Worlds Run by Children
June 12, 2018 8:29 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for scenarios where the children have a lot of agency. I remember encountering this in some books I read as a kid: Pippi Langstrum, for example - except she had money and magic powers, and seemed to be an exception, rather, than the rule in her universe. I am blanking on more collective situations, and also probably there's something seminal I'm missing. Can you help me think of worlds in which kids actually govern, or enjoy a lot of agency? Liminal situations, like Lord of the Flies or such, ie situations unfolding under some sort of "plausible" circumstances like a group of kids abandoned or lost by the adult chaperones, are OK but I'm more interested in entire societies being run by kids, as a structural element, and, even better, ones containing submitting adults.
posted by redpajamas to Media & Arts (40 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The Boxcar Children.
The Famous Five.
posted by ethical_caligula at 8:36 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Books only?

There was that "reality" TV show, Kid Nation. Its TV Tropes page has some choice links:

- Absurdly Powerful Student Council
- A Child Shall Lead Them
- Free Range Children
- There Are No Adults
posted by waninggibbon at 8:41 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Girl Who Owned A City
posted by corb at 8:51 PM on June 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

corb just beat me to it!

The Girl Who Owned a City, by O.T. Nelson. Everyone over the age of 12 gets sick and dies.
posted by mogget at 8:52 PM on June 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

The simpsons where bart buys the warehouse for $1.

Julie of the wolves.
posted by mai at 8:53 PM on June 12, 2018

Summerhill School

(Edited: I can't tell from your question whether you are only interested in fictional scenarios. Summerhill School is an actual place.)
posted by aws17576 at 8:54 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Would Children of the Corn count?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:55 PM on June 12, 2018

The kids in the Chronicles of Narnia were kings and queens there.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 9:02 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Where the Wild Things Are.
posted by Melismata at 9:09 PM on June 12, 2018

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham which was the basis for the movie Children of the Damned.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 9:39 PM on June 12, 2018

The Skinjacker Trilogy by Neal Shusterman. Some children, none older than 15 and mostly a lot younger, have failed to make it all the way to the proper afterlife and live in their own shadow world. There are no adults whatsoever in the first book, which is the only one that I've read.
posted by diamondsky at 9:53 PM on June 12, 2018

Ozma is the child ruler of Oz in L. Frank Baums' Ozma of Oz, I dont know that there are any other children in the government or ruling anything so maybe not what you're looking for.

Maybe the Lost Boys in Peter Pan?
posted by WalkerWestridge at 10:04 PM on June 12, 2018

Isn't that Children of the Corn? I don't know for sure, as I'm too chicken to watch it...
posted by Toddles at 10:25 PM on June 12, 2018

If games count, the town of Little Lamplight in Fallout 3 is populated and run entirely by children.
posted by all the light we cannot see at 10:33 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Baby Island
posted by belladonna at 11:01 PM on June 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Star Trek TOS Miri
posted by Gotanda at 11:51 PM on June 12, 2018

The Borribles! get the reissued ones. Brilliant vicious books about a world run and lived by child runaways on the shadows of 'the real world'.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 11:55 PM on June 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

Check out the Teenage Wasteland page on TV Tropes!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:24 AM on June 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman is a post-apocalyptic novel set in the U.S. after an epidemic that kills everyone around the age of 16. It features multiple types of societies run by children.
posted by tofu_crouton at 4:28 AM on June 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Dennis Potter's Blue Remembered Hills
posted by Morpeth at 5:07 AM on June 13, 2018

Wasn’t there a South Park episode along those lines?
posted by mccxxiii at 5:19 AM on June 13, 2018

For certain values of "kid" and "govern" the original novel for Logan's Run might count, as no one older than 21 was allowed to live. Ultimately the society was run by computer, but the characters had plenty of agency.
posted by radwolf76 at 5:42 AM on June 13, 2018

The original Survivors 1975-77: episode 20 - A Little Learning - [youtube]. The children start about 3 minutes in lest you start at the beiginning and think you've got Emmerdale Farm! Has a community run by a 13 year old boy, it also explores the level of playful brutality that might arise in a post global pandemic situation.

While you'e about it watch the first episode; by episode 20 the whole thing was running out of steam and getting a bit weird.
posted by unearthed at 6:25 AM on June 13, 2018

The Pokemon universe counts, I think!
posted by randomnity at 6:55 AM on June 13, 2018

Seconding the reality show Kid Nation - it was a really compelling watch because of just how much they let the kids be in charge - for good and bad.
posted by Mchelly at 7:58 AM on June 13, 2018

The Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution in China is an example of a historical period where children were given lots of agency to do horrible things.
posted by msittig at 8:37 AM on June 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

The 100, both the TV show and the books, especially the first season
posted by wowenthusiast at 8:48 AM on June 13, 2018

