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What Do You Mean, It's for Kids?

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For kids age six and up.

"Our future society is desperately bloodthirsty. When they fight, you see people just foaming at the mouth out of excitement at the destruction. It's a kid's movie!"
Bayer and Snider, Movie B.S. on Real Steel

Often times, productions that are marketed to children make us wonder if they were created for them, because of potentially explicit content and/or serious and mature plots. Namely, if these shows have an awful lot of Parental Bonus, Parent Service, and the like. Unfortunately, this can also bring Moral Guardians out of the woodwork if it seems to be blatant enough. This can also happen when something is given a G rating but has an awful lot of potentially explicit content.

This phenomenon can also occur due to Values Dissonance. For example, Once Acceptable Targets are, by definition, no longer acceptable, and Real Life tragedies can make things Harsher in Hindsight, and different countries' Moral Guardians have different standards. There's also the fact that, in the past, the line between "child" and "adult" wasn't always drawn at the same age as it is now.


Another reason for this trope is that a good number of children are quite fond of scary or violent things, and are often too young to understand the reasons many of these stories are considered dark. Often confused with What Do You Mean, It's Not for Kids?, where a work is commonly mistaken as being for kids even when it is not.



Other examples

    open/close all folders 

  • The advertising campaign for Kellog's Fruit Wind-Ups consisted of CGI anthropomorphic fruit killing their normal-shaped but sentient brethren in extremely sadistic and cruel ways in order to make the product. This leads to things like innocent fruit desperately begging not to die; one involved the evil fruit sucking all the juice out of an orange, leaving his dead empty skin laying in the street.
  • One Got Milk? ad featured two children who refuse to drink milk, because they believe milk is for babies. They tell their mother that their elderly next-door neighbor, Mr. Miller, never drinks milk. They see him going to use his wheelbarrow when suddenly his arms rip off because, having not consumed milk, his bones are weak and fragile. The children scream in horror and then frighteningly start imbibing every last drop of milk they have. This ad was enough to have ex-California Governer Gray Davis demand that the National Milk Processor Education Program yank it from broadcast.

    Comic Books 
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe:
    • Disney Italy created Paperinik, Donald Duck's Super Hero alter ego... who is actually an Unscrupulous Hero who sadistically torments anyone pissing Donald off but gets mistaken for an actual superhero, by characters and some writers and readers alike, because criminals are at or near the top of his shit list; whenever the writers remember his origins he's chased by the whole police force because he's just that scary, has gadgets to spray acid (for use on locks, fortunately) and to wipe out memories, stopped going around with an actual M1911 pistol only after replacing it with a multi-purpose beam weapon that includes a Disintegrator Ray, and, in an early story, tried to murder Gladstone before thousands of witnesses (disguised as a mere and well-deserved kick in the butt... that threw Gladstone from a tower).
    • The Paperinik New Adventures series, inspired by American superhero comics, introduced the Evronians, an Horde of Alien Locusts out to eat our emotions (save for a few people to keep as cattle) and transform us into Slave Mooks. Also, a survivor of Xerba, a planet invaded by the Evronians, has transformed herself into a Physical Goddess, out to commit genocide against the Evronians as payback for their invasion of her homeworld.
    • Basically the whole reason why the relatively obscure story "The Call of C'Russo" is so widely known. It plays the despair-inducing and existential dread of the Cosmic Horror Story genre completely straight for a Disney comic.
  • EC Comics. The entire company output qualifies, even after correcting for Values Dissonance for their being published in the 1950s. Even back then, however, Moral Guardians raised plenty of objections that their comic books were inappropriate for kids; EC strenuously resisted censorship until The Comics Code went into effect.
  • Heaven's girl, a comic produced by the Children of God/The Family in 1987 for child members before being purged, feature the gang rapenote  of the heroine, Marie Claire. Disturbingly, Marie Claire was based on David Bergnote 's granddaughter, Merry Berg, whom he has been accused of raping.
  • Due to a case of Values Dissonance, Italian comics are often this, with the lone exception of Diabolik (that was never for children but was mistaken for this anyway). Examples include:
    • Aside for the above-mentioned Paperinik and Paperinik New Adventures, Disney Italy has created W.I.T.C.H. (with plenty of nightmarish situations and enough instances of Getting Crap Past the Radar to deserve an entire page here, Mickey Mouse Mystery Magazine (in which Mickey Mouse finds himself operating in a city dirtier than Gotham), and has a habit of showing Scrooge shooting at someone with intent to maim (with a rock salt-loaded blunderbuss) or, in the past, kill (with a buckshot-loaded double-barreled shotgun).
      • The Reginella Saga deals with the love story between Donald and the titular alien queen and features such lovely things as Reginella, usually a nice girl, outright kidnapping Donald and wipe his memory to keep him with her before events forced her to release him in the first story. The apex is achieved with the third one, where we have a furious Donald disrupting Reginella's forced wedding with a shotgun and putting up a Mook Horror Show on an entire army. That he then threatens to finish off if they don't melt their weapons into agricultural tools right now.
      • L'Inferno di Topolino (Mickey's Hell) is a Disney version of Dante's Inferno. Despite being massively lighter and softer than its inspiration, it includes bits like this (which, in original, has the same verse structure of the poem):
        My name is Goofy and I am a poet
        Now through Hell we'll have a walk
        Towards a dark and painful place.
        Once there we will pary Satan
        To be so gracious with us
        To make us exit this painful pass.

