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Think of the Children!
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: Won't somebody please think of the children?
The Simpsons

Moral Guardians using an 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, and the best/worst part is you don't even need any proof of your target's guilt or innocence; just use Logical Fallacies to make your target out to be a monster then use "the children" as a Chewbacca Defense. In comedies, this type of character usually actually doesn't even care about the children at all and in the worst case scenario is even the one harming children while deflecting blame off onto others as a scapegoat.

Sadly, this is a case of Truth in Television, as it is very easy for media and politicians to play the "it hurts kids" argument to get a law passed, regardless of whether the law is good or effective.

The New Rock & Roll is invariably greeted with this reaction — if it's something kids are doing that adults don't fully understand, it must be Eeevilll!

Subtrope of Appeal To Pity. All Gays Are Pedophiles is when this trope is used to condemn homosexuality.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • 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!

    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!'"

    Film 
  • In Horton Hears a Who!, the kangaroo rallies all the other animals in the jungle against Horton with this cry.
  • Parodied in Looney Tunes: Back in Action when Daffy realizes that he's gonna die in the middle of a desert and never find the Blue Monkey Diamond.
    Daffy: I can't die now. Think of the millions of children who want me to have the diamond! (sobs) Those poor children!
  • The movie The Condemned actually has a character argue that the media should be censored so that nothing which would not be appropriate for children could be shown. No, really. And the movie's on her side.
  • Elysium: "Do you have children, President Patel?". This is Delacourt's response to President Patel chewing her out for killing dozens of people trying to enter Elysium. This is also her rationale for trying to takeover Elysium.

    Literature 
  • 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.
  • An excerpt from "How I Found the Superman" by G. K. Chesterton, Daily News 1909:
    The name of Lady Hypatia Smythe-Brown (now Lady Hypatia Hagg) will never be forgotten in the East End, where she did such splendid social work. Her constant cry of "Save the children!" referred to the cruel neglect of children's eyesight involved in allowing them to play with crudely painted toys. She quoted unanswerable statistics to prove that children allowed to look at violet and vermillion often suffered from failing eyesight in their extreme old age; and it was owing to her ceaseless crusade that the pestilence of the Monkey-on-the-Stick was almost swept from Hoxton.
    The devoted worker would tramp the streets untiringly, taking away the toys from all the poor children, who were often moved to tears by her kindness.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Several episodes of Law & Order: SVU. Both for and against, intermittently.
  • "Gingerbread" in Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a demon that fed on and propagated this by getting people to burn anyone unusual in sacrifice to it, often their own children for extra irony.
  • In this A Bit of Fry and Laurie sketch, Laurie's character complains about a "disgusting" program, wondering "what if my children had been watching ?" (It turns out her children haven't watched it, but only because by the "purest good fortune [...] they don't happen to have been born yet.")
  • Used depressingly straight in Queer as Folk, where the parents of Nathan and Stuart attempted to silence their coming out through this:
    "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."
    • Quark abused this trope once to goad O'Brien and Bashier to laying a game of racket ball by donating half the betting money to an orphanage.
    • Also when Quark runs an auction to benefit the Bajoran War Orphans Fund in "In the Cards," minus a modest commission. Think of those poor orphans.
  • 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!"
  • In-universe example in Scrubs. Dr. Cox said this word-for-word to Turk in the episode "My Student" when he drops his pants.
    Dr. Cox: No. No. No. You put that away. Oh! Think of the children!
  • Played completely straight in the last episode of the first season of Xena: Warrior Princess in which a guest-starring Ephiny cries out: "somebody has to think of the children!"

    Professional Wrestling 
  • The Right to Censor was the World Wrestling Federation's response to criticism by the Parents Television Council over the WWF's storylines and threats to boycott its sponsors, over storylines that frequently included extreme violence (including against women), profanity and scantily clad women. (The PTC had pointed out that children were frequent viewers of the WWF's television programs.) Led by Steven Richards, members of his faction – including Bull Buchanan, The Goodfather (Charles Wright changing his gimmick from the "Ho"-loving Godfather), Val Venis and Ivory – frequently interrupted matches that involved aspects the PTC criticized, including Tables-Ladders-Chairs matches and matches involving scantily dressed women. In storyline terms, the group reached its peak when they began harassing The Kat (Stacy Carter, Jerry Lawler's ex-wife) after she appeared topless during a live pay-per-view event. In contrast, the Right to Censor members wore conservative uniforms: a white button up shirt and black tie, with black slacks for the men (although Val Venis wore white slacks on occasion) and a long black skirt for the women, which parodies the look of a Mormon missionary.
  • Shouted by a crowd member at a WWE Raw taping in London when R-Truth smoked a cigarette in a public building 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.

