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In Fallout 3, there is an infamous settlement the player has to go through called Little Lamplight. Little Lamplight is a cave town that exclusively consists of children and tweens under the age of 16. After a Little Lamplighter reaches the age of 16, they are kicked out and sent to Big Town which is a settlement that only consists of adults. All the children that are born in Big Town are sent to Little Lamplight until they are old enough to be an adult and head to Big Town.

I was considering writing my own post-apocalyptic story and was wondering, if nuclear war did break out, could this type of society actually be sustainable? It seems like a lot of work to send people back and forth between Little Lamplight and Big Town. There is also no practical reason to isolate the children and the adults of the same civilization. I also doubt that children will manage themselves well and make sure that everybody has food to eat and clean water to drink and medicine to take. Assuming some new religion or culture mandates this type of society, could this Little Lamplight-Big Town setup be feasible? Or will everything horribly collapse like Lord of the Flies?

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    $\begingroup$ so a creche with no supervision or supplies, most of the children will be dead within a year if not sooner, how would they even know when or where to send older kids. . $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 29, 2022 at 2:52
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    $\begingroup$ LL was a fun part of the game. But there is no way in hell that's working. Kids simply don't have the focus and discipline to do anything like that. They also lack any real ability to boss or manipulate adults. They won't kick the adults and they will need the adults. A 16 yo male is like a bull to a 6 yo. Basic biology. And not even half the children will see the need to kick the "adults" And once just 3 adults are kicked out. They can dominate the entire colony. Best you can have is the first generation, then it's just a normal city. $\endgroup$
    – Seallussus
    Aug 29, 2022 at 4:25
  • $\begingroup$ How long term do you want this to be? You can arrange for some kind of catastrophic event to create a village that consists of only children. They will do better at surviving than one might expect. But why would they keep up this setting once children grow into adults? $\endgroup$
    – quarague
    Aug 29, 2022 at 7:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Seallussus the example from Nepene Neps answer and feral street kids and the societies they form (social groups, gangs or what-have-you, call them what you will) all over the world would beg to differ with your beliefs about the survival capabilities of children without adult supervision .. also, they don't need to physically expel older members from their groups because they naturally gravitate away from those child groups into mainstream adult society because they want to .. the real world simply disagrees with you $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Aug 29, 2022 at 7:33
  • $\begingroup$ I think an important, missing part to answer very accurately is the conditions they live in : Are resources plentiful or scarce? How much and what kind of danger is there : sneaky radioactivity, big pointy monsters and zombies, irregular weather...? Are every new children "abandoned" with an helping gift (food, tools...) to the kid's community, and when are they abandoned? Also, how many people should there be in the kid's village : more like 5-10 or a big 50-100? $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Aug 29, 2022 at 12:49

6 Answers 6

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Probably, although they'd likely have trouble keeping anybody less than 2 or 3 years old alive.

Other than that, children are far superior to adults in memory work; and in taking orders from others, and they have very few expectations of "how life should be". In early America, 4 year olds had duties on farms requiring several hours a day of actual labor. Gathering eggs, feeding animals, pumping water, pulling weeds in giant gardens. They learned to ride horses before the first grade. Children learned to shoot, hunt and fish (successfully) at seven.

Even in the late 1800s and early 1900s, before child labor laws, children worked 12 hour days in factories, earning a living, often in dangerous jobs.

There may well be babies in the village as well, unsupervised teens are going to get pregnant and some of those babies will survive.

The modern image of how helpless children are is quite inaccurate.

If you have a well-established culture of doing the work of survival, I think children of 4 to 16 would probably survive just fine. Except of course for the things that kill all tribes, including adult tribes, like drought, earthquakes, famine (nothing to hunt, gather or fish), or rampant disease.

I'd research the historical role of children in society pre-1900, or even in the middle ages. Although I fully endorse and support the modern, non-abusive and even coddling upbringing of modern children, I am also aware that this is a recent cultural phenomenon. Life wasn't fun and games for children on the wild frontier or in primitive tribes.