    • One of the main characters of Rat Man is Cinzia Otherside, a blonde transsexual prostitute with a 30-cm penis in love with the protagonist and often trying to do him. Then the various stories include one-off gags (with Cinzia having originated as one) such as Bambi's mother returning to life as a Flesh-Eating Zombie and eating Bambi (it was the storyline parodying The Walking Dead)...
    • The satirical comic Jenus of Nazareth openly shows paedophile priests.
  • The Marvel Adventures line is written for the 5-12 kid demographic, but it seems designed to address most of the adult audience's criticism of the Marvel line: it has a much less confusing continuity, steers away from the Wangst and bleakness the main line tended to indulge in, and sidestepped the whole Civil War fiasco, and the rest of the dueling-author messes completely. Marvel Adventures appeals to adults who liked mainstream Marvel Comics from the 1960s to 1980s, IE when they were targeted to kids and teens. The fact that said period is largely considered to be the company's hey-day is a reminder that tropes are not bad. (Also, forget the 80s; Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man has the Blonde Phantom as a Recurrer. Remember her? No? Ask your grandparents.)
    • Interestingly, as much as Darker and Edgier is considered a good thing, it is quite lighter than the mainstream comics. It turns out that if you tell a good story, people will enjoy it over a poor one that has more blood, sex, and swearing.
  • My Little Pony:
  • The Smurfs is the More Popular Spin-Off of another comic book, and has a fair share of creepy stories... Starting from the very first book, featuring a Zombie Apocalypse that predates Night of the Living Dead (1968) by nine years.
  • Played strangely with Superior Spider-Man, which indulges in every excess contemporary comics are wont to indulge in (Doc Ock stealing Peter Parker's body, then jacking off in it?) - but the writer has gone on record as saying that he wants kids to read it.
  • A lot of Flemish comedy comic books can be frightening to foreigners. Though in native Flanders, where Moral Guardians are treated like extremists, it's pretty normal for kids to read stuff like that.
    • Plankgas en Plastronneke is a Flemish comic book widely known for being endorsed by the famous Dutch comedian Urbanus. Did we mention that its jokes are almost all a form of Comedic Sociopathy? It has more gore and gross-out than Drawn Together and Family Guy combined.
    • Pitch is pretty tame in general, though some of the Black Comedy shots (there is a suicide joke at the beginning of the very first album) may make it off-putting for foreign viewers.
  • Cindy and Biscuit manages to get this trope and What Do You Mean, It's Not for Kids? as well due to its ludicrously extreme violence and Mood Whiplash depictions of Cindy's depressing mundane life. It has been nominated for children's' comics awards, and according to Word of God is intended for children, but some early reviewers assumed that it was a Deconstructive Parody of Wake Up, Go to School, Save the World stories.
  • Tytus, Romek i A'tomek is one of the most well-liked Polish comic books, and often treated as a quintessential kids' series. However, the later installments contain some surprisingly dark and mature themes, including sexual innuendo. For instance, about half of Book 22 has Tytus accidentally turn evil due to Phlebotinum and subsequently run a criminal gang whose activities are depicted quite realistically; meanwhile book 26 ("Tytus's Honeymoon") has Tytus and his wife fly a vehicle which is propelled by them having sex onboard.
  • Mega Robo Bros gets on here just barely by throwing in the occasional swear word.
  • Condorito is a Long Runner, so he has fans of different generations, including children of 8 or 10 years. However many of his jokes have a lot of Black Comedy, occasionally Getting Crap Past the Radar, a lot of violence - including deaths - used humorously, etc. In addition to that in the oldest stories they include all kinds of ethnic stereotypes that are less acceptable today.
  • The chilean comic Mampato was always designed for children, and also for educational purposes, but in his stories he has no problem in showing things like war, racism, sexism, disproportionate punishments ( (Twenty lashes for stealing an apple!), Human Sacrifice, etc., etc.


