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Lessons from Harry Potter

Perhaps no other character has caught the imagination of kids the world over as Harry Potter in recent times.

Gulf News

Perhaps no other character has caught the imagination of kids the world over as Harry Potter in recent times. Though many parents have expressed concern about Harry's adventures, child experts feel that there are lessons children can learn

Potter mania is everywhere. From merchandise to board games and food, nothing has so completely captured the international imagination as Harry Potter. Children who otherwise never read have been known to be lured (by peer pressure if nothing else) to actually read their very first book. The story, in brief:

Orphaned as an infant, Harry is sent to stay with relatives who force him to live in a cupboard under the stairs. They deprive him of love and neglect to tell him about his magical ancestry. His life changes when he is invited to study at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Though some parents have expressed concerns about author J. K. Rowling's use of witchcraft and magic, most child experts feel that Harry's adventures offer invaluable lessons about "huge issues" in a child's life – how to handle taunting bullies, the loss of a loved one, the importance of friendship, loyalty, and honesty.

What moral lessons do children derive from the story? According to child expert Michelle Holcenberg, the Harry Potter books send out several positive messages to children of all ages.

Hard work and persistence can overcome obstacles

Despite being ill-treated by his relatives, Harry is never bitter but remains hopeful and optimistic that his circumstances will improve.

At Hogwarts, he has to face the evil and powerful Professor Quirrell and Voldemort, the terrible wizard who killed his parents. But, Harry and his friends never even consider giving up. Kylene Beers, assistant professor at the University of Houston, points out that Harry has to confront his fears.

His wise teacher, Dumbledore, advises Harry to name those fears because "fear of the name increases fear of the thing itself", and part of the magic of Rowling's story is that it allows children to confront their own fears in a manageable way.

Tolerance is important because we are all different

Harry fights against any kind of prejudice and bias, sending a powerful lesson in tolerance to readers of his books. Having been rejected by his own relatives, he is acutely sensitive to differences in others and does not hesitate to defend his friends – Ron, who is embarrassed that his family is poor, Hagrid who is conscious about his large size, and Hermione who is Muggle-born (a non-wizard).

You don't have to be perfect

Harry is not your typical hero. He is gawky with an untidy mop of hair, wears spectacles, and has a scar on his forehead. At a time when children are barraged with social messages that it's important to be smart and picture- perfect, Harry comes as a refreshing change because he accepts himself and others for what inner qualities they possess.

And, he uses logic, kindness, patience and bravery when his magic powers fail him.

Education and knowledge are essential to success in life

School plays an important role in all the Harry Potter books, because "there is nothing wrong with being smart". Harry is proud of his friend, Hermione, who is intelligent and hardworking.

Cowling's language too is rich in vocabulary and imagery, and draws frequently from French and Latin, stimulating the reader's imagination with words seldom encountered in children's' books.

Loyalty and teamwork is important

Though Harry is the central figure, he succeeds because his friends work with him as a team. Harry and his friends stay true and loyal to each other despite many obstacles.

Their friendship serves as an excellent role model for children because it helps them to identify negative behaviour (like Draco's) that they don't want to continue. It also provides them with exemplars of behaviour they should imitate.

Dr. Onita Nakra has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Minnesota, U.S.A. Her specialisation is in assessment, diagnosis and intervention methods for children with special needs.