Sometimes, in order to win arguments, people will frame their position as being uniquely in support or defense of some marginalized, vulnerable or sympathetic group.

For example, someone who doesn’t like swearing on TV might say “Swearing harms children! Think of the children!” This is a more effective argument than “I don’t like swearing!”, but has essentially the same informational content. One could make the argument “Kids like to swear, so swearing on TV, of the kind kids like to do, should be fine. Let kids be kids!”

In the discourse around trans kids playing school sports, you’ll see arguments like “If trans kids play sports, they might hurt cis kids playing sports. Think of the children!” and “If trans kids are banned from sports, it’ll hurt their social development. Think of the children!”

The refrain, “Think of the children!” serves primarily to move the discourse away from an analytical, evidence based mode of argument and into a more instinctive, emotional mode of argument.

I’ve seen similar argument tactics used in situations where certain marginalized groups, especially intersectionally marginalized groups, will be the focus of the conversation. Members of the marginalized group, and other people in the discussion, will frame their preferences as protecting or supporting members of the marginalized group, moving to supercede any considerations other than what’s best for that group, even if the connection between the preference and the marginalized group is tenuous at best.

The common thread is framing one’s arguments around protecting a group that all members of the discussion agree is in need of protection, implying that one’s preferred position is the only way to protect members of that group, and that anyone who takes a different position doesn’t care about members of that group.

Groups that are often framed as in need of protection include:

  • Children
  • Members of highly marginalized groups, especially people who are simultaneously members of several marginalized groups
  • Young women
  • Babies
  • Teenagers, especially of specific marginalized groups
  • Disabled people, especially people with impaired ability to move around
  • People who struggle with mental health

I want to clarify that it is entirely reasonable to center a conversation around people most affected by a proposal, who may well be members of a group seen as in need of protection or support. Such framing is often appropriate and done in good faith, not as a rhetorical tactic. That’s not what I’m talking about in this piece.

What I find disingenuous is taking a topic that doesn’t inherently center members of such a group, and reframing the narrative around how the proposals under discussion will affect such members.

The particularly bad use of this tactic is when such reframing is done by people who are not members of the group affected and who don’t do much to verify whether the actions that they claim will protect the group will actually do so. Instead, people often just use the group as a rhetorical device to push whatever their preference is, by claiming without much evidence that it’s the only way to protect the members of such a group.

I also want to clarify that this rhetorical tactic is by no means confined to any one discourse community. The groups framed as in need of protection often changes from community to community, but the underlying pattern is the same.

How can one effectively respond when this tactic is invoked?

Keep in mind that a “Think of the children” or any “Think of the __“-type argument is effectively a call to move to a more emotional and intuitive discourse framework. If one doesn’t want to engage in that type of discourse, taking a step back, reframing the conversation, or shifting to a different level of specificity can all be helpful. Directly engaging with the question of what is best for the group invoked is often not useful.

For instance, if someone says “Swearing on TV should be banned! Think of the children!”, it wouldn’t be very effective to say “Swearing is great! It’s critical for the realism of many shows! Children will love it!”. Instead, one could say “So, what I’m hearing is it’s important for you to know which shows have swearing, so you can select from the ones without swearing to show to your children”. This reframing implicitly removes the ability of the other party to speak for all children, instead framing them as just speaking for their own children - which is probably more accurate. This allows the discourse to proceed, rather than be derailed into an argument about who cares about children more.


The “Think of the __” rhetorical tactic is an important one to be aware of, and has the potential to derail many important conversations. Keep an eye out for it, and respond appropriately.

At the same time, don’t instinctively shun discussion of how a proposal will affect a group seen as in need of protection. Instead, consider whether the group is being discussed for reasons inherent to the topic, or more to win the argument.