OK, you guys are awesome. To clarify the remit: no, not just books - worlds in any media will do, and YES real life examples are more than welcome - I just figured something like this would properly only exist as fiction. I did consider child soldiers in Africa for example, but that to me seems a bit more like, say, factories full of children, ie situations where children regularly do things we associate with being older but in fact are basically victims of adult exploitation.
posted by redpajamas at 9:34 AM on June 13, 2018

This might be what you're looking for, a real-life example (experiment perhaps is one way to call it) as depicted in Allan King's Come On Children.
posted by Ashwagandha at 12:48 PM on June 13, 2018

I haven't read it yet, but Half Way Home is described thus: "Less than sixty kids awaken on a distant planet. The colony ship they arrived on is aflame. The rest of their contingent is dead. They've only received half their training, and they are being asked to conquer an entire planet."

(they were meant to awaken as vat-grown adults, but something went wrong and they're vat grown adolescents, instead)
posted by BungaDunga at 2:03 PM on June 13, 2018

There was a tv series that ran in New Zealand from 1999-2003: The Tribe. A virus wipes out all of the adults and the kids all band together in different tribes to make sense of their new world and solve problems like getting food and water and not getting the virus themselves when they get older. Very much a teen soap opera, but it seems to be exactly what you are looking for - the tribes gather for meetings and the teens struggle for leadership and there's a cult with a fanatic leader.

Here is the link to the show's official YouTube with all the episodes.
posted by NoraCharles at 4:34 PM on June 13, 2018

Ooops! I didn't read the question at all.

Also, The Girl Who Owned a City
posted by bendy at 10:13 PM on June 13, 2018

One of the stories in 'My Brother Louis Measures Worms' by Barbara Robinson is about an eight-year-old boy who casually borrows the family car to run errands. It's a great story, because there's no real drama, he's a quiet kid who never gets into trouble so he can make his own decisions and his family doesn't notice for a long time.
You said you were interested in real-life examples. When my daughter was twelve she and a friend decided to take two sailboards they found by the garbage and float down the local river. She fell off and sliced her foot open. Here in Canada there's often a lengthy wait for emergency attention, so I called a friend who's an industrial doctor and asked if we could come over and get her stitched up. When that was over - and it mostly involved duct tape because he's fairly unconventional and also doesn't keep medical supplies at home - he said, "I've been meaning to talk to you. I'd like to hire your daughter."
I asked, "What for?"
"My regular receptionist has gone on holiday and I need a replacement for a month. I much prefer to hire children because they're intelligent and pay attention."
I asked about the other receptionist. He was a twelve-year-old boy. I said I was fine with this, and our daughter went to his office every day and made appointments and organized things, and after the first day assisted with minor surgical procedures. She'd come home and say to her mother, "I've done the most disgusting thing I'll ever do." But the next day she'd help with something that topped that.
After a month the other kid came back and she had to retire.
(As I read this back it sounds like nonsense, but it's true.)
I find this sort of thing fascinating because - in my experience - children are, by the time they're nine or ten, probably as intelligent as they're going to get, and when they decide to do something they put all their energy into it.
I'm working on my own book on this theme - a group of children get hold of a device that'll lift you into space, but only if you weigh less than a hundred pounds. They decide to set up their own space program before the adults can catch up.
Thanks for a really good question.
posted by AugustusCrunch at 11:52 PM on June 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Swallows and Amazons is an extended series in which kids mess about in boats, mostly entirely on their own. It begins upon the receipt of a telegram from the kids' absent father: "BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WON'T DROWN" which, I think, sets the tone.
posted by BungaDunga at 5:45 AM on June 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Homeward Bounders by Dianna Wynne Jones has elements of this, and is a great book besides.

I also second The Borribles.
posted by OmieWise at 10:57 AM on June 14, 2018

The TV Tropes page I linked earlier is really the motherlode for this kind of thing. I'm not sure if it's on there, but there was an episode of Sliders where they jumped to a version of Earth ruled by teens and adults were second-class citizens. Howard Stern had become president and that somehow led to the kids taking over. It was pretty bad.

(Also, can't resist the obvious joke about our current toddler-in-chief.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:32 PM on June 14, 2018

There was the Canadian tv show The Odyssey, about a boy who is in a coma and imagines a place ruled by children who have never even heard of adults.
posted by synecdoche at 4:38 PM on June 14, 2018

In Liu Cixin's first published novel, The Supernova Era 超新星纪元 (2003), everyone over the age of 12 is affected by radiation from a supernova that leaves them with less than a year to live. World leaders implement crash courses to give the oldest children as much training as they can in all the functions of society; once in charge, the children tire of their responsibilities and begin to question whether adult institutions are truly necessary. The book follows a group of Chinese schoolchildren placed in the central leadership, their classmates in various military and civilian jobs, and their counterparts in other countries. The English version will be out sometime in 2019 (and there's apparently a movie coming in 2020).
posted by zhwj at 7:14 PM on June 14, 2018

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