Can We Show Them More Evil, Please?

This is going to be a odd ramble since I recently wrote that “Sheltering” post, but perhaps it acknowledges some of the issues of Sheltering’s opponents.

I’m hoping someone will converse with me over the latest story I posted. I picked “The Snake’s Savior” to start this conversation because of the reaction of some boys when I told it once. There were several variations on,

“I would have saved him until he was almost warm, then tossed him away from me reallyquick!”

And I began to wonder if we (our culture’s) storytellers, in our admirable efforts to teach our children to be accepting of many different peoples, we are somehow teaching them to be “as innocent as doves” and leaving out the “wise as serpents” part.

So this enlightened generation automatically assumes the best of anyone who acts sincere, but what happens when these poor, molded children (heaven forbid!) meet real evil?

Call me cold and unfeeling, but I believe there are times when people simply are evil.

I am one who believes there are enough people that overcome (say) rejection and isolation without (say) shooting up a classroom, that those who act that way shouldn’t be excused or their evil be explained away because of the way they were treated.

Those who pretend it’s possible (or even necessary) are reversing the already faulty “the end justifies the means” to say “the means justify the end.”

It doesn’t become more right when turned on it’s head.


My quote on the side bar (about dragons and witches— and yes, it was inspired by a similar but different quote of Chesterton’s) is what made me first think about this problem.

I’ve come across very few stories about scary dragons or evil witches.

The majority of stories I see describe how misunderstood are peaceful dinosaurs and old women.

These tellings, sometimes creative to one such as I who understands the thwarted expectation element, mean nothing to my children’s generation who only hear the same story over and over again about nice people who aren’t liked, just because they are different.


To a certain extent, I want to teach my children to be afraid (stick with me here).

I want my kid to be mistrustful of strangers, if I’m not around. I don’t want any child to suppress that sick-feeling in his/her gut when s/he’s faced with an uncomfortable situation.

God could be using their intuition to warn them of danger. And if I’ve spent all their story-times telling them that even folks who look wrong, whose presence makes them uncomfortable, are kind, loving, and only want the best for them…

Well, lets just say my mama-heart quails.

My mother has told me many times that I just scared her to pieces because I didn’t have any of these natural inhibitions.

A guy who was eventually one of my Caravan troop leaders (so he turned out to be a fine man, though we didn’t know anything about him at first) came to our church as a lonely bachelor in a type of work that kept him frequently isolated.

I don’t remember this at all, but I heard him tell the story several times about how his first Sunday with us he was dying for human contact, but still stiff, too, from his latest stretch of isolation. My little blond 5-year-old self came trotting down the aisle and climbed into his lap.

I think of stories like that, imagine seeing it recreated with my comparatively timid 5-year-old, and I am thankful she still clings to my hand while scanning each new environment.

Our culture’s high value and emphasis on children needing to early “be able to differentiate” from their parents is really more out of our desire for personal freedom than any benefit for the young children.

But I digress.


I recently found two stories with “real” witches, and after reading them I had to change my view again about fairy tales being for children.

While I still believe that many troublesome images in tales will either go over the young child’s head, or may be modified simply to make them age-appropriate, I now think that moving from dragons to witches actually needs to wait until that next stage of maturity (7-9) that I’m holding off a number of the Disney movies for.

This is heavy and worth thought because we are moving from the generic understanding that “evil exists and brave people must face it” (a la Saint George and the Dragon), to the more personal and threatening “evil exists in human form, and sometimes children must face it” (a la Hansel and Gretel).

In the same way I’m saving bits of the Psalms, I’m realizing I need to save these particular tales.

~ ~ ~

But to circle back to the snake, I must ask, has anyone heard an answer to this? Can one teach her children to be both open-hearted and careful?

Is there any way to help them avoid the uncomfortable (or dangerous) results of trial and error?

5 thoughts on “Can We Show Them More Evil, Please?

  1. This is indeed a dilema. I have tried to be present in all of my children’s activities. They are rarely out of my sight. Consequently they are sheltered and safe. This also allows us alot of teaching time. When a situation that could be dangerous arises,I tell them why and what I see that has clued me in to potential danger. When they ask why that man/woman is sleeping in the park or talking to themselves we say some are homeless out of choice, some due to mental illness, some due to drug/alcohol use. We can teach/model compassion, discretion, and a sense that evil exists as we go through all of our every day activities. How much you say, of course depends on your child’s age and maturity but we dare not avoid teaching our children about evil because it makes us uncomfortable or because we want to protect them. At the same time we should not throw them to the wolves and hope they survive. We should walk through the forest with them and point out the dangers and traps.

  2. I’m going to have to ponder this one a while. I wrote a post once about tattle-tale-ing and how I wanted my kids to be tattle-tales, because I never want them to think that I don’t want to hear what they have to say.

    I love the snake story. I think there has to be some way to get kids to understand that snakes are still snakes, and sometimes a little warm is too warm.

    I think this is also a place where rules come into play. “Don’t go into a friends house if the friend is not there.” “Why mommy?” If we set rules, then we will get a chance to explain. “Because sometimes there are bad people out there.”

    I lived in Oregon when the dad killed and buried and other stuff some of his daughters friends. I had friends who lived in that exact city. It’s times like those when I feel the need that we have to let our kids know that badness is out there, whilst trying to protect them from it.

    Yikes, I think I’m rambling. I’m going to have to keep thinking.

  3. I think this is a really interesting point you bring up. I don’t have kids yet, but I think it’s valuable to teach them both sides of the fence. The snake story was interesting, and a little unsettling. Our culture teaches us that everyone is “good” and sometimes we just need to have a little faith. My mom compares that to Saddam Hussein. She says that we think we can reason with him and convince him to stop torturing people, but we have to realize that man is basically evil and some people are bad people, no matter how much you punish them or try to reason.

    We lived in Peru twice when I was growing up. The second time, we returned when I was 13. In the 18 months we were in the States, I had grown from a girl to a young lady. I had grown taller, started to care more about my appearance (wearing makeup, dressing in stylish clothes), my body shape had changed to be more feminine, etc. My mom sat me down and told me that I had to be very careful with men. Being an American in such a macho culture could be bad if you weren’t careful. I wasn’t to make eye contact, I was to only walk by myself in the daytime, I was to keep to myself and not make conversation with strangers, etc. In some ways those warnings scared me, but I think it was wise.

  4. It seems like this is yet another place where balance is needed. We don’t want to throw our children to the wolves, but we can’t keep them totally naiive of the dangers of the world.

  5. Pingback: Untangling Tales » Two Recommended Picture Books

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