Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Victorian-era Europeans are the direct inspiration of a dominant view of children, inspired by the New Testament and stretching to the present day. In this view, there is a sharp transition between innocent child and little adult. The conventional age Western culture assigns to this tradition has grown over the years. The meme, however, remains: a young child is a Blank Slate not yet sullied by the evils of the world. Only upon coming of age does the child lose this innocence.
The Children Are Innocent trope captures the idea that children are never naturally evil. A consequence is that harming one is the ultimate evil act, no matter how provoked—unless that is forcing others to harm them. This is an extremely pervasive trope that is at the heart of many other tropes, such as Friend to All Children, Harmful to Minors and Dead Little Sister, and often motivates Papa Wolf and Mama Bear. When the Big Bad kills nameless hundreds, the heroes will say the villan killed women and children. The Children Are Innocent trope is old enough that it is difficult to assign it an age; but certainly it goes back to the New Testament.
Expect those who buy into this trope to hold that any villain character Used to Be a Sweet Kid until something bad happened to them, especially if they also believe that Rousseau Was Right. (Also keeping in mind that some view puberty as a Start of Darkness in its own right, and take much the same view of any worldly experience.)
Off-stage children almost always fall under this trope; the subversions all require some development, and being informed that a character has killed, injured, exploited, etc. children is always a mark of evil without such development. See Empathy Doll Shot. Indeed, one of the commonest ways to subvert Exclusively Evil is to bring up their children, as in the Genocide Dilemma.
Where blond hair is found naturally, children are often depicted with Hair of Gold. Indeed, this trope is considered to drive that one: because children (and the young) are more likely to have blond hair than older people, blond hair is a sign of innocence.
Part and parcel of this is depicting children as the other meaning of innocent: naive, guillible, and altogether too trusting. They can misunderstand anything other than the most obvious. On the other hand, this very quality can lead to their being Too Dumb to Fool.
Spoiled Brats may subvert this. On the other hand, if the causes of the spoiling are clearly identified, and the children revert to innocence when they are removed, the children may still be innocent.
Even when the child is doing wrong—as in the Mouthy Kid, the Bratty Half-Pint, and Kids Are Cruel—it is often regarded as not as wrong as when an adult does it, because children have to learn empathy, and not to be self-centered, and also often have a poor grasp of consequences of their actions. On the other hand, this often leads to Ambiguous Innocence.
The Creepy Child, the Enfante Terrible, and Corruption by a Minor, on the other hand, draw much of their force from their knowingness. They understand as much, if not more, than the adults about them, which contradicts not only this trope but the general understanding of children.
This gets thrown right out the window in a Teenage Wasteland, though the forced loss of innocence may be a major theme.
The reason the ageism double standards were created.
- Laputa: Castle in the Sky: Sheeta and Pazu, both.
- My Neighbor Totoro: Satsuki and Mei, both
- Spirited Away: Chihiro, while somewhat spoiled and whiney, intuitively realizes that her parents are trespassing when they eat the food of the gods.
- The entire point of Now and Then, Here and There is that Children Are Innocent and you're a sick, sick bastard if you torture them, rape them, make them fight a war for you, or mess with them in any way whatsoever.
- In Grave of the Fireflies Setsuko's innocence is used as a foil to highlight the cruelty of war.
- Averted in Kodomo no Jikan with nine-year-old main character Rin, who acts in a very sexual way towards her teacher. Her friends are way more innocent, but not to the extent of this trope.
- In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, this is one of the stated reasons why Fate's sentence was light despite being an accomplice in the dimensional interference; she was just a child who was following her mother's wish and didn't fully understand the crime that she was committing. Also, Precia's an evil, evil bitch for not only taking advantage of that trust, but abusing it.
- In Phantom Dreams, when a Jaki kills a child for a spell, Tamaki is enraged.
Such a... small life... crushed.
- In Space Runaway Ideon, the children on the Solo Ship are represented as the indifference between the warring sides, genuinely playful and optimistic, and completely oblivious to what's happening around them. Despite Karala Ajiba being an alien, the children accept her and see the good in her, in comparison to their paranoid older counterparts. Interestingly enough, In the final film, Be Invoked, it's discovered that the children's innocence is the key to controlling the Ide, with Karala's recently revealed pregnancy by human Bes Jordan acting a sign that peace is possible. However, this being a Tomino anime, Karala is shot, the Ide is ticked off, and ends both races through their intense fighting. The themes explored in Ideon concerning the children are retouched in Neon Genesis Evangelion.
