healthy. We can’t be good at everything, and it’s important to know when to call in an expert.
This is a lesson Harry, Ron and Hermione learned the hard way. Instead of trusting the adults around them to handle the scary stuff, they battled a troll, a three-headed dog and a bus-sized spider all on their own. While they did handle each formidable foe with remarkable skill, it also came down to dumb luck.
In real life, 11-year-old versus forces of evil might not go so well. Make sure your kids know there’s no shame in asking for help when they need it. After all, everyone makes mistakes. Your family is a team, and kids should know they can count on you to be there when they’re in over their heads. Consequences can always come after the rescue!
True Kindness Happens When Nobody is Watching
In “The Goblet of Fire,” Sirius Black shares this gem: “If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”
Powerful stuff. If you’ve ever dropped a four-letter word only to have your toddler repeat it at daycare, you know all too well that kids are always listening — and watching, copying and repeating. Respect should be your way of life, and not just to your boss. Treat your partner, your neighbor, your garbage collector, your plumber, your sitter and the homeless man on the corner with respect. Your kids are watching. Be sure they have something good to watch.
Our Strengths Lie in Our Differences
The diversity in Harry Potter is hard to miss. The characters are all over the map when it comes to race, background, sexual orientation and personality. Every character has quirks and idiosyncrasies. Interestingly, the traits that spark ridicule in the first book often blossom into invaluable skills. Luna Lovegood, the perpetual oddball, used her unique way of thinking to become a major player in the force against evil. Likewise, Neville Longbottom remained true to his honest, goody-two-shoes way of life — even when it meant sticking up to his friends. Without his contribution, all would have been lost.
In our world, individuality is just as impactful. Being different can be hard early on, but those differences become character traits that can one day set kids apart from the crowd — in a good way! Encourage kids to be themselves, even when it means going against the grain.
No Battles Are Conquered Alone
I’m a big advocate of encouraging self-confidence and independence, but those skills should be balanced with teamwork. Harry Potter would have been wizard soup by the second book had it not been for his friends. Hermione repeatedly saves Harry’s butt with her superior intellect and bookishness, and both of them would have been defeated without Ron’s skill and sacrifice during his famed wizard’s chess battle.
Harry learned how to unite his peers in pursuit of a common goal, and to trust his teammates to do what they do best — a critical leadership skill that can be used on both a youth soccer field and in a college classroom. Practice working as a team at home to finish up chores or complete a project. Playing well with others is a skill that will never go out of style!
Remember What It’s Really About: Love
If you can only take away one message from the epic, seven-book, fictional masterpiece, it’s the power of love. The saga exists because of an act of ultimate selflessness: Harry's mother loved her child so completely that she willingly gave her life to protect him — a power not even Voldemort could match. By the final battle on campus grounds, every man, woman and debatably young student is fighting with passion. Not for themselves, of course, but for each other. Time and time again, the characters prove that no distance is too great to travel for love. And who couldn’t help but cheer when Molly Weasley faced off against Bellatrix LeStrange to save her daughter's life?
Love isn’t enough to prevent every tragedy, but it is plenty enough to make the world a kinder, safer, more peaceful place. Every small act of love builds momentum until nothing can stop it. In our day-to-day lives, we have continuous opportunities to choose between anger and frustration or love and compassion. Acting on negative feelings is automatic. It takes work to choose love, but when you do, you can change the world. The best way to empower the next generation is simple: Teach them to choose love.