Think of the Children

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Homer: Mr. Mayor, I hate to break it to you, but this town is infested by bears.
Helen: Think of the children!
(The mayor sets up a Bear Patrol, which predictably costs tax money. One week later, the complaints are back:)
Homer: Down with taxes! Down with taxes!
Helen: Will someone please think of the children?

Straw Moral Guardians using a Strawman Argument to create a moral panic—doing something will somehow, indirectly, hurt children. Somehow. Especially rape them. You don't have to make a rational argument as long as you appeal to mama bears, crusading parents, and paranoid fathers emotionally. This is a great way to rouse up an Angry Mob.

Sadly, this is a case of Truth in Television: a fair amount of argument for much dubious legislation, at least in the United States, has been the alleged protective benefit for children, which is assumed to trump any and all other considerations, including legality, Constitutionality and simple common sense.

Subtrope of Appeal to Pity. All Gays Are Pedophiles is when this trope is used to condemn homosexuality. Sometimes used to excuse or disguise censorship intended solely to protect revenue.

Examples of Think of the Children include:


  • One Compare the Meerkat advert was about how people confusing Compare The Meerkat for Compare The Market was destroying the meerkat town Meerkovo. One part centred on how it was destroying the school and the kids were no longer able to learn. If only people knew the difference between the two websites!


  • In Horton Hears a Who!, the kangaroo rallies all the other animals in the jungle against Horton with this cry.


  • In the book Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde, the plot is put into motion by a group called Citizens to Protect Our Children. According to the protagonist, they "strongly believe that only G-rated movies should be made and libraries should only stock nice, friendly, uplifting books, which means nothing supernatural or scary. Which just about kills my entire reading list". They go after the gaming company that she's going to to spend a gift certificate, under the excuse that violence and magic are inappropriate for their children. They later subvert their intended mission, because while the main character is in the game they break into the center and smash up the equipment, causing it to be susceptible to overheating which, unless the game is completed in time, will fry the girl's brain. She lives, though, and in the end the head of the company (a boy about a year older than she is) says that "they're going to get their asses fried for endangering a minor". It's a take on how hypocritical censorship groups are, going after the companies when it's their kids that are going to the places in the first place!
  • In the Star Trek novel Losing the Peace, the Governor of Pacifica makes such an argument. He's apparently concerned about refugees' effects on the Selkie breeding islands, but might possibly be simply annoyed by the refugees. He insists that the delicate environmental requirements of the Selkie young risk being disrupted by the settlers, and that in the name of the children steps should be taken to remove the outsiders. Most of the refugees have nowhere else to go, and really Pacifica should be honoring its obligations to the wider Federation by accepting them. It's a complicated situation though - the governor might well have a valid point.

Live-Action TV

"He's eight years old. Ben is eight years old!"

  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In the episode "Tribunal", the Cardassian attorney, Kovat, urges Odo to help O'Brien confess to a crime he never committed because, "Think of the children, Sir. Allow them to see a glimmer of enlightenment."
  • iCarly: The girls ask the webshow audience for their coconut cream pie recipes, ending it with this line.
    • Carly and Sam's beauty pageant Q&A strategy is "ending world hunger... for the children!"

Professional Wrestling

  • Shouted by a crowd member at a WWE Raw taping in London when R-Truth smoked a cigarette after a Face Heel Turn.
  • The reason why Shane Douglas hates Ric Flair so much: his total disrespect for women and drunken antics in front of children.


  • In Stan Freberg's "Elderly Man River", Mr. Tweedly insists on correcting the grammar of "Old Man River," saying, "The home is a classroom, Mr. Freberg... Keep in mind the tiny tots."

Recorded and Stand Up Comedy

  • Part of Canadian comedian Tim Nutt's act is a story about him telling off a woman seeking to ban street hockey in the neighbourhood.

"Yeah, I told her to get a map and check out which country she's in! This was her argument: 'A child could get hurt!' Which kid?! The only kid getting hurt is the one who can't work this maneuver: 'CAR!'"


  • The Music Man has a whole song creating a moral panic by playing on fears of the pool hall and what it'll do to their children. Billiards is okay by Harold Hill, but pool is trouble.

Video Games

  • In the Awakening expansion for Dragon Age: Origins, one sidequest entitled "Keep Out of Reach of Children" has you running around Amaranthine collecting bottles of Antivan poison on behalf of the local Merchant's Guild. The quest seems to be a Stealth Parody of this trope; the quest description mentions that the guild is concerned about the poison falling into the hands of children, though the guild is more than likely responsible for bringing the bottles into Amaranthine in the first place.
  • In Dragon's Lair 2: Time Warp, the opening movie tells you to "do it for the children".
  • In Knights of the Old Republic II after having a Morality Chip installed, normally Robotic Psychopath HK-47 will say this entirely without irony.