- In Code Geass, believe it or not Mao (the Psychopathic Manchild) actually touches upon this trope. Most of his evil deeds are a direct result of serious Moral Myopia brought about from his lack of normal human experience since childhood. With his mind-reading powers, he first learned about humanity's evil impulses much too young, and so automatically assumed that the people thinking them were bad and deserved to be killed, a fact that carries over into the actual plot action, where he's seventeen. This is all talked about in the supplementary readings, where CC frequently comments on his misplaced innocence.
- In the second season of Ai Yori Aoshi, Chika asks the assembled female cast if they "love" Kaoru. They freak, because their definition is rather different than hers. The episode follows Chika's attempts to get answers from the group individually, including Aoi's explanation of the term Enishi. At the end, Chika concludes that everyone loves Kaoru.
- Czeslaw Meyer from Baccano! likes to act the part, but is actually very paranoid and cynical, to the point of being a Creepy Child at times. Then again, he's Really Seven Hundred Years Old.
- Satellizer from Freezing
- Tokomon serves this purpose in Digimon X Evolution.
- In Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, Ponya's father wishes she could stay pure and innocent forever. Later, when Ponya's mother proposes putting Sosuke to the the test, he is distressed at how innocent Sosuke is.
- A recurring element in Strontium Dog is that children are (usually) not prejudiced against mutants, and often cheer them on even when their parents complain about how freaks should stay out of sight of decent folks. One particular story deserves special mention - a kid was caught in the crossfire between Johnny and a criminal. Johnny was wracked with guilt and chased away from the funeral, so in desperation to make amends, he dug up the corpse and brought it to a necromancer to be revived. This didn't end well.
- The Emperor's New Clothes, with the classic case of a kid who is Too Dumb to Fool.
- In The Brothers Grimm' The Children Who Played Butcher, some kids watched a farmhand slaughter a pig, then cut it up. They decide to play this "game" and slit the throat of the child picked to be the pig, killing him. Before they can cut up the body one of the mothers come across them and drag them before the magistrate. The magistrate, with the help of the local elders, comes up with a way to determine if they are innocent or guilty. Each child is offered an apple and a silver coin. If they took the apple then they are innocent of the ways of the world and didn't intend to kill the other child. However, if they took the coin then they were wise to the ways of the world and intentionally killed the other child and will be hung for murder. It never actually said which they chose.
- This is one of their tales that appeared only in the first edition.
- Kevin in Time Bandits. Ironically enough, one aspect is that he is curious and willing to read rather than wallow in sloth and greed, and so he is in many respects the most knowledgeable character in the film, except for Agamemnon, the only good adult.
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Mess with kids and Indy will END YOU.
Indiana Jones: "They're innocent children.... Mola Ram, prepare to meet Kali... IN HELL!!"
- Anakin Skywalker's Moral Event Horizon was killing younglings who asked him what they were going to do about his attack on the temple.
- Deconstructed in a lot of Guillermo Del Toro's films, particularly Pan's Labyrinth and The Devil's Backbone. Ofelia is a wide-eyed innocent who believes in fairy tales, but that doesn't protect her from the horrors of her evil step-father, or for that matter of the fairy tales themselves. In fact it's because of her innocence that he fatally shoots her in the stomach at the end of the film. The orphans in The Devil's Backbone are an even better example: they might be a bunch of little kids who love comic books and grossing each other out with slugs, but they're a complex bunch, and by the end, perfectly capable of killing Jacinto like a pack of hunters taking down a mammoth.
- Lilo from Lilo and Stitch has some unusual interests in things kids her age shouldn't even be aware of, but when she's about to be taken away from her older sister Nani by a social worker, she has no idea what's really going on.
- Hard Candy starts out with this trope played straight by the cute, innocent protagonist. Then 20 minutes into the movie it suddenly does a 180-turn and averts it hard.
- Brianna in Mystery Team.
- Hotel Rwanda has quite a few terrified children who simply cannot understand the concept of genocide. One of the most heartbreakingly memorable lines in the film comes when a red cross worker recalls being Forced to Watch as the Hutu militia slaughter Tutsi children, and one of the children says "Please don't let them kill me. I promise I won't be Tutsi any more". She is killed anyway.
- The Road by Cormac McCarthy has The Boy being "compassion incarnate," as one reviewer stated, while The Man must struggle to do the right thing.
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas: Little Cindy-Lou Who, who was not more than two.
- Winnie the Pooh: Christopher Robin.