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    $\begingroup$ "children of 4 to 16 would probably survive just fine" on average, for a given value of 'just fine', probably 'fewer' would survive to adulthood but not enough fewer to be an existential crisis for the species "The modern image of how helpless children are is quite inaccurate" "Although I fully endorse and support the modern, non-abusive and even coddling upbringing of modern children, I am also aware that this is a recent cultural phenomenon" ๐Ÿ‘ $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Aug 29, 2022 at 11:28
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In real life lord of the flies the children were fine.

Then, on the eighth day, they spied a miracle on the horizon. A small island, to be precise. Not a tropical paradise with waving palm trees and sandy beaches, but a hulking mass of rock, jutting up more than a thousand feet out of the ocean. These days, โ€˜Ata is considered uninhabitable. But โ€œby the time we arrived,โ€ Captain Warner wrote in his memoirs, โ€œthe boys had set up a small commune with food garden, hollowed-out tree trunks to store rainwater, a gymnasium with curious weights, a badminton court, chicken pens and a permanent fire, all from handiwork, an old knife blade and much determination.โ€ While the boys in Lord of the Flies come to blows over the fire, those in this real-life version tended their flame so it never went out, for more than a year.

The kids agreed to work in teams of two, drawing up a strict roster for garden, kitchen and guard duty. Sometimes they quarrelled, but whenever that happened they solved it by imposing a time-out. Their days began and ended with song and prayer. Kolo fashioned a makeshift guitar from a piece of driftwood, half a coconut shell and six steel wires salvaged from their wrecked boat โ€“ an instrument Peter has kept all these years โ€“ and played it to help lift their spirits. And their spirits needed lifting. All summer long it hardly rained, driving the boys frantic with thirst. They tried constructing a raft in order to leave the island, but it fell apart in the crashing surf.

Children, like adults, are mostly prosocial and fully able to work together in a crisis.

They're perfectly able to improvise, work together, and do a variety of survival activities. They can take care of their fellows and avoid chaos.

Children don't like dying, and are very capable of doing whatever is necessary for survival.

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  • $\begingroup$ Although a strong argument, I think it falls apart on two fronts. Small children and necessity. The small children will be a huge drain of time and recourses. The other is that the adult society is within reach. They have grown ups to fall back to, while the island boys didn't. This makes it easier to shirk responsibility. Still a strong argument it would work if through culture they accept it. New kids will grow up where this is normal. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Aug 29, 2022 at 7:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Trioxidane perhaps a look at street children and the group's they form might be helpful, granted that is usually associated with an urban environment but clearly much younger children both can and do forage (it's not all begging) and survive in hostile (or at least merely unfriendly) environments, it may not be pretty and mortality rates are worse than for those with adult support but it's not exactly extinction level. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Aug 29, 2022 at 8:58
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    $\begingroup$ I've done charity work with the homeless, and I can tell you that small children both try to beg from and scrounge from adults, and are very capable of taking up responsibility for their own survival while adults ignore them and refuse to help them, and adults are very capable of ignoring children and letting them face hunger and injuries while they enjoy the fruits of their wealth. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 29, 2022 at 9:02
  • $\begingroup$ Although, that real life example apparently depended on culturally inherited Tongan knowledge or something, so not a perfect fit for Britain? And some luck in location, with the volcano fruits of the slave past, etc? thespinoff.co.nz/atea/08-01-2021/… $\endgroup$
    – Malady
    Aug 29, 2022 at 16:16
  • $\begingroup$ 15-year old boys from Tonga are not 11-year old boys from England. In some cultures, 15 year olds are nearly or entirely considered adults. Yes, even small children will try to survive, but I'm not convinced the story of the 6 teenagers from Tonga is strong evidence that a group of rich urban children from a western country will be fine. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Aug 30, 2022 at 12:52
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Yes and no... Mostly no... Kinda depends...

Let's start with a stereotypical group of rural ranch/farm kids from central Montana. They've been in 4-H and Future Farmers of America for years, they've been members of the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts. Their parents annually bottle (can, store) fruits and vegetables grown in their own fairly large garden and they work with animals from rabbits and goats to cows and horses every day. They've been hunting with their parents since they were five years old. Could you drop 20-50 of these kids alone somewhere in a post-apocalyptic world and expect them to create a functioning society?

