Another question written Slate's Care and Feeding crossed my desk. I will give the respondent full credit for not trying to dismiss the caregiver's concerns (it was a different writer this time,) but without addressing the spiritual aspect of such a letter, the answer will always be left incomplete. Hence why it is being addressed here.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My sister and her husband have two little girls, ages 8 and 7. My fiancée and I live half an hour away, and although we have no kids, we’re happy to be the “cool aunties” who are there for babysitting and slumber parties. Our nieces are staying with us for a week while their parents get a much-needed staycation, and our younger niece is going through a creepy phase. She likes burying her toys in the yard and trying to “raise them from the dead,” reading Goosebumps, holding seances for the ghost of our dead cat, and talks about death/the afterlife a lot. She’ll just walk up to us and ask if we’re going to die soon, or tell us all the ways people can die and ask us which one we think we’d prefer, as well as asking us if we’re going to hell and if we can say hi to the devil for her, because “he’s her friend.”
I was very confused about the devil part since everyone in our family is atheist, but my sister warned us beforehand about this, so I figured it was just the R.L. Stine she was reading. I don’t really know how to respond to this, though: Do I talk to her about the afterlife/ghosts? Do I just ignore it? It’s creepy, sure, but it’s also getting annoying to spend my day talking about my funeral plans. What can I do?
—Please Stop Burying Toys
Confession: I read a ton of R.L. Stine myself as a child.
I was then, as I am now, very much an avid reader and had a book habit that was unparalleled by many of my peers. While my experience with the "Goosebumps" series mentioned directly in the article is limited at best, I can say that from my own experience reading other works by the same author, there was nothing as direct or specific as what seems to be going on with this child. "Creepy things" sure, but not blatant occultism. At least not that I can recall.
Perhaps things have changed since R.L. Stine first started writing the series in 1992.
When looking into where things sit with "Goosebumps" now, I landed on the Scholastic website for the series. The first phrase under the "about" section for the author clearly states "Goosebumps cast a spell upon children..."
While the question outlines that the family is predominantly atheistic, that doesn't cancel the spiritual truths of what could well be at play here.
The Guidebook of the Supernatural, the Bible, clearly outlines that there is a spiritual war going on- whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. There is a devil that prowls around, like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8) and he doesn't care what age his prey is.
The fact that this seven-year-old girl is referring to the Devil as her friend clearly attests that there are questions that need to be asked. Clearly, this child has questions that, whether knowingly or not, are being asked- and answered, but by the wrong source.
We are created as image bearers of God. Flawed though those images are because of sin, we have been created in an environment and manner that leaves us without excuse when it comes to acknowledging that there is a God. We can fight that truth (alétheia in the Greek also means reality,) all we want, but our opposition does not change it.
The job of parents is to raise children in the way that they should go so that when they are old, they will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). This includes establishing a strong foundation for that child to help them navigate through life. Without a solid standard that can be referenced regardless of age or situation, they are left merely to make determinations that "seem right" at that time and place.
As an adult, it should take very little time to read through something intended for a child. We need to be aware of what the next generation is reading- their future is worth that time investment. It also prepares us to have discussions with them about the thoughts and ideas that they are being exposed to.
I can't say if this girl is getting these ideas and interests from the books directly, but clearly there is more to this situation than a simple "phase." Setting boundaries on how long she can discuss death and dying in a single day will not help her as she moves through life.
There is a battle being waged for this young girl's soul that isn't fought by those charged with her care and rearing because they are not willing to address the spiritual.