- Real name of AA Milne's son. Christopher never forgave his father for setting him up for endless years of being patted on the head and told how cute he was, even as an adult! Particularly mortifying to Christopher was "Vespers". He did admit to having been somewhat girlish and slow-witted as a boy... such that his fictional counterpart was at least partly accurate, and perhaps a slight improvement on reality. (He fared better than Peter Pan's namesake: who suffered similar condescension, but took his own life in his forties.)
- Ender's Game both uses and subverts the trope. Valentine and Peter are angel and demon, respectively. Ender is, well, Ender.
- In John C. Wright's Orphans Of Chaos it is explicitly invoked, when Mrs. Wren asks Vanity and Amelia to pray for her, because God will hear the prayers of the "young and sweet" better than hers. Later in the same work, Amelia ponders that Kids Are Cruel, and while some adults take advantage of their power to do wrong, others don't -- and wouldn't they be more innocent, because their opportunities are greater?
- In Fugitives of Chaos, Amelia warns Colin that the Ring of Gyges might not work on the innocent, and cites children as possible.
- In The Secret Garden, Mary and Colin are both Spoiled Brats when they first appear. However, the causes are delineated: Mary's mother neglected her, and the servants learned to indulge Mary to keep her from coming to her mother's notice, and Colin's father had neglected him after his mother's Death by Childbirth. Letting them play together and experience the beauties of the garden and nature causes them to shed the characters and become their true, innocent selves.
- In James Thurber's The 13 Clocks, one of the wicked duke's wickedest deeds was imprisoning children in the tower. Late in the book, the sounds of children's laughter from the tower and a ball rolling down the steps deeply enrages him.
- In Poul Anderson's Operation Chaos, the narrator and his wife have many run-ins with evil forces. The final one, which shocks them to the core despite all they have seen, is the kidnapping of their baby daughter to Hell.
- In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novels, the Ghosts on several occasions make special provision for children. In Necropolis, Criid takes two children, total strangers, under her wing when their mother dies, and when Caffran sees that a child and a woman are looting, he brings out what they had intended to steal, and gives them a gun as well. In Sabbat Martyr Criid opens a deserted building to shelter children and stands down the Obstructive Bureaucrat who objects; later, the Ghosts are particularly protective of the children among the refugees. This lends particular horror to Caffran's death at the hands of a child in The Armor of Contempt.
- Princess Irene In George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin. Who is so innocent she can't fathom why she should not be called Irene.
"Oh, then, Curdie, you must call me just Irene and no more."
- In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40,000 Ultramarines novel Dead Sky Black Sun, Uriel is horror-struck by the sight of crying children being herded into the process that turns them into Chaos Space Marines. It influences him later, when he witnesses the twisted remains of those who are rejected, and is willing to consider that Beauty Equals Goodness might not be true.
- At this point this is the only thing keeping Eragon from The Inheritance Cycle from being a 'complete' asshole: he won't harm a child, he'll just consider it.
- In Bram Stoker's Dracula, the vampire Lucy preys on children. Although she doesn't kill them, the children's innocent inability to understand that she was harming them—some even wish to meet her again—is particularly horrific.
- In Simon Spurrier's Night Lords novel Lord of the Night, when Sahaal captures a child, who cries for its mother and then, when he's close enough, tries to stab him, even a Chaos Space Marine such as Sahaal reflects that there is no place for innocence in the underhive.
- Later, when he orders Chianni to kill child hostages, she merely nods, and he is impressed that it does not perturb her.
- In Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files novel Death Masks, Susan tells Dresden that the Red Court prey on children, which disgusts them both. Then, Ortega offers to turn Dresden into a vampire rather than kill him in a duel, claiming they are Not So Different. Dresden fishes until he establishes that Ortega preys on children and cites it as a difference.
- In Dead Beat, Wardens can not bring themselves to leave children behind in danger while they deal with the bad guys.
- In Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality books, the souls of infants are pure—except, in some interesting theology where they can be tainted down to "in balance" by such things as the circumstances of their conception, or by their deaths owing to genetic disease precipiating their mother's suicide.
- Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Children are portrayed this way in Songs of Innocence. This is then Subverted in Songs of Experience, in the poems "NURSE'S Song" and "Infant Sorrow".
- In Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals, Vetinari speaks coldly of killing children; those he is addressing counter that they had exterminated pups—which only makes them look bad. Even when we learn they are speaking of orc children.
- In JRR Tolkien's Two Towers, Theoden throws off Saruman's charming voice citing the children who died from his attack (plus their multilation of the dead).