No guarantees, but probably yes.

Now let's consider a group of stereotypical city kids. They might be involved with the Boy and Girl Scouts, but the focus in that case is very, very different. They've spent a lot of time shooting hoop and playing video games. They don't raise chickens... in fact they can't (it's against city code), so the closest they've ever come to gathering food is buying it at a supermarket and with uncommon exception the closest they've come to preparing it is tearing away the cellophane and placing it in a pan on an electric stove. These kids don't go camping, they hang out at the mall. Could you drop 20-50 of these kids alone somewhere in a post-apocalyptic world and expect them to create a functioning society?

No guarantees, but probably not.

But whether or not they could, whether or not it's feasible, isn't a worldbuilding question. You're the author. If you want it to happen, it will.

I almost voted to close this question

Because it's too vague and too story-based. Is it feasible? Of course it is โ€” depending on the ages, maturity, education, and skills of the children. Too little of all of the above and survival of a society becomes unlikely. Too much and, well, they'd be controlling Big Town like a shadow government.

All of which is your job as the author to determine. Because age, maturity, education, and skills (or their lack) are also what will contribute to the challenges they face and how they overcome them (if they do). But there is one thing I need to warn you about...

Children are not small adults

Teens, for example, take insane risks not because it's cool, they're capable, and adults are foolish for thinking they can't. They do that because very simplistically, their brains have developed to the point of better understanding the greater world around them but have not developed to the point of realizing that life is fleeting. Stories that present children as small adults cater to the children, meaning they're trying to sell books to kids, not to adults who know better than to believe that an arbitrary group of children are more than capable of establishing a functioning society and solving, not just adult problems, but those problems for the adults.

How many children would know what to do if they cut themselves? Broke a bone? Suffered internal injuries? The more dramatic the damage, the less likely a child can fix the problem. All those kids I just mentioned? Even those from rural Montana? Yeah, they depend on clinics full of adults who know what to do in emergencies.

In fact, most children depend on adults to know what to do in emergencies. The younger the child, the more this is true. We praise the rare child who keeps a cool head in an emergency โ€” but in all but the rarest cases, what the child did was call 911 or another emergency services system to bring the adults to bear.

So, it depends...

Which is why I almost voted to close your question. Do you want help determining the skills necessary for such a society to exist? We can help with that!

Can one arbitrarily exist? That's storybuilding โ€” a choice you, the author, must make, because outside of fiction there simply isn't an example of an independent society of children that functions at all.

Before you compare my answer to Nepene's (which is a good answer!) Consider the following: There were only six boys - that's not a society. They were close friends. They had strong faith, strong morals, and good discipline. They lived in a society that was much closer to today's rural societies than today's urban societies. The island they landed on had been occupied a century before, leaving them with a remarkable supply of food. And they were all older teens with no girls among them. This is really my point. Given the correct set of circumstances and skills, yes. Given an arbitrary set of skills and circumstances? No. Set that community next to an adult community... better hope the kids don't have something the adults want.

