Social Question

wundayatta's avatar

How much do you value innocence in children?

Asked by wundayatta (58377 points ) August 5th, 2009

We’ve been discussing issues related to sex and children in a few questions recently, and a lot of people talk about innocence as if it is a valuable thing. It seems like some people have this idea that children should be protected from exposure to some things as long as possible. I believe this is because they think that an ideal childhood is supposed to be happy and blissful and carefree, and that if you are exposed to certain things, you can not have that childhood.

I would like to know what kinds of things you think children should not be exposed to. I’d like to know why you value innocence, and how limiting exposure to certain things helps the child. I would like to know what people think happens when children (or others) lose their innocence?

It seems like we look down on innocence or naivety in adults. We think they will get in trouble because of what they don’t know. Yet we admire innocence in children, because… what? It is a sign of the ability of the parents to protect the children?

The only way out of innocence is education. The more we know, the better we can cope with the world, as adults (do you disagree?) If we delay teaching children various things, does this delay their learning when they need to know? Do they need to know before parents think they need to know? How do you know when to teach children about a thing you want to protect them from when you want them to be innocent?

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46 Answers

Avinite's avatar

Innocence is just a particularly cute brand of ignorance.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I think I don’t want them exposed too early on to how cruel people are to others – they will have a lifetime of understanding and learning that and I’d like them to, if possible, think that everyone is good – I’d like this, yes, but I find myself teaching more and more about reality, obviously, as I answer all the questions that come up, I just don’t always have the answers I’d like but I simply can’t lie to them

mattbrowne's avatar

Very much so. Therefore it’s important they watch little tv when the are little.

Bri_L's avatar

There is a limit as to what they can learn and also cope with.

We can educate a 6 year old as to the dangers of home invasions and being mugged and strangers breaking into the house but that is absolutely uneccessary and unwarranted. They can’t handle it emotionally and there are plenty of ways to prevent that from realistically being an issue until they can cope with it.

I don’t believe you should “educate” any child in a way that forces them to age prematurely.

erniefernandez's avatar

Children should be exposed to things in as far as they can understand and comprehend them. Stork stories are not productive; just tell them a man and a woman decide they want a baby so they have one. Add details as they get older.

As a child grows, it is your job to (A) Provide all the stimulation you would want, like games and affections and whatnot and (B) Ensure your child grows up to be a happy, effective adult.

“Innocence” is not something a child has from the beginning as a general rule. It’s a conditional thing, as with adults. “Oh, he’s innocent of that crime… oh, she’s very innocent in that regard.”

Children are not sacred. They’re little people and we have a responsibility to them.

filmfann's avatar

Children need to be allowed to be children. Burdoning them with adult issues just cuts that time short, and they need that time to become stable adults.
I really don’t understand why this needs to be debated.

wundayatta's avatar

@filmfann It doesn’t need to be debated, of course. However, since there are differing opinions about this, I think it is interesting to discuss it. Also, I generally like to question truisms. Sometimes they don’t hold up upon examination. You are free to visit other questions and ignore this one from now on.

ubersiren's avatar

I think a child’s innocence fades in its own time. There’s a natural course with which it will unfold, and I think the best thing to do as an adult is to just be there to answer questions. I don’t think intervention is always necessary. Of course if you see your child wearing promiscuous clothes at an age that it’s inappropriate to you, you may have to ask some questions. In general, I don’t think we need to shield our kids from much of anything. If we’re bringing them up in a nurturing environment, then the world will present itself as nature intended. Accidents happen, but we’ll deal with them as they occur.

There are ways to provide children with survival skills and make things less shocking to them without showing them porn and the Saw series. Ex: You can tell your 9 year old little girl to carry a whistle and mace (if you believe it’s necessary) because there are people out there who could hurt her. BUT, I don’t think we need to say, “Hey, Susie, there are creeps out there who want to rape your guts out and cut off your limbs.”

To answer your question, I think I value innocence as much as it exists in a child. If it is gone, then it’s gone. It had it’s run, but now it’s time to either deal with the circumstances if it was taken too soon, or just to simply treat the kid as more grown up as nature demands it.

Many adults want children to hang on to their innocence as long as possible because they look back fondly on those times of less complication and few worries. Parents don’t want their kids to suffer as they have and carry the burdens they’ve carried.

Quagmire's avatar

If you try to “teach” the innocent child the ways of the world while they are too young to fully comprehend, then you WON’T make them more worldly – you’ll make them more SCARED. Why do that?

Judi's avatar

I had a friend (emphasis in had) who wouldn’t let her children play with mine because she didn’t want to spoil their innocence.
Funny thing is, when her mother died she went wacko and started hanging out with convicts, exposing her children to drug addicts and pedophiles

Quagmire's avatar

Maybe she lied about the reason?