"We must always think of the children. The littlest ones always suffer in war."

Web Original

<jaffa> think of the children!
<bobf> oh gimme a break, I've spent *hours* today thinking of the children, my wrist is too sore to do it any longer

[after her wanting to lodge a compaint after him]
Man: “I wish to lodge a complaint against this woman. She’s been following me around and trying to get a look at…well…” *gestures at his kilt*
Me: “Ma’am, is this true?”
(The [customer] turns bright red and starts fidgeting uncomfortably.)
Customer: “Well, I…but…what about the children?!” *storms off*

Definition: Argument involving children to prop up a rationalization and make the opponent look like an asshole, as people are defenseless and suspend all skepticism in front of suffering children: nobody has the heart to question the authenticity or source of the reporting. Often done with the aid of pictures.
Can also describe the exploitation of babies by professional beggars who rent them from their parents and use them as potent appendage in their trade (remember that children tend to grow and need to be replaced).

Western Animation

  • Helen Lovejoy is a parody of this character on The Simpsons. Frequently, when something stirs up public outcry, in Springfield, she screams "Won't somebody please think of the children?" in a panic. Ironically, she's likely not a very good parent herself, seeing as her own child is a kleptomaniac hellion who has to be sent to a boarding school for her crimes. The show also did this a lot on the seventh season episode "Much Apu About Nothing" (where Springfield holds a referendum to get illegal immigrants deported) and the season eight episode "Homer vs. The 18th Amendment" (where alcohol gets banned in Springfield after Bart gets drunk at the St. Patrick's Day parade), but not much in the later episodes, probably because the voice actress for Helen Lovejoy (who was also the voice actress for Ned Flanders' wife, Maude) left the show and the writers pretty much put her on a bus—or kept her in the background and only bring her out in crowd scenes. Though the writers may have tired of the joke anyway; the could potentially have used recordings from a previous episode; the authors started subverting the natural pattern, an indication of an attempt to keep the joke fresh. For instance, in the episode where Homer and Marge rekindle their sex life by getting busy in public places, get cornered in the miniature golf course and flee before being seen, leaving their clothes for the crowd to find. As the crowd gasps at the idea of two people running around naked, Moe says the line while Helen is in the frame just to fool with the audience.
    • In one episode, Bart got his hands on a tank and was initially making it seem as though he was going to use it on the school. Mrs. Krabappel's reaction is a deadpan "No, stop, think of the children." while smoking a cigarette. He was actually intending to fire at a MLB satellite that was spying on the town, something that only Bart seemed to be aware of.
  • All of the parents of South Park. Most notably the first time (in which they abandoned their children to go protest a cartoon show in another state) and the most extreme (after first building a wall around the town to protect their children, when they find out that most children are abducted by their parents, they send their own kids away to keep them from being abducted.) Kyle's mother is by far the worst of them, starting World War III to protect her kids from cartoon profanity in The Movie.
    • Then there's the episode where the kids get ninja weapons, and Butters accidentally gets a shuriken to the eye, but what are the parents up in arms about? Cartman being naked in public.
    • Terrence and Phillip are real people within the South Park universe, so it's technically live-action comedian profanity within that world.
  • In Beauty and The Beast, Gaston gets together an Angry Mob by saying that the Beast would eat the town's children.
  • Much like Gaston, Castaway from Gargoyles asks potential Quarrymen if they worry what gargoyles will do to their children.
  • In one episode of SpongeBob SquarePants, where the titular character suddenly goes missing, Sandy Cheeks rallies the whole town to find him (he was hiding underneath a rock (i.e. Patrick's house).) When they couldn't find him, Sandy gets more desperate, and when one of the townsfolk invokes this trope, she says "Good idea!" and has the children join in the search.