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    $\begingroup$ ๐Ÿ‘ one small niggle of sorts, your urbanites would probably survive, some of them, after a fashion, 'no guarantees' of course ๐Ÿค— early attrition rates would be steep and it wouldn't be pretty but it is more likely than not some would survive, learn and eventually reach an equilibrium on a par with your farm kids. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Aug 29, 2022 at 8:37
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    $\begingroup$ Bear Grylls did a number of Survivor Games, and the women there were pretty ineffective at forming a hierarchy to perform tasks needed for survival. This might just be because they're adults though. Teenage girls have less expectation that others will keep you alive because of gender roles. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 29, 2022 at 9:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena The problem isn't that girls can't survive. The problem is that as child age increases the complexities of mixing the sexes increases with them - especially when not mixed reasonably evenly. Once adults, that risk smooths back out again. Had the older teens been 15 months alone and mixed one girl to five boys the odds of peaceful survival would have dropped. But again, it depends heavily on the mix of skills, characteristics, and circumstances. We're generalizing something incredibly detail dependent, which is why I almost voted to close the question. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Aug 29, 2022 at 12:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena That would be meaningless. They'd all be adults who have fully developed brains, experienced social skills, and training. None of that would be reasonably relevant to feral teenagers. Considering the statistics for teenage pregnancy and teenage suicide today (which really puts the Lord of the Flies link in context), I'd be hard pressed to believe an arbitrary group of kids could create a post-apocalypse society of any durability other than dictatorship. I could be wrong, but I'd need to see on-point proof, which means kids, not adults. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Aug 29, 2022 at 22:03
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    $\begingroup$ Note that a large part of children not realising that "life is fleeting" probably comes from the way modern society shelters them and tries to hide the dangers of the world. Brain development helps, but simple experience is a big part of it too. John Farragut fought in his first naval battle at 12, and had his first command by 15. He was only somewhat exceptional for his era. Humans like to shield their children from the horrible things in the world for as long as they can, but children also learn quickly. Much younger than 12 though and the ability to plan ahead is often insufficient. $\endgroup$
    – Perkins
    Aug 30, 2022 at 1:06
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Lots of Considerations Here...

Background: I live in a rural area on a small farm. I have two children, and regularly interact with the local Amish community (meaning I have a lot of exposure to a culture that has children working on the farm as soon as they are able to walk).

Children are physically capable

Once children reach their tweens they are capable of performing nearly any job that an adult can from a physical perspective, and children younger than that are a lot more capable than you would think (I watched my daughter pick up 50lb feed bags and carry them short distances at age 8). Remember that even now our armed forces are made up of "kids" under the age of 20, and it wasn't long ago (relatively speaking) that you were considered an adult well before your 18th birthday.

With proper supervision and guidance, children are capable of performing nearly any task. Even without supervision, kids can and do find ways to survive in some pretty difficult situations... just not the type of situations that involves dumping them in some remote camp without any guidance or existing resources whatsoever. That situation requires something more valuable than physical ability - knowledge and experience.

Children Lack Knowledge

But what human children specifically lack is the knowledge and experience required for survival. We have some very basic instincts, but we aren't born knowing how to hunt the way that the wolf does, or what nuts and seeds to eat the way that a bird does. Most of our survival ability is learned behavior. If we took all of our children and, at a young age before they could be properly educated, and dropped them off in a village to fend for themselves without guidance or support, they'd likely perish unless they are able to easily scavenge resources. They simply aren't going to have the tribal knowledge on how to hunt game, which plants or berries won't kill them, or how to grow crops/raise livestock (which, contrary to modern belief, is a lot more involved than performing a bunch of obvious-but-monotonous daily chores).

Lets pretend, for a minute, that these kids do manage to find a way to meet their most basic needs of food and shelter... perhaps they live in an area with a mild climate and an abundant local food source. In that case, the odds of surviving greatly improve. The next tier of challenges becomes organization within that society. How is crime handled? What about bullies who abuse or take from others? How are community resources managed? How are new arrivals kept alive while they develop the skills necessary to contribute?

The way those questions are answered will have a huge impact on the long-term success of the community. Think of town full of littles as a tribe of neolithic humans where your oldest member is ~16 years old. That would actually be very unique in our entire history as a species, because if you factor out the child mortality, stone-aged humans actually lived to be quite old! That means much of a prehistoric tribe consisted of knowledgeable older members who were able to share knowledge with the younger ones. There is a reason that elders were revered... the knowledge they had was a valuable resource and contributed greatly to survival. In ancient times, life expectancy greatly increased after age 15. Think about that for a second... your town of littles would consist entirely of the most vulnerable part of the population. That doesn't sound like a recipe for success.

There may actually be practical reasons for your society

You mentioned that there is no practical reason for this arrangement, but I'd argue the opposite. In primitive societies humans had to migrate and settle where resources were available. What if, in your post-apocalyptic world, the areas where the most valuable resources (fresh water, fertile soil, whatever) were in areas where there were high levels of radiation or toxins... the types of things that might cause fertility issues or kill the young/weak members of a society. The children could stay somewhere safe until they were old enough to perhaps reproduce and also physically survive whatever dangerous environment they had to exist in.