    Newspaper Comics 
  • This trope was invoked in a Bloom County strip, where one character is going around telling everyone "the awful truth" about, well, everything. He comes to Steve and says "The truth is, Knight Rider is a kid's show!" to which Steve replies. "Can't be. Can't &%^#ing be!"
  • Little Nemo. It's a whole nightmare world! Though this is more of a shift in what is acceptable for children. It was a lot more open at that time as shown with other so-called children's books during that time like The Wind in the Willows, which would almost be impossible to publish as a kid's book now. There's even a panel where Little Nemo, who is about nine at that point, is reading Gulliver’s Travels.

  • An in-universe example in Airlocked. While the titular Immoral Reality Show, disguised and marketed as fiction, is full of violence, murder, and innuendo (and that's not even mentioning Season 3 being Hotter and Sexier by design), there are examples of merchandise geared towards all ages and multiple children in the fanbase, including one or two cosplaying toddlers. Word of God is that space has a wide variety of age rating systems.
  • Dino Attack RPG is a fun family adventure on a family-friendly website with death, destruction, genocide, drugs, alcohol, sexism, smoking, homophobia, unstoppable cosmic horrors, child abuse, murder, betrayal, and torture, among other things.

    Tabletop Games 

  • Depending on the incarnation, Starlight Express includes hate-motivated beatings, a Serial Killer villain, Domestic Abuse, marital infidelity, a young woman singing a solo about her favorite sexual experience, a retired prostitute, a character who maintains an equal-opportunity harem, an ocean's worth of sexual innuendo in general, and references to smoking, alcohol, and drugs. The show manages to get away with all these elements because the characters are anthropomorphic toy trains. The Las Vegas version of the musical, which featured the main female characters in showgirl costumes, actually wasn't intended for kids, but attracted family audiences regardless.
  • "Junior" versions of musicals tend to skirt the edge of this; in addition to altering scores to match children's vocals and generally shortening them/cutting down on the number of songs to require less endurance, junior versions where the original isn't appropriate for children will often edit out some of the most objectionable. For example, the junior version of Legally Blonde cuts out many of the sexual references of the original, while the junior version of Once On This Island omits Ti Moune's suicide. Some people accept this, while others are skeptical or believe that the alterations don't go far enough.

    Theme Parks 
  • BonBon-Land in Holme Olstrup, Denmark is supposed to be an average children's theme park, with roller coasters, water rides, and Funny Animals. However, a majority of it is based on extreme Toilet Humour that sometimes cross into Vulgar Humor territory, such as sculptures of a cow exposing her big bare breasts and a seagull taking a dump into an alligator's mouth.
  • In the 2011 Dance-Off With the Star Wars Stars, which is for children, Darth Vader performs C. Lo Green's "F**k You!" (or at least the radio edit) during the freestyle half of the show.

