Why allow children to fight?

Why do we let children participate in fights that would otherwise send an adult to jail?

When I was in school, there was lots of bullying. Sometimes there were just arguments. Whatever the cause, it often led to fights. Kids 7 years old would be punching each other in the face until noses were bloody and broken. If the parent of the losing kid was present, they’d usually intervene… but teachers, or other adults, would just look the other way. I’d hear things like “kids need to learn to take care of themselves” or “stand up for themselves”. Even when extremely one-sided bullying was present, they’d let the victim get beat up, knowing full well what is happening, where, when, and by whom. Nothing proactive was ever done about violence.

Why do adults/teachers let this go on? Is there a policy among teachers to allow kids to beat each other up without intervention? Is this something you learn in child psychology when you are training to become a teacher? If so, can someone explain it’s benefit and purpose? (At this point I should say that teachers standing around while a kid gets beaten bloody ALWAYS seems to happens outside. A fight in a classroom is ALWAYS broken up, even if reluctantly. I assume there are legal reasons for this?)

This is all really mystifying to me. What are we teaching our children by letting this go on? What are we saying to them about how they should behave as an adult? A kid gets his toy broken/stolen, and instead of intervening and dealing out justice, teachers let them beat on each other. Right. So when the child becomes an adult and someone hits their car, breaks their iPhone, or damages some of their property, they’ll know the right thing to do: Instead of calling the police, they’ll take justice into their own hands. Because you know, the police (aka authority) don’t really care anyways! (Wonder where they got that idea from!) Some parents say they want their children to “toughen up”. Why? Do want them to grow up into adults who physically assault others as a way of resolving disputes? You want them to have no respect for authority?

Can some adults/teachers please explain why they allow fighting to go on?

I guess it’s possible this kind of thing goes on somewhere, but I permitted no aggression whatsoever in my classes when I was a teacher. There were never fights because I intervened before it ever got to that point. And that was seldom because I kept them too busy.

So that’s me. But as for the others in the school, I can’t imagine how a teacher ignoring violent behavior would get away with it for long. At recess kids were supervised by aids, so there may have been more opportunity for problems. But even then, we would likely have known about it before it became an ongoing issue.

This obviously isn’t to say that bullying doesn’t take place. But if you’re trying to suggest that it is routinely ignored or somehow tacitly approved by teachers… Um, no. And I’ve worked in several school districts, one wealthy, one working class and one poor and urban. Never saw that at all.

Edit: I’ll add that on the rare occasions I did witness actual altercations I intervened immediately, even when they weren’t my students. I’ve also seen other teachers do the same with no hesitation. Your suggestion that adults tolerate violence in hopes of “toughening up” kids is baffling to me, isolated incidents with morons here and there notwithstanding.


Kids get away with violent acts more than adults do, but that’s because they don’t know what they’re doing. Is that what you mean, OP? There’s a debate to be had there, about to what extent we accept kids playfighting and when it becomes bullying and how to tell the difference.

The last time I picked on a student for anything they didn’t deserve I was a freshman in high school. There was one kid who was a weirdo that everyone picked on and for some reason (I honestly can’t remember why) I made a conscious decision that I was just going to be nice to him. And that attitude held over to everyone else that was a popular target for others. Growing up I had experience being picked on as well as experience picking on others at times. I wasn’t particularly horrible but I am ashamed at some of my past behavior while I still get angry thinking of what was done to me.

If there was one thing I remember about bullying is that I could not depend on the administration to help me. I couldn’t go to them for help for two reasons. First, asking for help would label me the scum of the earth with my peer group. The schoolyard omerta was powerful when I was a kid and I bet it’s still pretty powerful. Second, my perception was that the administration could not protect me even were I to violate the omerta. Now I have never seen an adult/instructor literally sit back while one kid waled on another. However, any intervention was, at best, a temporary reprieve as the bullying would begin anew either that same day or the next.

I don’t think most administrators really want to allow children to fight. However, it’s going to happen to some degree no matter what. Heck, sometimes I got into fight with kids and we’d go play together the next day. Kids are weird. Unfortunately there are still some problems with some administrators. A friend of mine had a 7th grade boy in school who wore goth type clothing when most others wore preppy type clothing and he was picked on. During a conference the dean of students told my friend “Maybe Johnny should dress like the other students and he won’t get picked on so much.”


Good point. I warned the kids at the beginning of every school year that I made no distinction between “play fighting” and real fighting. If it looked like fighting, I would come down on it. This rule was partly because play fighting can lead to real fighting, and partly because I wasn’t going to devote time to sorting out what was real and what wasn’t. We also had rules about no verbal “put downs”.

I couldn’t control what they did outside school. But by god, I could decide what was and wasn’t permitted in my classroom.

I think you need to define “fighting” when it comes to kids.

When I was growing up I got picked on plenty (also youngest in my family…next oldest was 5 years older so siblings were a problem for me too).

Kids and siblings fight. It happens and is not unusual. In fact it is common.

Animals (which humans are a member of) fight for dominance. Happens among puppies and kittens. It is part of them sorting out the social order.

Mind you, I despise violence and I am not arguing that kids should be allowed to beat on one another.

Where do you draw the line though? What is a “fight” in your view? A disagreement? Loud voices? Shoving? Wrestling? Slapping? Ineffectual punching? Trying to knock the other kid out? Trying to kill the other kid?

Lots of shades of gray.

As adults we have to break up fights. Mostly though we are delaying something they will resolve later when we are not around to stop it (I can certainly remember a fight stopped by a teacher and then walking around in terror because I knew the bully was gunning for me).

I’m a little surprised by what the OP is saying. I don’t ever recall any time when a teacher or any other adult would just stand by and let a fight go on. My experience was always that as soon as a teacher appeared, the fight was broken up.

