Should We Expose Children to the Evil of the “Real World”?


Question: How much evil should I expose my children to? What does it mean for us to be “simple concerning evil?”

This is certainly a concern I have. Most of us have scars from exposures to evil which we wish we never had. We want to preserve our children from such unnecessary and harmful exposure. On the other hand, most of us have probably encountered the “hot house” argument as well: kids that aren’t exposed to the “real world” will be unprepared to function in it properly.

There are two main reasons why I don’t buy the “real world” argument.

First, Scripture provides examples of young people who flourished in the world despite their “hot house” upbringing. For example,

  • Joseph went from a sheltered shepherd’s life to the immodesty, immorality, and corruption of Egypt;
  • David went from being a sheltered youngest child to a conniving king’s court;
  • Daniel went from sheltered Jewish orthodoxy to polytheistic, hedonistic pluralism.

Yet, all of them succeeded at what counts most: loving God, loving others, and sharing His light.

Second, the “real” world is:

  • where God reigns sovereign over all that transpires (Psa. 99:1; Psa. 115:3),
  • where nothing escapes His eye (Prov. 15:3),
  • the prosperity of the wicked is ephemeral (Psa. 73:19), and
  • the reward of the righteous is indestructible (1 Pet. 1:4).

The world where there is no God, where we’re all the product of time and blind chance, where you only go around once and then you die like an animal—that world is the figment of wicked imaginations (Psa. 53).

Romans 16:19b says, “…yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.”

In context, Paul is addressing adult believers and seems to mean that they are to be wise enough to spot false teaching and teachers (16:17-18) so that they remain inexperienced in evil, i.e., uncorrupted by false teaching. God wants His people, including our children, to know the good well enough to detect the bad.

The old story about how federal agents are trained to detect counterfeit money comes to mind. It is true that counterfeit specialists spend time studying the characteristics of real currency so they can detect the false. However, they don’t study only good currency. They also study past and present counterfeits. Counterfeiters work hard at getting as close to the genuine as possible, so it is important for agents to know the latest tricks being used.

In the same way, we must know God’s word well enough that we are not deceived by the multitude of false teachings that swarm the internet and airways (Eph. 4:13-15). A classroom, not the jungle, is the best place to learn about poisonous snakes. You don’t have to be bitten by a cottonmouth to know the dangers of its venom or recognize its shape and likely habitats. Children don’t need to see murder or immorality, seduction scenes or robberies, to know they are evil.

The home should be a controlled environment in which parents teach their children the truth while gradually and carefully helping them learn to discern bad from good, true from false, shyster from trustworthy.

I find it instructive that God filled the book of Proverbs with verbal warnings about and descriptions of the appeals immoral men will use to entice the innocent (Prov. 1:10- 19). Solomon describes the virtuous women well (Prov. 31:10-31) but warns repeatedly against the wiles of the immoral woman (Prov. 2:16-19; 5:3-23; 6:24-35; 7:5-27; 23:26-28; 30:20).

The home should be a controlled environment in which parents teach their children the truth while gradually and carefully helping them learn to discern bad from good, true from false, shyster from trustworthy.

God commands parents and grandparents to use every opportunity to teach young people the truth (Deut. 6:7), so that they’ll recognize and avoid the enemy’s lies which they are sure to encounter. Supper time was when this happened most for me and my brother. I am doing this with my sons. I teach what Scripture says first and then check their understanding with small exposures to false worldviews, theological errors, or deceptive ideas. The goal is inoculation not infection.

Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.

Philip Brown
Philip Brown
Dr. Philip Brown is Graduate Program Director and Professor at God's Bible School & College. He holds a PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of A Reader's Hebrew Bible (Zondervan Academic, 2008).