The Protection of our Children needs to have Limits — desperately

(c) Randall Munroe, visit his website at

One common ‘argument’ for censorship is that “the protection of our children must have no limits“.

I absolutely disagree with that position.

Limits are necessary in any area, because behind these borders there is room for something else. Arguing that everything is permitted as long as it protects children leads to a kind of oppressive regime that treats adults like children and prevents children from becoming responsible adults.

Parents who challenge their children, trust them and successively give them more responsibility as they grow more competent (not necessarily linked to age) will not need government meddling in the form of censorship. Parents who don’t care about their children will not stop their children from bypassing those measures. Those who would need a guiding hand will be unaffected by it.

It is also not a good idea to try to hide things from children — one of the best examples are the infamous “abstinence only” programs in the USA. Children do it anyway, but without knowledge about protection against HIV/AIDS or unwanted pregnancy.

Sure, politicians and outraged parents can try to sanitize or sterilize the world, especially the virtual world. It will be a dull world, full of self-restraint never to collide with things you must not do. Full of things you must not say, not even think. The peace of a graveyard, where creativity is buried because it is too controversial. It’s easy to achieve — we can try to hide anything not suitable for minors, like China does it with political information. But this will only lead to an underground where this information is distributed (as in China). And no, the world does not becomes safer just because ‘at least ‘crime’ is illegal — yeah!’. And one would raise the question whether the goal of these censorship measures is to protect the children or the government.

Hiding controversial information behind a veil does not remove the controversy. It might lead to an illusion of social peace, but below this harmonious skin tumors are spreading — until the whole body dies. Controversies must be discussed in the open, bad ideas must be beaten publicly by good ideas, and criminal material like child pornography must be removed and the culprits must be persecuted.

We should not hide from reality, nor should it be hidden from us. We should deal openly with it — and learn from it.


P.S.: One ad hominem argument against my position would be that I do not have children and are thus not qualified to judge on this matter. I disagree, not only because it is an ad hominem argument. Judges need to be impartial, one reason why we have them (and juries) instead of judge lynch who would be cheaper and quicker. And I think that especially when it comes to ‘protection of minors’ too many positions are ‘based’ on ideology and emotional outrage — and that’s a very bad way to determine policy.


  1. I would have to agree. We underestimate kids and what they are capable of understanding. I was just having this conversation with a close friend of mine (which, in full disclosure, neither of us have children either) and we both determined that being honest with kids is probably the way to go.

    Overall, I agree. We’re doing kids a disservice by keeping them in the dark. Especially if they start asking questions, they’ll figure out some answer or another, whether it’s correct or not is up to how you respond. If you ignore them, redirect them, or give a vague (un)answer, they’re going to ask the kids on the playground and come up with some creative idea of what’s correct.

    Of course, this is one reason I feel so completely unprepared to have kids just yet (I am only 24, after all). It’s just one example of how we treat and educate kids that I’m completely unready to put into action. 🙂

  2. Hello Kaci,

    I suppose it’s very hard to keep this thought when one has kids onself. Many parents become overly protective — for understandable reasons — when they have children (and I still think they are doing them a disservice). I can only hope to keep this though when (if) I ever have children myself.

    BTW, your blog has a nice design — and given that you like some TED talks, there was a nice one by Gever Tulley about “5 dangerous things you should let your children do” that might be interesting (he hasn’t got children either — perhaps one needs to have this distance 😉 )

  3. Daniel —

    Ha! I love it! Some of his suggestions sound fun to me, so I’m sure kids would love it too (like taking apart broken appliances)!

    But you’re right, it’s easy to say all this when we don’t actually have kids of our own… 🙂

  4. I think the “taking apart broken appliances” can illustrate part of the problem. Responsible parents who want competent children that learn take responsibility for themselves would probably start with a few basic rules, like “never connect a broken appliance to the power source, especially while taking it apart”. They do not need regulations by the government about how to treat their children or what the children might or might not do. I think Tulley gave some similar rules regarding how to handle a knife. But there will always be parents who do not care (or do not know) and this way accidents happen. Then the only way seems to be to prevent all children from trying out something potentially dangerous (in a way, everything is) or the dangers seem way out of proportion (yes, accidents happen, but rarely, if you think before you do and know what you are doing). Seeking other ways to show children the basic lessons about the world around them often seem out of the question (e.g., workshops with experts).

    Hmmm, it reminds me when I gave my nephew a Swiss Army knife (an extremely useful pocket knife) for his first communion. I informed my brother about it in advance and his reaction was to confiscate the knife until “he is older”. Nevertheless that we both played around with knives way before that time (and they were knives with fixed blades) and the child was at least old enough to decide about his religious affiliation. But it’s his child, not mine, and children are different, but I think it shows a lack of trust that prevents children from becoming competent. Now I have shifted my strategy to give my brother gifts like Geek Dad by Ken Denmead. Next will probably the collected “The Amateur Scientist” experiments of the Scientific American. This way the child will have to use these tools (and do something that is not pointless) and hopefully learn something in the process (science is so cool! :-)). On the other hand, it will soon be time so see whether my nephew likes doing science — I think even worse than overprotecting children is driving them in a direction they do not want to go. If you overprotect them, they will find a way to break out and are then free to go in the direction they want. If you pressure them to do something, they will always be conflicted about not doing it and you screw up their preferences for the activities they would rather do (no point trying to make him a geek if he rather plays soccer and socialises — although this is rarely an either/or question ;-)).

  5. There are certainly ground rules (like don’t take apart working appliances, etc) that need to be established. Once you explain those rules and more importantly WHY those rules are there (this is often a critical, overlooked step), I say let ’em have at it!

    It’s so exciting to see what children grow up to enjoy! My niece and nephew are still a bit too young to have likes/dislikes, but I can’t wait to start handing them things like Swiss Army Knives (bwhahahaha)! I’m definitely going to enjoy being the ambitious Aunt who gives all the cool presents (with instruction, of course!). 🙂

    I like the idea of sending kids to a workshop, though. My sister would go to robot and science camps as a kid. She loved that stuff and learned a ton, I’m sure. (I showed less of an interest in science and more of an interest in photography and journalism, but that just meant I went to journalism workshops.)

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