All the prayers are finally answered, blessed and free of all pain
Towers of fire rise ever higher, magical flags will be unfurled
The power of song, the young are the strong
The night that children rule the world."
Somehow, the social order has gone all topsy-turvy. Instead of the old having power over the young, the young are free to do as they will, and may even have power over the old. This is pretty much inevitably portrayed as a bad thing, regardless of the state of the world today with the old having power (which of course is exactly the way it was when those who are now old were young). The young in question might attempt to build some sort of new society, or they might degenerate into complete barbarism, or there might be a conflict between the former and the latter. The most famous example is Lord of the Flies, but it's not too uncommon, since it's a useful device to explain why teenagers are going on whirlwind adventures. Teenage Wasteland settings tend to be rather dark, since they often involve children and teenagers fighting for their lives, and quite possibly doing horrible things to each other. Children Are Innocent has no place in a Teenage Wasteland — not all Teens Are Monsters, but in a Teenage Wasteland, you're likely to find at least some that are. In extreme cases, The Apunkalypse may be nigh if the youths run amok or the youths are the only ones left After the End.
There are a few ways this might come to be:
- A group of teenagers are lost, stranded, or otherwise isolated from society (e.g. Lord of the Flies).
- Adults simply do not exist any more. They are gone, either because the children have instigated a teenage revolution and enslaved/killed all the adults (e.g. Children of the Corn), or because of something that was Only Fatal to Adults (Shade's Children).
- A society where the old nominally still hold power, but groups of youths have become too powerful to be truly controlled. (e.g. A Clockwork Orange).
- A society where the young and the old coexist, but the young call the shots (e.g. Logan's Run).
This is not to be confused with There Are No Adults, though types 1 and 2 probably overlap with that. Also not A Child Shall Lead Them, in which only one youngster has authority. Depending on the structure of that society, he might be their Royal Brat.
Similar to Promotion to Parent, but on a society-wide scale. Something that is Only Fatal to Adults will pretty much always lead to a Teenage Wasteland. One of these societies at a High School might take the form of an Absurdly Powerful Student Council.
Not to be confused with Refrain from Assuming, which is about songs with titles that are different from the refrain. For once, the correct name of the song isn't "Teenage Wasteland". Also not to be confused with Anne Tyler's short story of the same name, or Jewel Staite's character's previous project in The L.A. Complex.
This is Truth in Television to a lot of extent, as many places you go to are bound to contain the youth rebelling over the old (especially the guys, though the girls aren't an unfair game either), especially if they're delinquents with no respect.
- Infinite Ryvius is basically Lord of the Flies in Space!
- Seraph of the End has this kind of environment, due to a mysterious virus that killed off everyone above a certain age. It is unclear if the teenagers and children left behind will be able to age to adulthood or if they, too, will get killed off.
- The only characters in School-Live! are teenage girls. We do see a teacher but she was bitten by zombie and killed prior to the manga. Adaptation Expansion also gives the girls a puppy as a Team Pet who, in the manga, was a One-Shot Character who was only shown in a brief flashback where it became a zombie puppy. The 2nd half of the manga does show some surviving adults however, such as some Military Soliders/Scientists who find Yuki's Balloon Letter, a Scientist who's hiding somewhere at Saint Isidore University, and up to 9 College Students at the aforementioned University (Though some of them might be just barely older then our protagonists).
- Kyoya Gaen of Future Card Buddyfight wants to turn the world into one. To that end, he tries to summon an army of monsters from Darkness Dragon World through use of the Disaster Force and an Unrealistic Black Hole to end the existing order.
- The Drifting Classroom becomes this after the school is mysteriously transported into the far future when the Earth is a Death World wasteland and the teachers all get themselves killed off within less than a day (one commits suicide, another goes insane and kills the others before dying himself), leaving the oldest characters around 12. The only exceptions are Sekyia, the milk delivery man, who becomes one of the antagonists and spends large parts of the story either locked up or delusionally insane, and the still living time-warped arm and head of the thief who broke into the school moments before the transportation happened, leaving part of him in the future and the other in the past.
- The notoriously violent British comic of The '70s, Action featured a story where few adults remained, mostly unlovable fascists, entitled Kids Rule O.K.
- The Justice League/Young Justice storyline "World Without Grown-Ups" was, as the title suggests, a world without grown-ups along with a mirror-world without kids. It served as an Eigen Plot for Captain Marvel who could shuttle between the two being a biological adult in superpowered form and a kid in his normal one.