This would be a lot more feasible if there was a support system in place though... Something as simple as a group of appointed elders for the Little town... a group of adults that acted as guides and teachers and a governing body. Big town would provide material support in the form of additional resources to augment what Little town was able to produce... So Little town would be mostly sustainable, and Big town would be mostly sustainable (since reproduction and child-rearing would be nearly impossible), but together they would be completely sustainable with one meeting the basic needs of physical safety and the other meeting the needs of food/water/building material/whatever.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 Yes, the social system that is established for the children is critical - definitely don't want anything like the agoge of the Spartans, which was appalling acoup.blog/2019/08/16/… $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2022 at 22:24
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It is possible, as you said within a strong cultural / religious framework. The Why of such a practice aside the how is achievable, again within a structured framework. Not many generations past. mirage at a young age of 14 or less was not uncommon. Adult responsibility expected in todays society of a man of 25 was expected of young men in the midst of adolescence.

Children at the age of three were expected to perform menial tasks, like gathering or sorting items. At the age of four I myself was steering a tractor (just keeping it in a straight line) while adults loaded hay onto the pulled trailer. At 6 I was fully driving it myself. While it could, and did cross the line into the abhorrent, child labor did not exist because it was unfeasible and inefficient. Children can and will "step up" given sufficient motivation.

So IMHO, can it work or can it fail: Yes, under what circumstances is entirely up to the OP. Though I too can see no natural logical reason that a people would expel such a valuable resource, which they certainly are.

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Unsustainable due to Population Demographics.

These children know how to live in the post-apocalypse without adult supervision. They are from a rural part of the developing world. They are self reliant by age 10. Their society can survive just fine. But is it is not sustainable.

The issue is replacing people. If everyone leaves at age 16 rather than dying at age 40 say, then there is a small window to have their own children. In order to replace the people who leave, every girl must raise two children by age 16.

Girls can get pregnant as soon as their first period, say age twelve. In the savage post apocalypse they often do. But remember we also need those children to survive. Having a child when you are not fully grown yourself leads to a risk of miscarriage, dying in childbirth, or not being able to nurse the child. And I suspect mortality rates are high among all ages.

Also consider what proportion of the "capable adults" will be out of action at any time taking care of their baby. Say a mother spends one year being pregnant or looking after a small baby and being supported by the community. That means two of the "adult" years from age 12 to 16 are spent being looked after by everyone else. 1/4 of your "adult" population is out of action at any time.

For comparison in Bigtown everyone has say 22 years from 18 to 40 of being an "adult". Nearly six times as much as Littletown. So only 1/20 of the adult population is out of action at once.

Also, ALSO consider what proportion of the population are full grown. In Littletown you are a child from 0-12 and adult from 12-16. Only a third of the people are full grown. In Bigtown you are a child from 0-18 and adult from 18-40. 55% of everybody is full grown.

One fix is to have children sent from Bigtown to Littletown, once their teeth grown in, to replenish the child population, as teenagers go the other away.

Also have strict rules about Littletowners having sex with each other. This gives then incentive to move to Bigtown. But you also need inventive for the parents to sent their children to Littletown.

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    $\begingroup$ ๐Ÿ‘Ž "The issue is replacing people. If in order to replace the people who leave, every girl must raise two children by age 16" .. You're answer seems to be predicated on the assumption that these children must replace their own population through births within their own community .. I think you've failed to understand the questions stated conditions and situation . or do you think for some peculiar reason that the adults in 'Big Town' won't continue to have children that they then send to 'Little Lamplight'? $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Aug 29, 2022 at 12:58
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    $\begingroup$ "One fix is to have children sent from Bigtown to Littletown" ๐Ÿ™„ Yes, that is exactly the stated conditions of the question, so not as you seemingly think an answer to the question. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Aug 29, 2022 at 13:04

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