- In Sandy Mitchell's Duty Calls, a Knight Templar explains to Ciaphas Cain how he needed to do everything: even, when abandoning a settlement to alien attack, shooting the inhabitants when they tried to get their children on his ship. Cain, a self-professed Dirty Coward who would abandon anyone to save his own skin, is horrified.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: Tommen and Myrcella Baratheon are portrayed in this manner, in great contrast to their older brother.
- Lewis Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno
In each such glimpse, the face seemed to grow more childish and more innocent: and, when I had at last thought the veil entirely away, it was, unmistakeably, the sweet face of little Sylvie!
- Both played straight and averted in Swan Song. Swan, the titular protagonist, is very innocent in spite of the upheaved life she's lead, whereas Roland shows signs of being a Complete Monster at twelve years old.
- In John C. Wright's The Golden Transcedence, Ungannis declares that humanity is unspeakable and only was endurable when mortal, because then those guilty of crime would die and the children, temporarily innocent, took their place. Then, she's The Resenter.
- 'Cita in the Petaybee books, oddly enough. She was raised by a cult where children are married by ten and beaten regularly, but she still believes people are naturally good and trusts easily.
- The Little Prince, who always comes to the conclussion that adults are strange after watching their usual behavior.
- In Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London (known as Midnight Riot in the US), getting a warrant for a ghost who murdered his wife and child is complicated by the ghostly magistrate asking whether the woman was a shrew. The quick-thinking narrator tells him that she was a terrible shrew but the baby was innocent, which gets the warrant.
- Domingo Santos' story The First Day of Eternity (published in Analog) has the Innocent Aliens befriend the children of the colonists first.
- Left Behind uses this, no doubt due to the conundrum of "what of people who were not raised Christian or were too young to understand what it really means", and similar. Of course, the writers being pro-life, they also raptured children in the womb, and there is surprisingly little angst when every child under twelve (the cutoff point) suddenly vanishes.
- In Teresa Frohock's Miserere: An Autumn Tale, a character warns not to be deceived by a child's innocence—since she was drawn to a man they know is a traitor, she must be as bad.
- In Devon Monk's Allie Beckstrom book Magic to the Bone, Allie is surprised by a question of whether she cast a curse, and (truthfully) denies it—the target's just a little boy.
- CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
Gil Grissom: Let me tell you something, Humbert. You're twice the age of these kids, and half of them couldn't find their own ass with a map. You prey on innocent children, concocting God-knows-what from God-knows-where, selling Russian Roulette in a bottle and you think we came all the way out here to bust you for possession, you dumb punk? I'm gonna get you for murder. Cool?
- An important subplot in the fifth season of Lost involves a time traveling Sayid shooting Ben as a child to stop him from growing up and causing misery for everyone. However, Kate and Sawyer choose to save his life, arguing that he shouldn't be punished as a child for things he will do as an adult.
- Dexter feels affection for children because of their innocence, since he himself lost his childhood innocence at a very young age. He also is very protective of them, and whatever else happens find s the idea of hurting a child repulsive.
- Chance of Noah's Arc strongly and explicitly believes this, which is why he keeps taking care of Kenya even after he and her father are separated. He even states a variation on the trope name at one point.
- Dungeons & Dragons enters this trope in a roundabout and downplayed way: being evil requires either being made of evil or combining doing wrong with the ability to understand the concept of 'wrong'. End result: most children don't become evil until at least a few months after hitting Intelligence 3, even ones of generally evil races like drow or goblins.
- Young Link and Zelda in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
- The children of Ordon Village, particularly Colin, in Twilight Princess
- Subverted in The Wind Waker: While Link and Aryll are still the embodiment of this trope, Tetra defies it with all her might. She was called "The Bitch" of the game by players almost as frequently as Midna. Subverted again, when she turns into innocent Princess Zelda. Subverted back again, when she and Link kill Ganondorf rather in an incredibly brutal way. Subverted YET AGAIN when the King of Hyrule pretty much calls the gods themselves out to this trope, refering to Link and Tetra. Also, many players have noted that, aside from Link and Aryll, most of the children in the game behave like small adults, especially (aside from Tetra) Medli. Yeah, Wind Waker just loo~ooved to screw with this trope.
- Surprisingly touched upon in Killer7. When assassin Jean DePaul brings up MASK de Smith's popularity with children, MASK responds by declaring that children's purity makes them the most objective judges in the world. Turns out they're right.
- One of the few survivors from Cabadath's blood trail in Trilby's Notes is the woodcutter's son. According to the Evil Bible within the game it is because he is an innocent, but the book tends to downplay the bloodshed to say the least.