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

@daloon, there is an interesting book on this controversial subject that I once read called “Harmful to Minors” by Judith Levine. It was quite enlightening on the concept of protecting children from the perils of sex and I read it mostly because it was panned harshly by the conservative press. I like to read things that other people claim is dangerous, simply because I like to make up my own mind about things, rather than be led along like a sheep.

CMaz's avatar

What is so beautiful about the innocence of a child?
Their lack of life experience, that lack cynicism.

Everything is fresh and new and full of possibilities. Ahhh, I so miss those days.

As we get older and “wiser”, we spend a great deal of our time evaluating and sizing up situations and people. “Just go for it” becomes a very complex process.

ShanEnri's avatar

Innocence in children is priceless. Don’t you look back to your childhood and wish you could return to a certain time? It’s the carefree, worry-less lifestyle, that as adults, we wish we could recapture. When a child looses their innocence it’s replaced with worry, fear, and distrust.

zephyr826's avatar

Innocence is a good thing, but naivete isn’t. I hope that my children (though currently hypthetical) are not exposed to the dangers of this world as long as possible, but I do believe that they should know they exist. There are ways to inform children about the horrors that are possible without creating depraved cynical 5-year-olds. Any kid who’s ever heard a fairy tale understands the concept of good and evil; we don’t give them enough credit, and then we set them up for a dangerous adolescence.

I know I don’t have kids yet, but I do see 100 of them every day, so I know a little about the loss of innocence.

Bri_L's avatar

@erniefernandez – While I agree with much of what you wrote, I think your a bit off with ”“Innocence” is not something a child has from the beginning as a general rule.”

They are born innocent. They didn’t ask for it. They didn’t choose their parents, their environment, how they are raised, the tools both mentally or emotionally that they are given to deal with the world they are brought up in or exposed to. There is absolutely nothing about the situation that is realistically under their control for a very long time.

Judi's avatar

@Quagmire, I just realized that I didn’t mention that it was after my husbands suacide.

Bri_L's avatar

@Judi – I am sorry about your husband.

Judi's avatar

It was 20 years ago. That one friends reaction blew me away. Most people were very caring.

Harp's avatar

This “innocence” issue has a couple of different sides to it, neither of which is truly about innocence, as I see it. First we want our kids to feel secure, because we believe that growing up with a sense of stability and security produces healthier, happier adults. So while parents may be aware of the horrors that the world contains, they want to shield their children from that knowledge as much as possible while the child is totally dependent on them for protection. The idea seems to be that the world’s horrors should be revealed gradually in preparation for the child’s independence.

The second aspect is that, in general, we want children to develop a firm grounding in what our culture considers normative behavior before exposing them to alternative behaviors. On the one hand, we talk about the innocence of children, but at the same time we understand that children can easily veer off into socially unaccepted behaviors. They can just as readily be sadistic, selfish hedonists as sweet, gentle angels. We adults secretly fear their lack of inhibitions, because we know that inhibition is expected of members of society. So, parents try to inculcate into their children a solid sense of what’s accepted and expected by immersing them exclusively in a “normal” environment. The hope is that once the child is exposed to “abnormal” behaviors, the child will reject them as alien.

Bri_L's avatar

@Harp – very good points. I believe there is a difference between “birth innocence” and “parental innocence”. The latter being the “oh he’s just working out his child like aggression on your dog and antique china.” kind.

Zendo's avatar

I never try to dissuade them from believing in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

DominicX's avatar

@mattbrowne

I don’t really see how Winnie the Pooh is corrupting, but whatever…

I do think it is important. I don’t necessarily think that people should go to unreasonable lengths to protect “innocence” or not let their child go outside or do anything, but I don’t see the benefit of introducing young children to violence, sex, drugs, etc. They have their whole adult life to deal with those things. At least give them some time when they don’t have to deal with it. I feel like I was relatively “innocent” for a good while and I didn’t see any negativity that resulted from that. (Being a super late bloomer helped too. :P) And I agree with @zephyr826 that most children will know the existence of “good” and “bad” and what not, otherwise they wouldn’t know right from wrong.

tinyfaery's avatar

I think it’s their so called innocence that annoys me. One person’s innocence is another’s persons irrational, little animals.

AstroChuck's avatar

Innocence? Hah!
Anyone who thinks children are innocent has never had any.

tinyfaery's avatar

And I’ve never had any children, and know that they are not innocent.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@AstroChuck @tinyfaery
their worldview is certainly smaller than yours and mine
they are not perfect angels, no, they have tantrums and notice more than people think
but they simply have no knowledge of certain things, concepts, at all

tinyfaery's avatar

That’s why I say they are irrational, little animals.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@tinyfaery so are we, so are we
of course little doesn’t apply to me
but hey, they’re not always irrational
my toddler is pretty rational when he wants to be

cak's avatar

My husband and I were noticing a change in my son, recently. One that makes you realize they are growing and to some degrees, maturing. We have spent a lot of time watching movies and going to movies, this summer and boy has he enjoyed those movies. There is something fun about watching his expression while he’s watching the movie, to him, it’s still magical. He doesn’t think about green screens, sound stages and movie lots. He thinks that Optimus Prime is out there, fighting for peace.

