What Your Kids Should Learn from Harry Potter's Last Lesson

This post was written by Susan Wagner. Photo: Corbis

I took my son to see "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" last night. I wasn't sure this was the smartest thing to do, but not for the reasons you might expect. Up until the moment the film started, I was questioning my decision to bring a nine-year-old to a midnight movie, particularly in the last half hour before midnight, when Charlie was looking especially peaked. I worried that he was up too late and that staying out until 3:00 am would mean a cranky kid all weekend long. I never once worried that the movie itself would be too much for him, though. And once the movie started, I knew I'd done the right thing in bringing him.

I am thrilled that my sons are Harry Potter fans. The series -- books and films -- is chock full of important lessons, for adults and kids alike. My sons, particularly my younger son, have gained so much from these stories. Both the books and the movies have generated long discussions at our dinner table. We've talked about the themes of the stories, about love and friendship and family, about right and wrong and good and evil. We've talked about how Hermione's strength is her devotion to knowledge, and how it's cool that she's so smart. We've talked about how Ron's family takes Harry in as one of their own, and how your friends can be another kind of family. We've talked about the importance of loyalty and braveery. We've talked about magic and how to use it well and fairly.

But in the midst of all those lessons, there is one that stands out for me. In "The Chamber of Secrets," Dumbledore tells Harry that "Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it." Without spoiling the end of the story, that idea -- that help comes when you request it -- plays an important part in the final battle against Voldemort. As I sat with my son in the theater last night, I realized that this is really the fundamental lesson of the entire Harry Potter franchise. Help comes when you ask for it.

Harry Potter's whole story is about asking for help. He is on a personal quest, both to find out who he is and to defeat Voldemort; as the Chosen One, he has to walk this particular path alone. At the same time, he cannot succeed without the help of a variety of other characters, everyone from Ron and Hermione to Draco Malfoy. Help is always there when Harry asks, but asking is often the hardest part of the quest. And as much as that's true for fictional Harry Potter, it is even more true for real kids like my sons.

I hope that my sons learn to ask for help, and that, like Harry, they learn to surround themselves with people who will willingly give that help when it is needed. I hope, too, that they will cultivate the characteristics that bring Harry the help he needs: loyalty, bravery, honesty, forgiveness. I hope that they, like Harry Potter, will learn to recognize and value the talents in the people around them. Harry's story isn't possible without Ron and Hermione, both because of the help they give Harry and the very different skills they bring to the quest.

In the world of Harry Potter, asking for help isn't a sign of weakness or failure, but a sign of wisdom."It is not our abilities that show what we truly are," Dumbledore reminds a fretful Harry. "It is our choices." Harry has to make some incredibly difficult choices in this last bit of the story, and his choices affect the people around him profoundly and permanently. And in the end, it is not Harry's abilities that defeat Voldemort -- it is the help he asks for, and gets, from his friends.

My son loved the movie; he is already talking about going back to see it again. I am happy to take him. He and my husband are talking about rereading the novels as well, because Charlie wants to revisit the whole story one more time. I hope he will come back to it over and over as the years go on, and that he will always see that lesson: that help is there for the asking. Of all the things to take away from Harry Potter, that is the one that matters the most.

(Note: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" is rated PG 13 for "some sequences of intense action violence and frightening images.")

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