- Fnar from the Web Comic Jack is an strange example of this trope. Having descended to Hell without having even been born rendered him completely innocent, which makes him invulnerable to the horrors there... with the side effect that nothing in Hell even fazes him, as he can see the most gruesome horrors and believe that they are just playing. Sometimes, his absolute innocence makes him as creepy as any Enfante Terrible out there.
- DDG plays this straight, the souls of children are implied to go straight to heaven since they lack the ability to make moral judgments
- Gunnerkrigg Court: Reynardine tells Eglamore to "take care of the little one first", making him appear a good guy. Later, when the knight protects Antimony from it, we learn who is really good.
- The Dreamland Chronicles: How to Kick the Dog abuse children
- Megatokyo: The playground of little children shows the loopiest Largo's been yet.
- In Endstone, Jon played on his innocent daughter to get her to steal her mother's Endstone.
- In Wooden Rose, the newborn child like gnarled roots, even.
- In Sinfest, even Lil' Evil was an innocent child who prefered a teddy bear to a pitchfork.
- In Order of the Stick, after Roy's heartfelt afterlife confession to his dead little brother, the brother's reaction was:
Eric Greenhilt: hi roy! wanna play blocks with me?
- Innocent, lovely, wholesome children, threatened by harm or in idyllic happiness, are a popular propaganda image for just about everyone, as in these posters: Australian, British, German, American, Soviet, Japanese, and French.
- Little Sarah Jennings just can't see why everyone's so upset all the time, or why some people think "Jib & Jub" are so scary...
- Older Than Feudalism example from the New Testament: Jesus's followers are squabbling over who will be greatest in the coming Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus responded: "Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven", so he basically meant "It's not about being high up and powerful, but humbly accepting truth".
- Other religions similarly use children as symbols of being innocent and receptive, such as Daoism: "If you receive the world, the Dao will never leave you, and you will be like a little child."
- Some religions go as far to preach being like something even younger than a child, like the Zen koan: "What did your face look like before your parents were born?"
Subversions and exceptions
- Haru initially believes this in Katekyo Hitman Reborn!. During their first meeting with her, Reborn is with Tsuna. Naru asks to be friends with Reborn, then to hug him. After Reborn tells her he is an assassin, she punches Tsuna, telling him that babies are innocent, pristine angels, an he should be ashamed of himself for tainting him. She changes her mind soon enough.
- An inversion of this trope appears in Code Geass during Lelouch's Roaring Rampage of Revenge over Shirley's death. One of the soldiers participating in the assault of V.V.'s headquarters notices a bunch of children and starts to have second thoughts. The children, who are actually Tykebombs raised and trained by V.V's cult, proceed to calmly use their Geass to make him attack his comrades. And soon, they're killed by a teenage boy who's not much older than them.
- Anything written by Mohiro Kitoh (Narutaru, Bokurano). So. Very. Much.
- While Monster actually prefers to play this trope straight (considering Dieter, Nina and most of the Kinderheim 511 survivors), it also has the one exception: Johan. And what an exception.
- The pretty, doll-like, children in the works of Suehiro Maruo are usually sexually aware and amoral, if not downright sadistic and depraved.
- Averted in Tekkon Kinkreet: Black can't be older than 13 and has already mugged, assaulted and maimed several people. His usually innocent partner White also nastily averts this trope when he lights one of their alien attackers on fire and burns him alive.
- Subverted in the manga Ikigami. In "The Last Lesson", a school teacher loses his job because a kid was tired of hearing him talk and took pictures of underage children with the teacher's phone, getting him branded as a pervert. Later, when the kid admits to setting up the teacher, the teacher responds with "If you're truly sorry, then you have done no harm."
- Also, the headmaster of the school where the kid went fired teachers if the children were failing, the logic being that kids will study as hard as they can and if they're failing, it's the teachers fault.
- The entire point of Ikigami is subverting this trope. The reason why the National Welfare Act was passed was to deal with underage crime.
- Broken into pieces, set on fire, and then had its ashes spit on in Black Lagoon. Hansel and Gretel are, by far, the least innocent characters in the whole show. Though their Dark and Troubled Past might be a reason for this.
- Played with a bit disturbingly in the Eva fic Nobody Dies. The Ree, the Reego, and to a lesser extent the Keiworu are all innocent... by which we mean they do not seem to have a good grasp of morality. They tend to think that killing and violence, especially if explosions and/or knives are involved, is FUN. That said, they do have some very strict prohibitions against killing humans, because humans, like them, are "people", and harming people is a bad thing according to their parental figures. Kaworu speculates that they may be closer to what humanity was like before the "Fall": uninhibited and unaware of Good and Evil.