- Notably averted in the Empath: The Luckiest Smurf novel, where an Only Fatal to Adults Plague wipes out all of the adult Smurfs except for Papa Smurf himself, setting up the situation where he becomes the sole parent figure and leader of a hundred young Smurfs, most of whom wouldn't know how to run an entire village by themselves.
- In Children of the Night, Luna transports orphaned foals into a colony far away from adult ponies. One of the ponies is shown as a happy adult in the intro, so presumably everything turned out fine.
- The film Wild Boys of the Road, made in 1933, is about homeless teenagers during the era of the Great Depression, who often have to do ugly things to survive and are treated like criminals by the police and society in general. Appropriately, it's as grim as all get out. If Lord of the Flies is the Trope Codifier, this film may very well be the Trope Maker.
- The 1972 cult film Gas-s-s-s, an industrial accident releases a poison gas that kills everyone on earth over the age of 25. In the rest of the film, the main characters have to learn to survive on their own.
- Kids or most of Larry Clark's films in general. All throughout "Kids" teenagers just hang out freely and follow every possible kick they can find, from drugs to unprotected sex, without any regard for their environment. Adults are hardly seen and the only one who tries to call them out for their bad behaviour is beaten up and presumably murdered by them.
- Subverted in Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland. "They're all wasted!"
- The 1968 film Wild In The Streets, which produced the Breakaway Pop Hit "The Shape of Things To Come", revolves around a 16-year-old pop singer being elected President via The Power of Rock, and bringing about a society where the young rule by forcing anyone over 35 into re-education camps and dosing them on LSD.
- In Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Max discovers a fertile valley where the children of plane crash survivors have been left alone while the adults went to find help. It being After the End, there was no help to be had, and the kids wound up having to raise themselves. They're actually doing fairly well, all things considered, although their limited information about the outside world has led to a rather bizarre belief system with Captain Walker, the pilot of the plane that crashed, being a messiah figure that would return for them, leading to their mistaking Max for Walker when one of the children find him in the desert near their location.
- In Children of the Corn (1984), a group of children slaughter all the adults in their town and proceed to establish a primitive tribal society which functions at the behest of a strange god called "He who walks behind the rows".
- The Warriors appears to be one of these, where the street gangs of New York (mostly teenagers and perhaps 20-somethings) openly rampage through the streets, even during the police's attempts at a crackdown. Cyrus, the "President" of the Gramercy Riffs, the largest and most powerful of these gangs, was attempting to unite the various gang factions.
- Village of the Giants: Some teenagers consume an unknown substance and grow to 30 feet tall, then take over a town.
- As mentioned above, the Stanley Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange describes a UK where youth groups are out of control and routinely perform acts of ultraviolence (the term came from this movie, in fact).
- In Summer Camp Nightmare, Camp North Pines becomes one once the teenage CITs take over, with one of them being the leader of the camp who forces everybody to obey his rules or else be subject to various types of punishment. One CIT manages to escape and get the police to rescue the children and bring them home while putting the ringleader, Franklin Reilly, under arrest.
- Lord of the Flies is the Trope Codifier. It features a bunch of kids who are stranded on a deserted island and succumb to their worst natures. They tried to live in makeshift self-made civilization but it didn't go well.
- The teen gangs in A Clockwork Orange can't be controlled by the adults.
- In the original Logan's Run, everyone is killed when they reach 21 (in an event called "Carousel"). The film version raises the age to 30, which doesn't fit this trope quite as well.
- In Gone, everyone over the age of 15 disappears in an instant.
- Diario de la Guerra del Cerdo (it was translated as "Diary of the War of the Pig"), a 1969 novel by Argentinean writer and Cervantes Prize winner Adolfo Bioy Casares. A dystopic world where old people are deemed as "useless pigs", any kind of healthcare or benefits has been removed by the government and youngster's mobs are given tacit right to kill them in the streets, forcing them to hide and live a miserable existence in the underworld. Thus, this trope; though the approach to this subject is both grim and comedic at the same time.
- Shade's Children: Only children are left, except for Shade himself, and he's... well, unusual. All other adults have disappeared. Shade treats the children in his care like soldiers, but they all trust him because he's older than them. In a world where most people don't survive beyond the age of 14, it is shown that people generally sort themselves into a hierarchy based on age, with the main character practically falling down to worship Shade when he first sees him.
- The kids in Battle Royale are isolated from adult society, but they don't have much civilization to speak of.
- In Larry Niven's A World Out of Time, most of the Earth was ruled by immortal boy-children who kept a supply of grown-ups around as breeding stock. (The immortal girl-children were wiped out by a gender war and environmental changes making their territory uninhabitable.) All new boy-children are taken from the adults and join troupes of the immortal boys; the ones that demonstrate "superior qualities" are sent back to the adults to become new breeding adults, while the rest become immortal and stay boys forever. Girls remain with the adults and grow into new breeding adults. Both the boys and girls are depicted as cruel despots, but not because of their "youth"; most were far older than the adults and had the mentalities to match. They're cruel because they're powerful, ancient immortals, and cruelty is how they alleviate their boredom.
