Some of you may remember the series of posts I did a while ago under the collective title Dilemmas In A Zombie Apocalypse. In that series, I would set a dilemma and then ask how people would deal with it. Recently, I had a comment on one of these dilemmas pointing out that while I regularly referred to young children in them, I rarely considered where teenagers would fit in to any survival group within my scenarios.
This got me thinking, while many of us would consider younger children in need of our full protection in a zombie apocalypse, at what point would be start seeing teenagers as adults, and so people who would need to start standing on their own two feet? Similarly, if a zombie apocalypse went on for long enough, at what age would children start having to take part in group activities, such as keeping watch, fighting off zombies during an attack or heading out on foraging trips, either accompanied or on their own? What about taking part in any decision-making? When would a child start having the right to contribute to discussions about what should be done, or even have a right to participate in any votes?
Some might argue that there should be a hard age cut off, just as we do in normal society for many things like voting, driving, drinking alcohol, owning a fire arm and joining the military. But when facing life in a world ruled by the undead, what age would this be? Would you consider a thirteen year old mature enough to be on the frontline, fighting the zombie hordes? Would you be willing to trust the decision-making of the average fifteen year old when out on a foraging run? Would you fully trust a seventeen year old to have your back when you really needed it, or not to fall asleep while keeping guard late a night? Would there need to be different ages at which teenagers would start to participate in different tasks, just like we have for many things in normal life?
Others might argue that since every person is an individual, you couldn’t have a single age cut off, where you consider someone not sufficiently mature to do a task one day, but able to participate the next just because they’ve reached a specific anniversary of their birth (indeed, how would you even keep track of the days so that you could do this?). Instead, you might have to consider each young person separately, and accept each one’s participation in specific activities on his or her own merits. Certainly, there are some thirteen year olds I’ve met over the years who seemed much more grounded and trustworthy than many university-age students, although I don’t know if I’d go quite as far as trusting them with my life (then again, I’m not so sure I’d trust every adult my own age with it either!).
Of course, in all these considerations, we need to think about what the teenagers themselves feel about taking more responsibility in the face of adversity. I remember many times when I was growing up where I objected to being treated as a child when I felt like a grown up. However, with the benefit of hindsight, I can also say with absolute certainty that there were many times when my teenage decision-making skills were distinctly poor even though at the time I considered them perfectly sound. Similarly, while I’d never have admitted it to anyone, there were also times when I wanted nothing more than to be relieved of the burdens of being considered a grown up so that I could behave like a child again.
My feeling is that in a zombie apocalypse, children would be forced to grow up fast and they would be expected to contribute more to the group than we might expect even college students to do in our current world. Of course there’s an argument that some of us, especially in the west, let our children be children much too long these days, with them not really taking up adult responsibilities until well into their mid-twenties or even older (something that would be a considered a unachievable luxury by many throughout the world), but that’s another matter.
In a zombie-filled world, children would probably be expected to start taking part in things like foraging in relatively safe zones, cooking or keeping watch during the daytime from the ages of ten or eleven onwards. By the time they were thirteen or fourteen, they’d need to start taking some responsibility for their own personal safety, and by fifteen or sixteen, like it or not, most would have to be fully functional members on any survival group they are part of, and so have to share in both decision-making and unpleasant or dangerous tasks. This would be little different from how thing are in many traditional societies, even today.
However, while they’d be forced to take on these duties, we’d also need to remember that just because a zombie apocalypse would mean they’d need to grow up fast, this doesn’t mean there’s not still a part of them, deep inside, that doesn’t quite feel fully grown up, even to quite a late stage of teenage-dom (and, indeed, if my own feelings are anything to go by, well into supposed adulthood!). After all, a zombie apocalypse won’t change human biology (or at least not the parts associated with being a teenager). This means that teenagers would still need to be given the chance to be children, at least every now and then, and we couldn’t forget that while teenagers are no longer kids, as such, they’re still not quite fully fledged adults yet either. In short, we’d need to be prepared to cut them a little slack from time to time, especially when they’re trying to cope with all the stresses associated with life as a teenager on top of everything else the world (and, indeed, the zombies) might have to throw at them.
Of course, all this doesn’t just apply to life in a zombie apocalypse, and many adults could probably do with being reminded that goes for the real world, too.
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.
To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.