- Mocked in Blazing Saddles. This belief was the undoing of the Waco Kid way back when.
The Waco Kid: Well, it got so that every piss-ant prairie punk who thought he could shoot a gun would ride into town to try out the Waco Kid. I must have killed more men than Cecil B. De Mille. It got pretty gritty. I started to hear the word "draw" in my sleep. Then one day, I was just walking down the street when I heard a voice behind me say, "Reach for it, mister!" I spun around... and there I was, face-to-face with a six-year-old kid. Well, I just threw my guns down and walked away. [Beat] Little bastard shot me in the ass. So I limped to the nearest saloon, crawled inside a whiskey bottle, and I've been there ever since.
- Subverted and inverted by the play and movie The Bad Seed (and its remake "The Good Son").
- Tropic Thunder subverts to the point of Refuge in Audacity: the brutal head of the Flaming Dragon drug ring seems to be about twelve years old.
- Also the adorable local toddler Ben Stiller's character wants to adopt stabbing him multiple times in rage before being flung off a bridge?
- The movie A.I.: Artificial Intelligence is built around this trope and its subversions.
- And—ironically—its commercial exploitation.
- Sid from Toy Story, but he's no good kid.
- Hob in RoboCop 2.
- Played with in Enemy at the Gates. Sacha hero-worships Vasili as, well, a war hero, but he's also actively working to help Vasili kill Major König. On the other hand, he has little to no idea just how dangerous a situation he's got himself into and it winds up getting him killed. Given the fact that the kid's grown up in a war zone and has presumably lost his father to that war, his partial loss of innocence is quite understandable.
- In The Wild Bunch children are shown to be among the most violent characters in the film, and in a Sam Peckinpah film that's impressive. A child smiles as he watches the Mexican Army (which his father is the general of) get massacred by rebels, and later lands the killing shot on Warren Oates, still smiling. In the first 25 minutes, a group of children are shown torturing scorpions (who only look scary) by trapping them and coating them with fire ants, and later setting the cage on fire, and, after the massacre in town, run around pretending to shoot the corpses, yelling "Bang! Bang!" in a way that will make anyone feel chills.
- Averted in Harry Potter, where we see that Lord Voldemort (formerly Tom Riddle) had always had the instinct to take what is not his and had always delighted in hurting others (hanged another orphan's pet rabbit, forced two other children into a dark cave and did something to them that mentally scarred them).
- Pretty much the entire base of His Dark Materials. Will and Lyra are 11-year-olds who kill people while fighting against God. And that's just the beginning...
- This trope is still played semi-straight; children are immune to the Spectres, and can have special affinity to the Alethiometer, and have transforming daemons symbolizing their infinite potential - but one of the main themes of the books is that children have to grow up, and it's not a bad thing. One should also note that neither Will or Lyra take directly part in the war against the Authority; they don't share Lord Asriel's Rage Against the Heavens - they're just trying to survive. They do end up killing the Authority, but it's not an act of violence; they didn't know who he was, and were trying to help him.
- A Song of Ice and Fire. Arya Stark and Joffrey Baratheon.
- Subverted in Stephen King's IT with the kids who bully the protagonists, but Henry Bowers and Patrick Hockstetter are the most psychotic. For example, Henry chases down Ben Hanscom, pins him to the ground with help of his fellow bullies, and proceeds to carve his name into Ben's stomach (fortunately he only gets as far as "H"). Patrick Hockstetter is a complete solipsist, but his world view is shaken when his baby brother is born and he loses some attention from his parents. This makes him afraid that his little brother may actually exist, so he smothers the infant with a pillow. No one ever finds out.
- Played with in Ray Bradbury's The Small Assassin, in which a mother becomes convinced that her newborn baby will kill her. She's right. And the father too.
- Subverted and possibly inverted in the Confessions of St. Augustine, in which he opines that even newborns, suffering as all humans do from the taint of original sin, are capable of selfishness and spite, perhaps even more so than adults, who have learned to behave through education and experience. Some modern humorists agree.
- Beautifully lampshaded and mocked by Terry Pratchett in Hogfather, with the comment that the sound of children at play is a wonderful thing to hear, provided you're too far away to actually make out what they're saying.
- Subverted in the Andrew Vachss Burke book Dead and Gone when the first of the ambushers trying to kill him appears to be the very same child he was there to receive.