- In the second novel in the His Dark Materials series, Lyra visits a world where a lot of the adults have been killed off by Specters, monsters that can only harm and be seen by those who have reached puberty. Much of the world is covered in abandoned cities left to gangs of spectre-orphans (until they grow up and get spectre-eaten themselves) while caravans with adults try to keep ahead of the spectres.
- Evil by Swede Jan Guilliou is set in a 1950s boy's boarding school in which the boys are given to govern themselves in their lives outside the classroom - at one point the principal steps in to stop the beating of the main character during lunch, but only because splatters of blood land in his food.
- A. E. van Vogt's Children Of Tomorrow: so many men have gone to war that there aren't enough left on Earth to enforce the law, and the children are organized into "outfits" with police powers.
- Robert A. Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky features a "stranded" situation, but it works out because they were being taught survival techniques anyway.
- Charlie Higson's The Enemy, in which fourteen years ago, all people were infected with a disease which took this long to develop. Only people born since then remained. The adults either died or went mad and became cannibalistic zombies.
- The nation-state of Canyonar in Waking Echoes by Donaya Haymond becomes a Teenage Wasteland, as a result of The Virus that is Only Fatal To Adults and Prepubescent Children. A few of the teens strive for order and peace, but because the place was already a Crapsack World before the Famine Fever hit, most of the kids either become cannibalistic looters or join a Fascist-style army with the aim of conquering the currently unaffected neighboring countries.
- This apparently happened in the backstory of Timothy Zahn's A Coming of Age, which takes place on a colony planet where some unknown environmental factor gives preadolescent children powerful telekinetic abilities. This led to an extremely destructive period known as the Lost Generation; by the time of the novel adults have reasserted control, but only by isolating the kids and strictly limiting their access to information.
- The Fire-Us Trilogy has a (subverted) example, by due to a virus that killed off all the adults. Nearly all of the children also died without the care of their parents, but the survivors are all children or young teenagers.
- Parodied in Our Dumb World, where the immature 15-year-old state of Eritrea has an area on the map labeled "teenage wasteland."
- The Girl Who Owned a City is on the cusp of this; the oldest people alive being 12 years old.
- The Hunger Games: Subverted. The kids are all right, adult authority in the form of The Capitol is forcing them to kill or be killed.
- In Król Maciuś Pierwszy ("King Matt the First") by Janusz Korczak, the eponymous kid monarch orders all adults in his country to go back to school while children take over their jobs, with disastrous results.
- In Our Mother's House the death of their soul parent Edna Hook leaves her seven children to run things for themselves and try to live up to mother's rules. This book splits from the this trope when Charlie Hook enters the picture but not in a complete order is restored way.
- There was an early episode of Sliders where Howard Stern had been elected president and lowered the voting age to nine. The young were in power, the mandatory retirement age was in the mid-20's, and everyone over 30 was a second-class citizen. Adults were more or less homeless and drug use was rampant among the youngsters due to the pressures of having to succeed so early.
- The Tribe. An After the End world where The Virus is Only Fatal to Adults.
- The New Tomorrow, set some unspecified (but presumably quite long) period of time later, wherein the tribes are now settled in to their new world and, for the most part, more peaceful or at least more spread out. Except there are still no adults alive (surely the child survivors from The Tribe should've grown up and had kids?)
- The Star Trek episode "Miri" featured a planet where a virus had killed off all the adults, leaving the children to look after themselves.
- Star Trek: Enterprise had an episode dealing with the aftermath of a group of kids being left without adults; unusually, this took place some time after the kids had grown up, and they eventually they had to be left where they were because reintegration would have been nigh-impossible.
- Jeremiah takes place fifteen years after an Only Fatal to Adults plague.
- One episode from Stargate Atlantis featured a tribe of kids from age 25 and down. After they reached 25 they committed suicide, but only because they had to keep the population small due to being kept safe by a shield that was slowly becoming smaller. But they didn't know that...
- The Farscape episode "Taking the Stone" had a slightly similar premise, with the members of a hedonistic tribe suffering from cumulative radiation poisoning in their early twenties. Most of them "Take The Stone" at around twenty-two years of age, or else join the outcast "Lost People" wandering the abandoned catacombs for the rest of their lives.
