While society tends to prefer children to be polite and well behaved, while still adventurous and cheerful, in fiction there seems to be an either/or set up. Children who are adventurous and who have interesting stories to tell, or to tell about, always seem to be mischievous at least and sometimes downright naughty and ill behaved.
Well-behaved children are often antagonists to the main character if he or she is a child, and these "good" kids can be portrayed as being anything from just absolute bores
, to evil incarnate. The reason for this might be because the well behaved children in the stories are often viewed as being suck-ups to the evil adults, who only want to take away all the fun stuff for little kids. These kids also tend to be 'tattle tales' if they're real sticklers for the rules.
This trope has been around in some form for quite a while, at least since the early twentieth century. Before that, especially during the Victorian era, naughty children in fiction would usually endure very bad repercussions for their actions
... sometimes they would far outweigh the actions they committed
. After all, in Victorian times, Most Writers Are Adults
was in force to an even greater degree than it is today.
This doesn't necessarily mean the kids will get away
with being naughty in Naughty Is Good
stories. They're just as likely to find they Can't Get Away with Nuthin'
, but the story will still be on their side, rather than just saying "And it served them right
Counterpart to Devil in Plain Sight
. Compare High School Hustler
Anime and Manga
- The Beano features Dennis The Menace, Minnie The Minx and The Bash Street Kids.
- Also Roger the Dodger, though he's more of a schemer.
- Villainous "good kids" include Dennis's neighbour Walter and Bash Street school swot Cuthbert Cringeworthy.
- The Dandy has/had this with most of its characters like Beryl the Peril, Cuddles and Dimples, etc., but Bully Beef and Chips subverted it somewhat.
- In the kids' book Conrad , an old woman gets a giant can that turns out to contain a mostly-dehydrated boy, straight from a factory that creates boys for families who want perfect children. After she gets to know the kid, the factory guys realize they sent him to the wrong house, and come to try to get him back. The old lady and her allies manage to get rid of them by training Conrad to be naughty. Specifically, they teach him to write on walls, slide down banisters, call adults names, and all the myriad things he was specifically designed not to do (they even have to punish him for doing the right thing, for a while). It's a very amusing read and a... very... strange Aesop.
- Gene Kemp's "Cricklewood School" series, starting with The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler, all feature kids who are basically decent, but end up causing trouble, usually due to the inflexibility of a Sadist Teacher. The exception is Gowie Corby Plays Chicken, where the title character is an outright bully who has a Heel-Face Turn over the course of the book.
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Protagonist, Greg, isn't what you'd call a good kid, and most of the time he's not even aware of how morally wrong his behaviour is.
- Just William is the terror of his family and his teachers, and pretty much the embodiment of every "undesirable" trait an eleven-year-old boy can have, but he's also a beloved children's book protagonist. His friends, the Outlaws, are pretty much the same type of characters, though the series do also include some "naughty" children who are portrayed in a far less favorable light and serve as occasional antagonists. "Good" children tend to swing between being well-meaning but annoying nuisances and malicious antagonists.
- The Tracy Beaker series by Jacqueline Wilson.
- The Horrid Henry series.
- The Hickory Limb has a version of this that, today, comes off as incredibly mild: the main character, a little girl, decides to go swimming in the same pond as some boys. Though she gets in trouble for it, we're ultimately meant to sympathise with her.
- Not exactly the same, but ill-mannered Goofus, of Highlights' Goofus and Gallant fame, tends to be the favorite of many more readers than the prissy Gallant.
- Madness's hit single "Baggy Trousers" is all about the protagonist's memories of raising hell in secondary school.
- Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin is a little hellion a lot of the time, but the strip just wouldn't have been nearly as good if he were well-behaved.
- Proven when Calvin makes a good duplicate of himself. The Good Calvin is interesting only in contrast to the Jerkass Calvin.
- Matilda has a whole song dedicated to it: "Naughty". Which is about putting her mother's hair dye into her father's hair oil. Then she makes the the head teacher leave. Though to be fair she was a sadist so everyone's happy, even the teachers.
- Codename: Kids Next Door: The perfectly well-behaved Delightful Children From Down the Lane are creepy, sadistic villains; the heroes are rebellious, mischievous, and disobedient, but fight for the rights of kids everywhere.
- Interestingly, all the Kids Next Door appear to be pretty good sons/daughters if not 'good' kids. They all stop in their tracks when their parents tell them to. (And their parents are very Good Parents for the most part.)
- Ben 10 tends to play with this trope a lot; while The Protagonist, Ben Tennyson, is an immature kid who is not above using his powers for childish reasons, and as such seems to play it straight, his attitude is often shown to attract him trouble and get in the way of his heroic actions. It's usually only when he gets serious he proves to be a true hero, and his maturity in the sequel ''Ben 10: Alien Force is portrayed as a good change (though he later turned back to immature due to Flanderization). Moreover, his arc enemy and rival Kevin, who is even more mischevious than him, is portrayed as Ax-Crazy in the original show and a Anti-Hero in the sequels.
- Ben's cousin, Gwen, is a more ambivalous case; she is more reasonable than Ben but her exact portrayal is unclear; in the original show, she was a Deadpan Snarker and could be as naughty as Ben when she went at it with him but otherwise was rule-abiding and well behaved, though she was definitely not evil nor boring. In the sequels, she is portrayed as less snarky and much more cool-headed, but usually this is shown as the right attitude compared to Ben's and Kevin's.
- The main characters of The Land Before Time rarely obey their parents' rules. Then again, considering not one of their parents' rules has ever been shown to help with anything, it's hard to blame them.