A few days ago, he asked us some questions about Harry Potter. Then about the character in Matilda. He continued to ask more questions and then said, “So, Optimus Prime isn’t real, either. Then how do they make him look so real?” While on some level, it’s great that he’s looking beyond, there goes that little bit of innocence about something as simple as believing in a character. My son isn’t dumb, by any means – but this was just one of those little boy things to enjoy and now that stage is gone. That innocence has faded and something has replaced it, something good – a curiosity to learn how they make movies.

It’s the moment of catching lightning bugs, instead of saying, “No. It’s getting dark, bugs are biting and just eew.” It’s that kind of innocence that you should let live as long as possible, and let it progress on its own.

Bri_L's avatar

@tinyfaery – what makes them innocent is the lack of intent. When they are young 1, 2 or 3 they don’t know what they are doing and if they do do it it is the direct response of what they learned from the parent, that is to say how the parent reacted when they did throw a tantrum or screamed.

Anyone who blames or harbors ill will towards little children can’t have had them, doesn’t really understand them, sure as hell better not have them and if at all possible better stay away from them.

tinyfaery's avatar

I don’t know how you, or any parent, can perceive lack of intent. As soon as they figure out how to lie, it’s all over for you.

Bri_L's avatar

I don’t understand the first sentence I am sorry.

And when it comes to a lie, that, again, comes down to the parent, not the child. The parent has to do their job right in raising them. When you send your 4 year old to the bathroom and the come out in under 1 min. not only didn’t they wash their hands they probably didn’t wipe or flush either. You deal with it as is necessary.

I have 36 years of experience on my oldest. He has a long way to go before he fools me if he ever decides to try. And if my wife and I do my job right, when it comes to serious things, our kids won’t ever feel they have to.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@tinyfaery I know when he’s lying
he knows i know when he’s lying
i’m with @Bri_L I hope to raise children that don’t have to lie to me

wundayatta's avatar

Do we believe a child is still innocent when they act like they don’t know the difference between reality and fiction? If we were to be absolutely honest about what is fiction and what is reality, would that really change the impact of the story for the child? I don’t think so. You can know Santa Claus is not real and still believe in him. You can know that magic isn’t real and still believe that Harry Potter can commit magic. It’s called suspension of disbelief.

I never felt an urge to protect my children’s innocence with respect to Santa Claus. I never maintained that he was real when they asked. However I acted as if he is real, not because I wanted my kids to maintain innocence, but because I believe that the underlying meaning of the myth of Santa Claus is real. I mean, we provide all kinds of fairy tales to our children, and we tell them they aren’t real, and that doesn’t hurt their impact one bit. The purpose of fairy tales is their underlying meaning, which is true, even if the stories are fiction. I don’t understand the hangup about Santa Claus and when you should admit that he’s fiction to your kids. I truly believe it doesn’t make one bit of difference. It does not destroy one ounce of enjoyment of the holiday.

I place myself into the group of people who provide children the information they want when they ask about it. I don’t believe in lying or prevaricating to protect their “innocence.” They know we’re lying instantly, and the only message they get is that they shouldn’t ask about this topic or that one. It makes Dad uncomfortable, maybe even angry.

Kids are not dumb. They have plenty more avenues to acquire information than their parents. TV, older siblings, the older siblings of friends, the access to hidden information, their own experimentation, etc etc, are all places where kids get information parents can’t control. I’m pretty certain they all know much more about things than we have any idea, and I’m also sure that they conspire to protect our innocence as much as we do theirs.

My kids pretend they don’t know any swear words or never use them when they aren’t in our presence. Well, they used to pretend that. They know exactly what is inappropriate for them to see, and when they are around us, they’ll say that they don’t want to watch this because it’s inappropriate. Is there a parent with a child who hasn’t seen the child cover their eyes and say “yuck” when they see actors kiss in a movie? That’s the kids protecting our innocence. They know we want them to be uncomfortable around this stuff.

Their knowledge of this may not be something they can articulate, but our kids become supreme experts at body language. We don’t have to speak one word for them to get a whole lot of information about a subject. They know what activities we hide, because they see us stop it guiltily when they catch us. They learn really quick that they shouldn’t bring up things related to these behaviors.