I went to school back in the sixties and seventies but I assumed that was still the policy.

I agree.

I wondered if he was watching a hockey fight (I almost never watch hockey so always amazed me when two guy got in a fight the ref would just watch for awhile).

Adults are programmed to stop fights among kids. What else can they do?

Indeed, as much as I said kids fight in my last post to figure the pecking order, it is up to adults to stop them. That is how kids learn that fighting is not the solution they should seek but find another way to resolve problems.

I would like to expand the OP’s question to siblings fighting.

As to the OP I just think the basic underlying premise is broken, for my experience and for the experience of essentially all others about which I have read and heard. I’m not saying there have never been brutalised times and places where adults have let kids beat each other but I don’t think it is even close to common as the OP implies.

I have two sons. We don’t let them fight, but they do. You just can’t stop them entirely. You can’t keep them physically seperated at all times (it would be pretty sad if you did). They love one another dearly, but they also wallop one another regularly. You cannot be standing over them ready to pounce and drag them apart, 24 hours a day. And needless to say we are constantly trying to encourage them not to attack each other but they still do. Have you ever seen a wildlife documentary featuring young mammals at play which did not show the siblings fighting?

Retired teacher here. Our school did not allow fighting…period. In fact, I was usually called when there was a fight anywhere on the side of campus where my classroom was located. Perhaps that was a sexist thing (a large man is probably better able to pull two teenage fighting boys apart), or just my willingness to get involved.

I think I may have broken up at least 25 serious fights in 30 years. Usually it was enough for me to just tell the participants that I was going to get in between the arguing students, especially if I got there before any hard hitting or serious shoving took place…often I think they secretly preferred being stopped, and were mostly responding to the crowd around them.

Once I had a portable radio in my hand, and turned it up and asked the two fellows if they wanted to dance…

Zero tolerance for bullying/name calling in my classroom.

Actual physical fights are usually stopped at my school, though it can take a while. I won’t get between kids fighting because it’s a good way to get seriously hurt. I leave that to people of more significant physical stature than I.

Bullying, on the other hand, can be much harder to spot and stop. A kid with a razor sharp pencil can flat out torture another kid, and unless something is said, the teacher will never know. Sadly, victims often THINK the teacher is aware–how could she miss it? It seems so obvious!–and is willfully ignoring it.

Thank you for all the replies. I’m glad to hear fighting and bullying isn’t as common as I thought. The school I went to seemed to have a policy of allowing fights so that kids could ‘sort it out themselves’. I’m happy that my experience was an exception to the rule - as I honestly thought it was like this everywhere, all the time.

This thing about fights in schools. There used to be at time when the kids just punched eachother and got it over with. Then they became buddies when they got older and matured.

My son was a skinny little kid with glasses. he was picked on quite a bit. He got a black belt in Taikwondo and everybody left him alone. It worked perfectly. He did not have to fight.

There was a good bit of bullying and fighting in the schools I went to. I never got the feeling that any teacher *wanted *it to occur.

But I think that teachers sometimes faced a difficult set of choices:

If a kid being bullied fought back, it would usually result in an incident that had to be dealt with, possibly involving other teachers and the principal. The more such incidents, the more it reflected poorly on the teacher, and took time away from classroom work.

OTOH, if a kid being bullied put up with it without fighting back, there was no incident or lost time (assuming the bullying wasn’t severe enough to result in visible injuries).

So, I think teachers sometimes overlooked moderate bullying if the victim didn’t fight back, and only intervened if the victim *did *fight back (or suffered broken bones or bloody wounds).

This created a perverse system in which the victim was given the same punishment as the bully, unless he accepted the bullying. Imagine if we treated crime that way: a guy tries to rob you. Give him your wallet, and no crime has occurred. Resist, and you are now guilty of participating in a mugging.

As I said, I know the teachers didn’t want things to turn out that way. I’m sure their preference would have been for no bullying. But if there were small incidents that didn’t get too out of hand, they preferred the victims to suck it up.

I was bullied when I first went to junior high school, and at first didn’t fight back as told. But it got worse - the bullies now knew where to find a soft target - so I eventually decided to fight back. When I did, I was disciplined along with the bullies. My parents were simply told that I was a disclipline problem, and they accepted the school’s version of events.

The bullying gradually stopped after I’d resisted enough to convince the bullies to find easier targets, at which point I didn’t get in trouble any more. The school told my parents that my behavior had improved admirably, again witholding any mention of the bullying that been the root cause of my ‘bad behavior’.

Keep in mind, this was around 40 years ago. I think things are a lot different now, with all the awareness of bullying.

Teachers have a tough job. But I really hated 7th grade. Thought about suicide a lot.

Because they are usually not strong enough to seriously harm each other with their bare hands.

I’ve seen lots of bullying. I was occasionally the victim of it too, like most others.

This one time some kid tried to start something, and we fought. Normally things start slow and escalate until there is a victor. But he immediately pulled my jacket over my head and started punching me in the face as hard as he could, over and over again. It hurt, and I panicked! After a bit of a struggle I got him into a headlock as tight as I could manage - but he continued to hit my more sensitive parts without letting up! So I just got the idea and started ramming his head into the school’s brick wall, over and over and over again, until he stopped moving. I let go of him, and he fell to the ground. I thought I had just tired him out, but it turned out he got knocked unconscious.

The whole time 3 teachers stood by and watched (as they always did), along with 2 other adults. Not until they realized he wasn’t gonna start moving anytime soon, that they went over to actually do something. I was in grade 4 at the time and I lost all respect for teachers after that. I had feelings of despair, anger, and that no one cared.

Tell me about Battle School.

Orson Scott Card FTW!! Long live Ender the Xenocide!