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

    Theatre 
  • 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 Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening, 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.
  • Not a straight example, but the very first chapter of Heros Realm is called "Won't Somebody Please Think Of The Children?" It does however involve some dubious acts like crossing border lines and promising to free prisoners to kill someone on grounds of kidnapping.
  • 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."
  • Parodied twice during the announcer banter in Ratchet: Deadlocked.
  • In Prototype 2 the New Templar scientists will try to use this excuse to get you to spare them. This moment is very definitely Black Comedy, since, having been tricked into an extremely self-satisfied Smug Snake Motive Rant that enrages the Person of Mass Destruction protagonist so much that he actually refuses to pollute himself by consuming them, their excuse is a hilariously pathetic example of Blatant Lies.
  • Played for laughs in Escape from Monkey Island, where Guybrush tries to use the "What about the children?" to Ozzie Mandrill and his plan to make the Tri-Island County a tourist attraction, Ozzie simply responds "What about them?", to which Guybrush admits that he hasn't thought that far.

    Web Comic 

    Web Original 

    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, her own child is a kleptomaniac hellion who has to be sent to a boarding school for her crimes - but, of course, Mama Didn't Raise No Criminal. 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; they 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 of which only Bart seemed to be aware.
  • 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 movie 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.
  • 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, specifically Patrick's house). When they couldn't find him, Sandy gets more desperate, forcing them into hazardous, potentially deadly environments like "leech farms". One of the exhausted townsfolk invokes this trope, and Sandy says "That's a good idea!" Use the children to crawl into small places you couldn't normally reach!".
    • In another episode, Patrick lets his Balloon Belly hang out in public. A disgusted fish shouts "Dude, put that away! There are children here!"
  • In Taz-Mania, the primary justification used by Bull Gator and Axl for anything they do is that they are doing it "to please the zoo-going children of the world".
  • Parodied by Rainbow Dash in the episode "Bats!" of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. "Won't somepony please think of the cider?!"

    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).
    • 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, there wasn't a rating of R18+ available for video games until it was allowed in 2012. Back then, if a game did anything that the ratings board felt was too adult, it was either cut, or banned. Sometimes, these decisions made absolutely no sense. Fallout 3 was banned in Australia due to a drug being named Morphine rather than the violence.
    • 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 Rodham 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 (in actuality the kiss only lasted a couple seconds and was almost completely closed lipped). 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 TV-14 rated show involving underage sex, teen pregnancy, drug-use, and rampant discrimination, the parents usually fall back on "It's a musical show about high-school!"
  • 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.
  • Another US Internet law that claims to be for the children (disguised as a child porn bill), PCIPA, forces ISPs to track the personal info of all their customers and all their Internet usage over the last 18 months. This information can be obtained on suspicion of any crime, not just child porn. However, like any law, it will still require a warrant and reasonable suspicion, and as one Redditor by the name Indyguy took it upon himself to dispel the rumors of the worst parts. Make no mistake, it's a bad bill, but it's not quite Big Brother. Plus, it's essentially a rehash of a law that already failed to make it to the house floor for a vote; PCIPA is only scheduled for a debate on September 8th, in which it will undoubtedly be neutered to almost nothing, and even then, there's more than enough time for the internet to rally against it here.
  • 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 (usually with the justification that they're more vulnerable to the toxins than adults subjected to passive smoking).
    • 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.
    • In a more tragic case, the recent Sandy Hook school shooting has turned this issue into a full on Flame War, with both sides turning the event into a "for the children" arguement. Specifically with people on the left placing blame on Semi-Automatic rifles, or "military-style assault weapons" as they like to call them, and people on the right placing blame on mass media and violent videogames (again). Needless to say, this issue has become significant flame bait, so anyone trying to bring up this conversation in public better be prepared for a fight. And that is all that will be said on the matter.
  • This was one of the main justifications for the adoption of The Hays Code by the American motion picture industry in 1930. Will Hays, the primary enforcer of the Code, explained in a public statement that the censorship board's goal was to protect the innocence of "the mind of a child"... as if children, or families with children, were the only sort of people who ever went to the movies.
  • This is the reason you don't have comic books at Walmart anymore: certain parents kept throwing a tantrum because they were selling titles like Spawn.
  • This was the public reason why Socrates was executed: His talks that he gave had "corrupted the youth." In actuality, it was more likely because he was on the bad side of a lot of people because he'd called them for their various shortcomings.
  • Anita Bryant's campaign against anti-gay discrimination laws in Florida was literally known as "Save Our Children."

That Thing is Not My Child!Parental IssuesTough Love
There Should Be a LawPolitics TropesTreachery Cover Up
Straw HypocriteHypocriteTwo Faced Aside
Think of the CensorsCensorship TropesUnacceptable Targets
There Should Be a LawThe Only Righteous Index of FanaticsThoughtcrime

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