We don’t often think about children in speculative fiction or our games—at least, not once we stop reading entirely in the children’s section. They might be incidental characters, might possibly serve in a MacGuffin role, but they’re not likely to be the protagonist. As such, it’s easy for us to forget about them in a world-building situation, and thus to forget how much a culture can be characterized by its kids. Here, then are some questions to ask yourself about the role that children play in any of your invented cultures.
How are they viewed differently from adults? You might have one culture that considers children helpless/vulnerable/innocent, one that expects them to have a different spiritual outlook from adults, one that just considers them as miniature adults without the heavy lifting or the reproductive capabilities… yet.
How are they valued? Some cultures consider children to be treasures; some just see them as hindrances. Since family priorities tangle things up, one thing to consider asking is what value the average would put on a given child who wasn’t his or hers.
What do they do? “Grow and play” is almost never the only thing expected of children. There’s also the training necessary to be productive adults. In many places, they’ll be needed to do some of the work, and what differs mostly is what sort of work, exactly. Light work on the fields? Housework? Taking care of younger siblings? Work that requires small hands or the ability to fit through small spaces? Less advanced versions of things their parents are doing?
How are they expected to treat their elders? How much does it vary depending on whether that elder is related to them? What about how much older that elder actually is?
Are they seen as needing protection from anything? If so, what? Are the dangers to them moral? Physical? Magical? What priority is the protection of children compared to the protection of adults? (Particularly in the case of the dangers that apply to both.)
How do they stop being children and reach adulthood? Is it a matter of reaching puberty? Of hitting a particular age? A rite of passage they need to perform? Something else entirely? Is there an in between stage, like what we consider teens to be, or does one go straight from childhood to adulthood with nothing in between?