  • For years Barbie has been accused of this (not to mention Bratz), and we'll just leave it at that.
  • Buzz Lightyear sippycup — so that's what "To infinity, AND BEYOND!" really means...
  • Speaking of Mike Mozart, there's this Dora the Explorer-licenced AquaPet. It's rather...interestingly shaped
  • G.I. Joe as a whole gets this treatment, actually. Because it happened in the comics, there are those older viewers/readers who think that every TV show and movie—past, present, future, and otherwise—should use real bullets instead of (the Hasbro-mandated) lasers, and that there should be more onscreen deaths simply because of the military nature of the concept and toyline (which goes all the way back to the 1960s or 70s; i.e., before the "Real American Hero" era). Aside from the aforementioned Resolute, the closest the fans got to a version of Joe they wanted was probably the live-action movie series.
  • For a short period of time, there were vibrating Harry Potter broomsticks in toy stores. Which were enjoyed fondly by... well... all ages, until it was brought to the companies attention that not everyone was riding the broom pretending to play Quidditch...
  • LEGO:
  • While not a big deal back in the 1960s when they were made, post-modernism pretty much guarantees that these bad boys won't be seeing a revival: Meet the Ding-a-Lings!
  • Transformers scribe Simon Furman complained about this trope in regards to the dark Beast Machines.
    • It should be noted just how much of Simon Furman's work fits into this category. When the writer of the bloodbath the Marvel Generation 2 comics became calls something too dark, you know you've taken Darker and Edgier Up to Eleven.
    • Furman was specifically concerned about the "For Kids" part of this trope. He was very much about darker, more fatal Transformers stories, but he was explicitly writing with an older audience in mind than the cartoon series are marketed towards.
    • It's a bit understandable, though, if you look at the premise devoid of context: Two factions of a race of alien war machines come to Earth, their war has gone on so long that battling for the resources our planet can give them to continue the war effort is more important than the war itself. The weakest of them has enough power to slaughter dozens of human soldiers and come away with nothing more than a badly-scratched paint job. At best, their feelings towards us are paternalistic, and they look down with a combination of pity and admiration on those of our species who see it as their sworn duty to defend us from them. At worst, they find us repulsive and enjoy slaughtering us when they have a chance. It sure doesn't sound like the backstory of a kids' franchise. . . yet that's exactly what it is.
  • Enter the cute and funny doll for kids, Baby Laugh A-Lot. And if that doesn't give your kids nightmares, the doll on a low battery can fix that. More generally, talking dolls tend to be creepier than their creators probably intended, especially when their batteries run down.
  • The 1980s and 90s were simpler times with much more lax restrictions on what was considered "Child-friendly." To that end, Aliens, Predator, and RoboCop got toylines. You know, the shows with, respectively, face-raping alien scorpions, an evil alien safari hunter who skins people alive, and a man being shot 57 times while he screams in agony on-camera. Totally kid-friendly and garunteed not to give little Timmy and Tina nightmares.

    Visual Novels 

  • Word of God has it that Assigned Male is aimed at kids. There's enough talk about genitalia to make any age uncomfortable, sex and politics are discussed, and characters swear in plain sight. All of this is simply because those things are part of life and make sense in context, but it's still a bit odd.
  • The creator of Liltoon once had an on-site notice stating that his comic is suitable for readers aged 10 and up, but the "Flushing the Soul" arc seems to belie that.
  • Schlock Mercenary: In-universe with the Schlock Mercenary cartoon. It's marketed at kids—complete with toys and coloring books—but is still based on the violent exploits of mercenaries.
    Tagon: For as tiny as they made me look, I sure bleed a lot.
    Brad: I thought we sold the story rights to a family channel.
  • Sonichu is ostensibly intended to be a children's comic, aimed for kids between the ages of 7 and 14...but that certainly doesn't stop its author from inserting scenes of bloody, brutal violence (up to and including a scene of a young girl mutilating a defenseless criminal with a pair of giant drills) and (supposedly) titillating sex (with an entire chapter dedicated to showing off the main characters' sexual anatomy). Needless to say, no children even read the comic in the first place.
  • The original Sonic the Comic was perfectly kid-friendly. The unofficial continuation Sonic the Comic – Online! is mostly on the same level, however, one arc is infamously dark. Stuck in the past with no modern technology, Tekno starts to have a mental breakdown. It ends with beating a villain to death. The fan outrage was very loud due to considering it overly dark and out of character. Eventually they retconned that Set survived the injuries, but that doesn't lessen the tone by much.
  • Draconia Chronicles has an In-Universe example, wherein a character watches an episode of the local My Little Phony with her girlfriend and her girlfriends kids. The episode ends with the villain getting beaten to death onscreen, to which she muses "Isn't this a little violent for a kids show?" She is promptly shooshed by the kids.

