Should Children Be Taught to Fight Back or Be Told to “Turn the Other Cheek”?

By word and example, parents should teach kids from an early age to treat others with respect, to be kind and fair, to exercise self-control, and to suppress the impulse to seek revenge.

1 Further, children should be taught how to cooperate with authority whenever possible to defuse situations. But it would be dangerous to teach a child that it is always wrong to protect himself and defend his interests.

Jesus understood children. We can be sure that when He took them in His arms and said that we all need to become like them to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:13-16), He wasn’t naive about how cruel they can be. The playground, in its own way, is a jungle as ruthless as most spheres of adult life.

It’s likely that a child trained to unconditionally defer to others will develop a crippling pattern of avoidance and an unhealthy fear of conflict. An immature mind can easily be shaped to think that it is “loving” to back away from confrontation—to be a coward when courage is called for. If we follow the “golden rule”—”So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12)—we won’t always allow aggressors to carry out their aggression successfully. If we do, we encourage behavior that brings harm.

Kids should be taught restraint—the ability to discern just how much force is needed, and to apply no more force than necessary. This may involve “turning the other cheek.” 2 But children are sometimes confronted with bullies who leave them no choice but to resist or be abused. Sometimes a bully will leave without a blow being thrown, merely at the recognition of a child’s unwillingness to be dominated. On other occasions, a fight may ensue that ends with little real damage to either child, but which will result in a major boost of status and self-esteem for the child who refused to be dominated.

Children aren’t miniature adults. Adults may have the maturity to understand the deep sayings of Jesus, though they struggle to live in accordance with them. We shouldn’t expect children to understand things beyond their spiritual and emotional development. To do so would likely provoke them to wrath (Ephesians 6:4), or to cause them to stumble (Luke 17:1-2). We need to protect them when it’s possible, but we also need to allow them to develop the tools they will need to understand and effectively respond to the challenges of adult life.

  1. Sometimes adults can successfully intervene and guide children through difficult situations, teaching valuable spiritual lessons in the process. Back To Article
  2. See the ATQ article, What Did Jesus Mean When He Said to Turn the Other Cheek (Matthew 5:39)? Back To Article
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