I think that when they ask us about stuff, they know they are stepping into hot water. They are testing us to see how we respond. They know that something interesting is there, although they may not know what it is. If we prevaricate, then they learn we can’t be trusted on the topic. If we tell them what they want to know (and not one word more nor less), then I think we can build trusting relationships where they will come to us for everything they want to know. They won’t have to hide anything (well, in the ideal). I think this kind of training starts with how we answer the questions about Santa. Hell, it starts before that, when they begin to suspect the difference between fiction and reality, and they see we don’t even want to admit it exists.

tinyfaery's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir You are setting yourself up for trouble if you believe that. One of the first things we learn is deception.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@tinyfaery so what? yet someone still decided to love you anyway. same for children.

Bri_L's avatar

@daloon – No one said kids are dumb. They are actually capable of processing and learning more and at greater speeds naturally at the age of 1, 2, 3 and 4 than we are at our age. But that refers to certain types of information. It also doesn’t mean that they are emotionally able to process certain things as we are.

“Is there a parent with a child who hasn’t seen the child cover their eyes and say “yuck” when they see actors kiss in a movie? That’s the kids protecting our innocence. They know we want them to be uncomfortable around this stuff.” That may be true at a certain age. And as far as getting information from our body language, I don’t doubt that they do. Weather or not they correctly interpret and process that information is up for debate.

cak's avatar

@daloon – I understand suspension of disbelief, but in essence, that’s still a level of innocence that adults just really don’t have – by and large, across the board. Innocence is on many levels.

@Bri_L is correct about the body language issue.

Children, of all ages may pick up on these things, but don’t be fooled. They don’t always correctly interpret what may truly be said, once the spoken words are out. Even the bright, mature and seemingly in-touch child is apt to misinterpret a situation.

wundayatta's avatar

Since children don’t always understand what they are seeing or experiencing, that is exactly why parents need to talk to them about these things. Or, most likely, before these things happen, so they can get a grip when they experience or see the things we want them to be innocent about.

Like beggars. Poverty is something that makes many middle class folks very uncomfortable. Do you say, “don’t go near that man?” Act like he’s a piece of filth? Or do you use that as a moment to talk about opportunity and education and poverty? Of course, the next time, they’ll ask you why you don’t help him out, and that can be equally difficult to explain.

Now, perhaps, to prepare our kids for anything we hope they remain innocent about, we only need to say that they can talk to us about anything they worry about or don’t understand. In that case, I believe we have to back that up by answering their questions truthfully and un-hypocritically.

It’s weird, though, in my house. Sometimes my son will ask something and my daughter will say, before we can think up what to say, that it’s something inappropriate for him. We’ll often let it go at that. Perhaps she’s subconsciously clever enough to try to protect us from things she knows make us uncomfortable. Or perhaps, as I thought at first, she is just trying to show how much more she knows. Knowledge is power, especially between siblings.

I think these are really tough issues and that different parents clearly handle them in different ways. My bias is towards more information. Other people are more concerned about making sure kids are ready to understand something before they talk about it. I think the real issue is how we balance need to know compared to readiness to know. It’s an issue where there is a lot of variance in where different parents draw the line.

So far, in my life, I have not seen my kids harmed by getting more information. I don’t know if we provide it earlier than other parents do, because it’s not something we seem to talk about in enough detail to make comparisons. I think our approach has helped them, but then, I’m biased. I don’t know how to get at this issue in a way where comparisons have enough context to be useful.

Bri_L's avatar

It seems as if there if there may be a miscommunication in this discussion. When I speak of “innocence” I don’t mean to imply the lack of information intentional or otherwise. I am referring to their state of being before the influence of the outside world. They are pure. Then they start to test. Sure they cry. That is the only means of communication they have at the beginning.

As my kids get older we most certainly educate them as things come up. Why some one stutters, why that man has a sign asking for money, etc. But we will only explain it to the degree that they are able to handle it.

Take violent images and murder. When my six year old is ducking behind the chair during scooby doo I am not going to let him see a news report on the murdered child found in the field. That would be irresponsible as a parent as would any attempt to explain it.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

@ShanEnri I lost my innocence at age six., so if I want to return to the innocence of my youth, I’d be going back to being a toddler.

flutherother's avatar

I don’t think innocence is necessarily lost as we gain experience and knowledge. It is an inner quality. I would mention Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa as just two examples of people who retain their innocence despite what they have seen.

MonstrousPeace's avatar

I think innocence is something that should be treasured while it’s still present in children. After a certain age, it goes dormant while the kids try to be “adult”. What they don’t realize is how much we miss our innocence once we are older. It’s a sad trend in life.

wundayatta's avatar

@MonstrousPeace What is it that you miss about having lost your innocence? What is innocence to you?

MonstrousPeace's avatar

@wundayatta Innocence is not knowing about the evils in the world. I miss being able to dream without the truth of reality wiggling its way in.

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