    Web Original 
  • Some of the Accidental Nightmare Fuel-overdosed family movies featured in The Cinema Snob lead him to question such an assumption. Examples include Red Riding Hood and The Monsters and Fun in Balloon Land (the latter in particular was described as "something a pedophile would film with captive children").
  • This trope is discussed in the Cracked articles 10 Great Books For (Traumatising) Children and 8 Weirdly Sexual Products You Won't Believe Are for Kids.
  • Doctor Steel's whole concept for "The Dr. Steel Show" was that of a kid's show that was just a little bit... warped. He also had a song, supposedly for a proposed kid's show, called "Smokey the Kid-Loving Trout" (graphic for this song on his website showed a stinking hobo-like anthropomorphic trout, complete with stogie, walking with children).
  • Baby! Love Your Body is a (thankfully defunct) Internet series that is supposedly marketed towards children, particularly prepubescent children. The entire first episode is incredibly creepy, first starting off with the main characters listing a whole bunch of words used to describe female genitalia, including explicit words like pussy and cunt. Worst of all, they try to pass off those words as innocent. It gets even worse when the other characters are revealed, which are crossdressing men who are dressed up as vaginas, and flamboyantly describe the properties of a female vagina. The ending of the episode can only be described as a nightmarish LSD trip as one of the characters enters the vagina. Fortunately, it has not gone viral, nor has it received anything but negative feedback from those that have seen it, thus pulling the plug on future episodes being made.
  • Many English-speaking commenters have this reaction whenever Lauri, host of the Hydraulic Press Channel, mentions cutting out certain types of content and posting it to his alternate Beyond the Press channel instead, believing it to be too intense for all of the young children who watch his main HPC channel. He's taken requests, almost all of which have come from children under the age of five, for end-of-episode clay animals, despite the fact that he swears up a storm in most videos. One wonders if the parents of those young children just tell them he's actually speaking Finnish whenever he swears.
  • Kingdom Smarts: The Kingdom Hearts franchise's place in this trope is lampshaded by Jake with increasing frequency as a game series where you visit Disney worlds and go on adventures with Disney characters becomes increasingly dark and involves multiple existential crises. By the end of the episodes focused on Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, where events spiral into a Downer Ending, Jake declares that these are games marketed for children and shouldn't be so sad.
  • The Local 58 installment “Show for Children.” It’s a cartoon in a style reminiscent of Max Fleischer (with Cadavre from Broodhollow)... until two-thirds of the way through, then it crosses the Uncanny Valley big time, with the music disappearing and and Cadavre committing suicide by looking at the sinister and realistic-looking moon. Followed by a Freeze-Frame Bonus of TV station slide image of a clown statue... turning its eyes toward the viewer. Of note, Kris Straub (who created both Local 58 and Broodhollow) put in the description of the online postings, “Not for children.”
  • Neopets is a rather weird example in itself. By the mid-2000s, when the site's popularity was at its peak, it was clearly aimed primarily at young children; however, when the site first started out, it was mostly used by college/university students. Various remnants of material from that time (such as the Ski-Lodge Mystery plot) stuck around, waiting to be prime scariness for any children who happened to stumble across them. Nowadays, the kids who used the site during its heyday have grown up and many have returned out of nostalgia, while the number of younger users has decreased significantly note , causing another shift back to an older audience - while the site remains very similar to how it was when its audience skewed younger, complete with infamously overactive profanity filters and highly restrictive forum rules banning people from mentioning other websites and "controversial topics", even when those topics are relevant note . The current fanbase frequently requests the addition of a section of the Neoboards for older users, with less restrictive rules.
  • Whenever he sees something that isn't kid-friendly, The Nostalgia Critic says, "You know, for kids!" This joke has been phased out and replaced with freeze-framing during a particularly disturbing scene and adding the caption "A Family Picture!"
  • Oliver Harper's Retrospectives and Reviews: During his Return of the Jedi review, he points out how lenient the UK rating board was at first to the original Star Wars films, giving them all U (Universal) ratings despite the violence and blood.
  • Life in the Bay is an in-universe cartoon in We Are Our Adventuring Avatars which features plenty of torture, and some of it cannot be described directly. It has an in-universe rating of Y-5.