- Played every way but straight in the Gone series by Michael Grant, where every character is a child. On one end of the scale, you've got the evil, malicious kids: a Magnificent Bastard Big Bad, an Ax Crazy sadist, a manipulative Smug Snake, a Dark Action Girl who can make people see monsters, an avatar for the alien monster, and a racist cult leader. A little bit lighter gray, you've got a lot of kids who are only looking out for themselves, a techie genius who is forever changing sides, a greedy teenage businessman, and a hypocritical Christian fundamentalist who will lie when it suits her but won't tolerate it in others. For the lightest gray, our heroes are a few well-meaning kids who crack under pressure. All under 15 years old at the start of the series. It's a world of Grey and Gray Morality, with no room for innocence.
- Averted in the works of PG Wodehouse; children (usually boys) are almost always portrayed as obnoxious, grubby little pests.
- Subverted in Sergey Lukyanenko's Knights Of The Forty Islands, where aliens abduct teenagers (duplicates, actually) and distribute them among the forty islands connected by bridges. They are told that the group that manages to conquer all forty islands gets to go home. The kids are supplied with wooden swords that turn into metal whenever they get aggressive (i.e. fight). The protagonist quickly learns that this is not a game, and people really die here. Very quickly, the teens realize that it is simply impossible to conquer all forty islands, as each island only has no more than a dozen people. Eventually, the protagonist suggests allying with the nearby islands in order to be able to achieve their goal. While this works at first, it later turns into a disaster, as their former allies turn on them, kill the boys, and rape the girls. In fact, they find remains of children from World War Two era who have tried the same thing with the identical results. This novels seems to be about breaking every child stereotype to claim that, under the right circumstances, even a child is capable of anything.
- And the worst thing is, the aliens never plan to release anyone.
- At first, American Gothic appears to subscribe to this trope: Buck is proven to be absolutely evil by
murderingmercy-killing Merlyn in the first episode, and most of the first half to three-quarters of the series is devoted to protecting the innocent Caleb from the sheriff's vile influence. But then, as Caleb gradually falls deeper and deeper under his father's thrall, starts taking lessons from him, and even absorbs some of his powers, he becomes more disturbingly amoral, wicked, and heartless. By the end of the series, Caleb is practically a carbon copy of The Omen and it is Buck who must actually save Trinity from him. All the more chilling because of how artfully it is done.
- In an episode of Angel in which a young boy is being possessed by an evil demon we eventually learn that the demon is actually trapped inside the boy's body and the boy in question has no soul and is pure evil, shown by his actions after he is exorcised of the demon, when he burns down his house while his parents and younger sister are still inside, starting in his sister's room to make sure she cannot escape
- One episode of Criminal Minds has a twelve-year-old serial killer.
- Another had a sociopathic young boy who murdered his younger brother, then stuffed pieces of a model airplane down his throat.
- Seasons four and five of The Wire subvert this repeatedly.
- Subverted and inverted by the play and movie The Bad Seed (and its remake "The Good Son").
- The Arthur Miller play The Crucible subverts this trope as a plot point - the children would never lie about who the witches of Salem are, right? Not even if one of them is actually seventeen and wants to bone the main character, and concocts the entire crisis in order to take his wife out of the picture.
- The reality subverted it much more brutally: the aforementioned seventeen-year-old was actually eleven.
- Subverted in Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer, the spirit of a priest is convinced that "the child" (who, at this point, is over centuries old after his soul was imprisoned in a furnace) can't have committed the crimes he was convicted of, turns out "The Child" is a brilliant liar who was more than capable of murder by arson, and if the requirements are met, join the party in control of a mis-mash of spirits called One Of Many. One of Many's dialogue is mostly encouraging the player to screw people over for power at every chance he gets.
- Played with in BioShock the little sisters will original call for the protectors to kill you, but then seem more friendly and innocent once restored to 'normal' however later they will stab the final boss to death with syringes Although genetic engineering and behavioural programming gets most of the blame.
- In the sequel, we discover how they've been programmed to see Rapture - to them, the whole thing is elegant and beautiful (except for the occasional lapse into reality), with "angels"(read: corpses) lying on the ground waiting for them to gather their ADAM. Not to mention they completely trust "Daddy" whatever he does to them(although they may be scared of him if you go the evil route, they'll still go with him and gather for him).
- Puniyo from Mana-Khemia 2: Fall of Alchemy starts as a straight example, but eventually subverts this as she seems to inherit Lily's active imagination throughout the game, along with showing hints of being able to become a Magnificent Bastard. Despite being only five years old.