- Isaac Asimov's Probe: "Quit It" had a group of teenagers who had discovered a form of mind control that only affected people who had exited puberty. They nearly ran their entire neighborhood into the ground, ordering their parents to have constant block parties, buy boats and expensive cars, etc.
- The Buffy episode "Band Candy " has Ethan Rayne curse chocolate to mentally turn adults into teenagers. The results include Snyder out partying, Giles reverting to a teen rebel and Joyce macking him, all so the Big Bad can steal babies to be sacrificed to a demon.
- Faith is a teenage girl who knows all about the Five Basic torture Groups. The Mayor must be so proud!
- One of the first episodes of Andromeda had an old High Guard supply station inhabited by the descendants of the original staff, who all died in their twenties or sooner due to radiation poisoning or raids by Magog and Nietzscheans. They were also religious fanatics who worshiped the High Guard and considered a cabinet full of schematics (that they couldn't read) sacred scripture. And when Dylan accidentally unlocked the Nova Bombs they attempted to send suicide Slipfighters to nearby systems.
- On The 100, a bunch of teenagers are sent down to the Earth to see if it's livable again after the nuclear war a century ago, and they end up having to forge their own community separate from the adult-run society on the Ark space station. Being culled exclusively from the Ark's juvenile delinquent population, most of them start indulging in irresponsible Lord of the Flies behavior. However, they get it out of their system within a few episodes as they confront the harsh realities of survival, and become a well-organized group of Child Soldier survivalists. This only applies during the first season, as Season 2 has them interacting with adults from the Ark or Mount Weather again.
- Skvrna (Stain), czech webseries about postapocalyptic world where surviving children and teens live in gangs and commuties after all adults were killed by a plague causing stains to appears on the skin. And as the disease is still out there, noone gets to grow up (or at least not for very long).
- Indie tabletop RPG Misspent Youth is all about this, with the PCs being children aged 12 to 17 fighting against the Authority (whatever form it takes for your game). Adults either blithely let the Authority do what it wants, or are on its side. The game actually mentions several of the above examples as inspiration.
- In Bliss Stage, alien invaders triggered the Bliss, a condition that's Only Fatal to Adults - and continues to be so: Turning 18 is a death sentence.
- This is the entire point of the RPG Kidworld.
- The domain of Odaire became a Teenage Wasteland when the evil puppet Maligno killed all the adults in the city, forcing the older children to fend for themselves and their young siblings. Subverted in that their society is actually quite functional and civil, and because they've grown up by the time of the Arthaus 3E products. Unfortunately, Maligno and a handful of carionettes are still around, and some of them are eyeing the now-grown children as new targets for Demonic Possession.
- The desert domain of Sebua is home to a colony of feral children who don't grow any older, and who live like wild animals.
- In the Fighting Fantasy gamebook Starship Traveller, the player can encounter a planet where the kids are in charge because the alien race suffers from extremely rapid and severe senility and dementia as soon as they reach adulthood.
- The play Rabbit is set in a scenario where all the 'olduns' have presumably perished.
- Fallout 3's Little Lamplight is inhabited by children and teens. Upon turning 16, they are shipped off to Big Town. A partial aversion, in that they (mostly) manage to actually make this work, and the few problems they have are the same sorts of things any adults-allowed settlement in the wasteland would face.
- The game Rule of Rose features a society run by little girls in a Depression-era English orphanage. Drawing parallels to Lord of the Flies, the girls succumb to their worst natures, including the head girl ordering the killing a of puppy. This is played with in that there are adults but, for all intents and purposes, they're nonexistent and the girls are younger than the usual (at least, one of them is nine).
- The first level of the PC game Sanitarium has a town whose inhabitants are creepy deformed children controlled by an evil being which they refer to as "Mother," who killed all the adults in the town after seeing how cruelly they treated the children.
- MMORPGs often have stable group structures, such as guilds in World of Warcraft. Groups with teen leaders and predominantly teen populations become Teenage Wastelands for their members. Whole games may become this, too.
- Post-Apocalypse Mobliz in Final Fantasy VI is this. The parents of the town sacrificed themselves to save the children, leaving the oldest remaining children - two 17-year-olds with couple troubles - in charge. Some order is restored when Terra arrives, who becomes a surrogate parent to the lot, but this still leaves the town tremendously age-skewed, especially given that Terra herself is only 19.
- In Homestuck on the planet Alternia, all the adults of the troll species are shipped off to help with the imperial conquest of the galaxy (and prevent them from leading revolts on their home planet), leaving only the young trolls behind.
- Elves in Tales of the Questor die young, as a result of the lossnote of a priceless artifact that compensated for a poorly-formulated wish. This induced the complete collapse of their civilization.