  • The Web series, Pencilmation has quite a few moment of adult humor.
  • This is so prominent on Tumblr that it's become a running joke that people will overanalyze any given children's media in an attempt to make it seem more "adult-friendly".
  • Comes up In-Universe in the Thrilling Adventure Hour Beyond Belief episode "Scream a Little Scream." Sadie Doyle refers to children's' books written by one of the characters in the episode, which include life or death candy trials and a boy who was "french fried from the inside," prompting her husband Frank to ask if these books were really for children.
  • In-Universe example in SuperMarioLogan: Bowser Junior's favorite show, "Doofy the Dragon", is aimed at children, but contains jokes where Doofy tries to kill himself with knives and guns and one episode involved him lighting himself on fire. Chef Pee-Pee thinks the show is a bad influence on him for these reasons and discourages Bowser Junior from doing anything he's seen on the show.
  • The infamous YouTube Kids Channels, AKA Elsagate, starring characters from children's favorite TV shows and movies and attempting to pass off as "educational" videos for young children. Aside from being No Budget bootlegs and more surreal than a Crack Fic, some go overboard on the content and throw in doses of Vulgar Humor, Family-Unfriendly Violence, and Nightmare Fuel that should be enough to turn this trope Up to Eleven.
    • DaddyOFive and Toy Freaks are much worse examples. Both channels had videos of real children in disturbing situations and being abused, yet were targeted to children. Fortunately, they have since shut down thanks to the Elsagate controversy drawing attention to such content.
    • Another thing that happens on these kids' YouTube channels is that the algorithm will sometimes mix up characters from cartoons aimed at kids and ones aimed at adults. For instance, there are Finger Family videos featuring Bojack Horseman and Family Guy characters playing the roles of the fingers, and there was a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Wrong Heads video that was a Crossover with Rick and Morty.
    • The YouTube channel Bedtime Story has animated versions of fairy-tales for kids. Despite what you'd think by the cartoony animation and voice acting, there isn't much Disneyfication. For example the adaptation of Donkeyskin still includes the king trying to marry his daughter.
  • This is very likely to come up when How Did This Get Made? reviews a kids' movie and contains scenes that one would not expect in a kids' film. For example, noting scenes like a near rape or the electric chair from Ernest Goes To Jail, or the fact that the antagonists of Top Dog are not only white supremacists, but make a racist "wetback" joke in the early portions of the movie that went over the hosts' heads, never mind a child's.
  • RWBY was described by many people of Rooster Teeth as something made by their company that they could watch with their kids, though it was still primarily aimed at adults. As Gray Haddock wrote, an audience of children soon caught with the show, so he felt the need to warn the next episode was a Gut Punch marking things would get too mature (namely, a darker plotline and a Downer Ending featuring a broken leg; for the rest of the season, the villains become meaner and accomplish a lot while the good guys are maimed, traumatized or downright killed).
  • Bogleech is, for the most part, a perfectly appropriate science education web site for general audiences. But its occasional disturbing images make it stand out from most works aimed at children; it's certainly no Brain POP.
  • In-Universe with Candle Cove. The show was a pirate adventure with a very creepy bad guy (a skeleton wearing clothes fashioned from flayed skin). It supposedly ended on everyone screaming their heads off in pants-destroying terror, villain included

  • This al-Qaeda jihadist film, supposedly.
  • Bubblegum/candy cigarettes — and also, licorice pipes, chocolate cigars, candy cigarettes, and the infamous "Hippy Sippy". Aside from the last item, these are still sold today (although often with bowdlerised names like "candy sticks"). Even a few of the most ardent anti-smokers still feel a little pang of nostalgia for these and feel kind of torn at the idea of taking them off the market.
  • Warhammer 40,000 is an interesting cross-cultural example. In the United States, the game is very much considered 18's only and most players are college students and adults. So many of these American hobbyists are completely shocked when they find out that in Warhammer 40000's home country of the United Kingdom, the game is largely marketed at pre-teens and has long been thought of as a game for posh schoolchildren. In fact, a recent announcement for a series of children's books based on the setting was met with derision among American fans. In continental Europe and Russia, the game is marketed equally to both groups.

A family picture!

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