Real Life

  • Real Life again: Most arguments against "violent video games". To the point that Germany and Australia arbitrarily define Video Games as children's toys. The games in question are always, invariably never marketed to children, because adults have more money.
    • According to a PEGI report the average age of people who buy games in Europe is 35 and the amount of games that are for people aged 16 to 18 is around 10%, only 1% of the total games published is suitable for 18 and over. You wouldn't know any of this if you followed the news, as a recent report about an agreement about 18+ games showed in the Netherlands: "kids as young as 11 years old could buy these games" (at a €60 pricetag, which is a lot of money for a 11 year old last time I checked).
      • According to article 240a of the Dutch penal code, you cannot give harmful content to minors. This is 16+ material in video content (including porn) and 18+ with video games. You will get fined if you give this to kids, they have "mystery guests" roaming the country to see if you actually check their age. Despite this, there's still the persistent belief among parents that everyone can get a 18+ game from the store and that "something must be done".
      • The UK uses the PEGI rating for some video games (which is classed as a suggestion that is supposed to be followed) and the same legally enforced BBFC ratings used on video content for other games. Either way, selling a game to someone under the suggested or mandated age is illegal, especially if that person turns out to be working for the trading standards agency.
    • With regards to Australian attitudes, we don't even have the luxury of an R18+, or AO rating on our video games. So if a game does anything that the ratings board feels is too adult, it's either cut, or banned. Sometimes, these decisions make absolutely no sense. Fallout 3 was banned in Australia, due to a drug being named Morphine. Never mind the fact that you can blow peoples heads apart with any firearm (or fists) or that you can sell people into slavery (including black people!) nor that you can blow up an entire city with a nuclear bomb. No, they concentrate on the drugs! Even though you use the drug as Morphine is intended to be used, nor do you actually see your character injecting themselves with it.
    • Of course, as (The Customer is) Not Always Right will tell you, there's also quite a few parents who don't understand why they had to come in the store and purchase Grand Theft Auto for their seven year old. Or think Pokemon and Mario sound too violent but a shoot 'em up game is fine.
      • Or the mom who didn't mind the gore and killing (the salesperson specifically cited beating a hooker to death), but drew the line at the in-game swearing.
    • A lighter take: Acts of Gord recounts a tale about a concerned parent who was opposed to the very idea of Conflict in video games.
  • The Australian Labor party proposed a (now unlikely to see the light of day) web filter which many have criticized for reasons ranging from denial of freedom of speech (justified by the leaked blacklist) to the practical, such as it slowing it down to dial-up speeds. Everyone from Telstra to Google, to Hillary Clinton and the US ambassador speaking out against it, which have been completely ignored. The supposed aim of the filter was to protect the children from accessing pornography, and stifling child porn online. However, the Coalition has followed the Greens in agreeing to not to vote in favor of the Internet Censorship bill when it appears in parliament, thus denying the Bill the majority it needs to pass through government. It is now virtually impossible for the filter to be implemented.
  • After Spain's football team lost to Argentina in a friendly shortly after Spain had won the World Cup, one Spanish politician came over all Helen Lovejoy:

How can we explain this to our children, still kitted out in red? How can I explain to my daughter that it was only a friendly? How can I explain to her that Casillas wasn't playing? Why did you do this to our children?

  • Comedian Nick Adams mentions in his book how when he, a black man, married a Native American woman, opponents of interracial marriage invoked this trope as a sort of thinly-veiled racism.
  • This trope combines with But Not Too Gay when conservative-minded parents went batshit about an episode of Glee where Kurt and Blaine had a very passionate kissing scene. The loudest complaints were that it was "inappropriate for children." Never mind that the scene was both well-written and completely in character, or that there are far worse things to worry about in Glee than a make-out scene—apparently this is worth all of their vitriol because it's between two guys rather than one girl and one guy. When sensible people ask why someone would let children watch a show involving underage sex, drug-use, and rampant discrimination, the parents usually fall back on "It's a musical show about high-school!"
    • It's also worth noting that a teen pregnancy plot has been the center of many episodes and the show has directly discussed sexual issues before. Even more notable, though, is that the show isn't intended for children in the first place and nearly all the episodes have a TV-14 rating.
  • The Communications Decency Act was a federal law passed in the United States notable as the first attempt by the U.S. government to censor the Internet. Its primary effect was to essentially limit all speech on the Net to a level of discourse suitable for children, and pretty much only children, on the justification that children could read material on the Net. It and a somewhat less draconian successor law passed in 1998 were overturned as unconstitutional; a third, much more limited, attempt (the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) of 2000) managed to stick.
  • The logic behind many state laws specifically restricting under-18 (and in some cases under-21) drivers but not those who are over the targeted age range, such as passenger limits, curfews, and, in New Jersey, having to drive around with red decals on your license plates. All this in spite of the fact that the so-called "children" these politicians are striving to protect are older teenagers and, in some cases, over 18.
  • US politics has fun with this:
    • In the 1980s, Mothers Against Drunk Driving did a successful "think of the children" push against drunk driving and against drinking and purchasing alcohol by people under 21. It was so successful that it rarely comes up anymore: The mandated-for-highway-funding bans on drinking under 21 are now over 21 years old.
    • Many cities have passed laws to ban smoking in public places and businesses. Second-hand smoke was a spearhead in that campaign, and children breathing it were often cited in the early arguments.
      • Ironically, adults are just as helpless to avoid breathing in cigarette smoke as children.
    • Fast food companies and other "junk food" distributors have been facing increasing criticism for advertising products toward children. Some groups and individuals advocate banning "Happy Meals" and similar food combos to "protect the children." True, parents are usually the ones buying that food; but fast food places will allow children to buy food if they can pay for it, and McDonalds has provided food for school breakfasts. Vending machines on school grounds are special targets of frustration, since children choose to buy junk food and soda from them.
  • Averted by the Prostasia Foundation, which states that “Before you can think of the children, you have to be prepared to think.”