It’s important to protect the innocence of children because when children lose their innocence too young it does more harm than good.
Try to imagine yourself as a newborn being raised by good parents. Right now, and for a couple of months, you’re in a crib, it means the world the you, it is the world to you; it’s wonderful and roomy (and so many toys!). One day, after you’ve seriously explored that loveable crib of yours, you notice life beyond the crib, and you try your hardest to leave the crib which now looks small and confined. Your parents (thinking to themselves, “it’s time”) let you out of the crib, only after making sure that nothing around you can hurt you; they get you a bed with guard rails close to the floor, they babyproof the entire house (if they haven’t already done so), and they make sure one of them always knows where you are. You don’t really notice all of this though, because you’re now completely busy with exploring this humongous world called home; you’re crawling everywhere, exploring every nook and cranny you can reach, and you bump into things now and again that hurt but nothing too major.
Pretty soon you’re standing on your own two feet, walking, and your parents start to slowly un-babyproof the house. One day you look out of a house window and notice the yard, and you make up your mind that you have to play there, the house is too small. Your parents, seeing you’re ready for it, let you play in the yard, as long as the fence gate is closed and locked. A couple moments later (days, months, or years), the yard starts boring you and you tell your mom and dad that you want to play with the other kids, beyond the fence and gate. So your parents take you to the park and watch you as you play, and eventually they start trusting you enough to play on your own.
And things develop as so indefinitely; as your parents see and trust that you can handle more and more of the world, they open more and more of the world to you.
The crib, house, and yard mark your intellectual grasp of the world. As a newborn, when all you can handle and explore safely is your crib, your parents keep you protected and innocent of the house. When you overgrow the crib, they let you crawl anywhere you want, as long as it’s inside the house, because they know you can’t handle playing outside just yet. When you learn to walk and overgrow the house, they let you play outside, as long as the fence gate is closed. When you grow a bit bigger and bit more knowledgeable, they open the fence gate and say you can play in the neighbourhood. When you grow even bigger and more knowledgeable they hand you the keys to the car and tell you to just be back by ten. And eventually you find them helping you move out, to play, and to explore the world on your own. (Movie ratings [G, PG, PG-13, R] follow the same concept by the way.)
Now, what would have happened if you didn’t have good parents? What if, as a baby, you had no crib, were left on the floor unsupervised, the bedroom door was left open, the house’s front door was left ajar, and the fence gate was left unlocked and unshut? Did you imagine yourself happily crawling from your room, to your house, to your lawn, and onto that black thingy with straight white dashy thingys to play with those big honky colourful thingys that move sooo fast? I did. Now, as a baby, do you see or think there’s anything wrong with this? Of course not, but any sensible adult sees the danger right away because they’re knowledgeable enough to grasp the idea and consequences of babies playing in traffic.
And in my opinion, most of everything wrong with the world is due to babies playing in traffic. When it comes to work, a lot of people think they’re professionally practicing good science/business/art/law because they didn’t have good parents (teachers, mentors, etc.) who’d made sure that they only left the house when they knew how to properly walk. Richard Feynman talked a lot about how it baffled and infuriated him that people could practice science when they didn’t grasp science at a fundamental level. (He thanks his father for properly teaching him how to grasp the fundamentals by the way.) And when it comes to life, even more people think they’re practicing ‘the good life’ (living well) when they’re not because they see themselves standing beyond the gate and credit themselves positively rather than noticing that they had bad, negligent, parents who left the door wide open. (I’m one of the lucky kids. I found the door left wide open, and thanks to luck, I played in traffic for a while and lived to tell the tale, but I’m still young.)
In a way it’s both important to protect and not to protect the innocence of children. Good parents don’t try to protect the innocence of their children (indefinitely), they know innocence can’t truly be protected. But they also know that when a child loses innocence about something too early, when they’re not knowledgeable enough to fully and correctly grasp what that thing is yet, it can lead to horrible outcomes (babies playing in traffic leads to…). So they protect the innocence of their children until they don’t. As a parent who lets their child play in traffic is bad, so is the one that overshelters and stunts them by only letting them play in the crib. The key to being a good parent is knowing when it’s important to protect your child and when it’s important not to.
PS- Though I’m a proud agnostic, someone once blew my mind by asking me if the parent represented God.