- In Aurora Danse Macabre, Vermin children are socially isolated and the few adults they interact with are content to leave them to their own devices.
- Survival of the Fittest, being inspired by Battle Royale, is all over this trope.
- Lost Boys of the Cascades is a web-original story about children struggling to survive after a pandemic destroyed the world's adult population.
- Parodied in the South Park episode "The Wacky Molestation Adventure", when the kids cause all of the adults in town to be taken away by social services by claiming they were molested. A couple then comes to the town and finds it in ruins and overrun by children. By this time they've split into factions, developed communities and created bizarre religions. Later we find out that it's only been ten days since the parents were arrested.
- Jimmy Neutron - when the adults have been abducted by aliens in the movie. Unlike most exemples, however, it only takes them a day or two of partying before they decide they do want their parent's back, and set out on a quest to save them.
- One of these is encountered by Fry and his ex-girlfriend in an episode of Futurama when they believe they're stuck in an After the End scenario. Later on they learn that LA in the future is just a hellhole...or more of one, anyway.
- An episode of Martin Mystery had a town were adults were sent to the cyberspace to an evil alien that uses the energy of others to get out of his web prison.
- Happens to the children of Springfield in The Simpsons episode "Das Bus", which was a parody of Lord of the Flies.
- Happens earlier in the episode 'Kamp Krusty', when the kids (led by Bart) take over Kamp Krusty after they are driven mad from slave labor, imitation gruel, and being given Barney Gumble in a clown costume when they were promised Krusty the Klown. It also parodies Lord of the Flies with the news report showing that the kids have mounted a sow's head on a pike.
- In The Fairly OddParents! hour long musical special School's Out!, Timmy wishes that kids ruled the world, and is elected President. As usual, this starts out really cool but culminates with dystopian catastrophe. It wasn't the kids' fault, though — it was those freaking pixies.
- In the Justice League Unlimited episode "Kid Stuff", Mordred uses the Amulet of First Magicks to create a world with no adults in it, which meant that the Justice League and Morgaine le Fey are both banished to the same other dimension as the other adults. At first the world seems like fun for the children, but Mordred soon realizes how he now had to deal with children who missed their parents. Since no adults could exist in that world, Morgaine allows four of the Justice League members to enter it as children so they could restore things to normal. Eventually the junior Justice Leaguers trick Mordred into becoming an adult through his magic, which then causes him to be banished into the other dimension with his mother, thus breaking the no-adults spell altogether.
- An interesting case was that of China when the Communists first took over. For a society that had always relied on an extremely rigid age-based hierarchy, suddenly teenage and young adult members of the Communist Party were given life-or-death power over their elder family and community members. Some of them went a little Drunk with Power for a while. Curiously, many of those who were members of the original revolution as well as the Cultural Revolution are now leading the Chinese government. Considering that they seem obsessed with keeping things orderly, one wonders if it is a case of a Full-Circle Revolution or a result of lessons learned from an anarchic period. YMMV of course.
- Post-Stalinist USSR. After the collapse of the Stalinist regime and the large post-WWII cohorts coming to age, they proved almost impossible for the Soviet system to control. The so-called stilyagi gangs practically ruled the Moscow and Leningrad underworld.
- Parts of the UK for complex reasons. If you take high youth unemployment, a society that runs on rampant consumerism, and then an unarmed man is shot by police, you have a recipe for social disorder. At first it was supposed to be a protest against the shooting and then it became a case of "want, take, have".
- During the 2011 England riots, entire city centres became teenage wastelands of looting and ultraviolence for about 4 nights. Not all of them were teenagers but many were under 25, including one 11 year old girl arrested for looting.
- Given the demographics of prehistoric times, it wasn't unusual for a Neolithic community — especially a newly-established one, or one recently struck by contagion — to consist almost entirely of young adults and small children.
- Communities of children who lack sufficient parental nurturing bond with each other instead, leading to the formation of gangs, violence, drug addiction, etc.
- Image Boards, particluarly 4chan, are often stereotyped as such.
- All too often the case in schools, boarding schools, conscription armies etc where a lot of young people are together with few adults to rule over them.
- Many parts of southern Africa that have been ravaged by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which produced an orphan crisis as adults died of the disease. In some areas, the population pyramid is sometimes so skewed towards the young that it has compromised the basic functions of government and society, as there are precious few people with the skills needed to keep things running who aren't HIV-positive. One nation, Swaziland, has been hit so hard that the United Nations Development Programme seriously suggested that its very existence as a country may be at risk, although that country has a few compounding factors (such as rampant corruption and an arrogant and all-powerful king).