- Pearl Fey from Ace Attorney. She's so innocent, she doesn't even notice when her mother basically orders her to kill her cousin and best friend and heartbreak her aunt. Then there's Regina Berry, who is so innocent she doesn't even know what the word "death" means. Yeah, in a certain way, Ace Attorney plays this trope straight and yet also plays with it. A lot.
- Heavily averted in Painkiller: Battle out of hell. The first level is called 'orphanage' and features some of the most disturbing enemies in the game, most of which are children.
- Horribly, horribly subverted in Rule of Rose: the entire game revolves around the Byzantian machinations and rivalries of the "Red Rose Aristocrats Club", a group of children living in an orphanage, pretending to be powerful and magnificent. Each of the children in this clique manages to be utterly vile, completely pathetic yet still at least somewhat sympathetic due to a variety of Freudian Exuses.
- During the Oblivion quest "Shadow Over Hackdirt", Jiv Hiriel cites the reason he decided to help you rescue a young Argonian as "she's so innocent."
- Averted hard in Precocious. Most of the children in the main cast are each evil in their own special ways. Special mentions go to Autumn (who uses this trope to her advantage; she even wears a schoolgirl outfit in order to heighten people's perception of her innocence) and Dionne (who takes great pleasure in crushing the souls of others due to her lack of one).
- Perhaps even more telling is its treatment of the children who aren't evil. Jacob is a sweet, caring young boy who is so kind and selfless that his being selfish or mean for a change has been a punchline unto itself and there was even an entire arc about it. He's the strip's resident Butt Monkey, who is constantly hurt and never really treated with respect. Max is even nicer, to the point that he seems totally oblivious to the existence of bad or evil in the world. He's considered kind of strange by the rest of the kids, and although respected for his abilities, he's also frequently manipulated by the others or resented for the consequences of his Incorruptible Pure Pureness. The moral of the story? Children are evil, and those who aren't will end up used or mistreated by those who are.
- Looking for Group: What looks like a tiny girl is in fact a tiny undead abomination capable of ripping a man's heart out of his chest.
- Sandra and Woo blames "Moms In Black".
- Disclaimer: All of this is in spoilers cause it is a major plot twist. Subverted in There Will Be Brawl. At first, it had been the main motivation for Luigi to keep fighting: that as long as there was one child laughing in the world, there was hope for it. When he started to lose his focus, he saw Ness and Lucas playing, and that motivated him to go on. Come the final episode though, and he finds out that the murderers are Ness and Lucas. They are such pure evil that even Ganondorf wonders how heroes can exist in the face of it.
- South Park runs on subverting this trope. Even the good main characters are foul-mouthed and mean to each other. The creators mention on the commentary that they wanted to challenge the conventional wisdom of innocent children
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, flashbacks show that Azula was cruel even as a small child. According to her, her own mother saw her as a monster.
- Stewie from Family Guy embodies this trope to a tee, at least in the early seasons.
Stewie: All right, yes, bring me ice cream. But no sprinkles! For every sprinkle I find, I shall kill you.
- Most people see real life children as lovely and sweet and innocent... until they realise the kid knows the power of sarcasm, swearing and superciliousness (oh my!).
- In fact, according to Cracked.com, babies are inherently evil.
- Deadspin goes a step further with a father admitting how frequently he has to fight the urge to put his kid through a wall. Innocent, sure, but the level of bastardy behavior most parents put up with certainly clashes with the stereotypical applications of this trope.
- The assumption that children are innocent and would never ever lie led to many people being falsely accused and even imprisoned for child molestation.
- In fact, the equation of innocence and "lack of cruelty" seems inherently illogical. A child may be innocent, yet still rip the wings off a butterfly. How would they know what they are doing is wrong, if totally unaware what "wrong" is? Complete innocence = potential for the most horrific cruelty: cruelty from ignorance.
- Many countries have rules which exempt children and young teens from responsibility for their crimes. Why is this under subversions? Because the kids committed crimes.
- Children who commit crimes often lack a full understanding of what they're doing, and they certainly lack an adult's impulse control. Furthermore, imprisoning children with adult criminals would be a very quick way to get dead, molested, or further-corrupted kids. Juvenile sentencing laws exist for good reason.
- A more accurate assumption would be that children are uninformed of right and wrong rather than having an inclination towards one or the other.
- Although he was quick to point out this was due to people misunderstanding the poem; it's not about a sweet little boy saying his prayers, it's about a naughty little boy pretending to say his prayers