Star Trek routinely recognizes the contributions of young people, and there have been plenty of times that a starship has been saved (or captured!) by children. As a kid, watching episodes of Star Trek that featured people my age taking charge made me feel empowered. So whether you’re young or just young at heart, you may also feel inspired by these episodes where kids take the lead!
Captain Picard is famously uncomfortable around children, and so it is always a joy to see him forced to spend time with them. In this episode of The Next Generation, the Enterprise loses power and Picard finds himself trapped in a turbolift with three children and a broken ankle. Despite his insistence that they leave him behind, the kids insist that they all stay together, and we see Picard soften as he relies on their help to escape the turbolift and climb to safety. This episode also features Counselor Troi taking temporary command of the Enterprise (she holds the rank of Lieutenant Commander, after all), as well as the birth of Molly O’Brien!
While Deep Space Nine was the grittier, darker series in the Star Trek universe, best friends Jake and Nog always seemed able to make their own fun… and their own trouble. This episode is a great example of both. When Nog overhears that Quark is getting rid of a huge amount of worthless yamok sauce, he and Jake acquire the sauce and embark on a series of trades that begins with the Cardassian condiment and ends with them owning of a parcel of land on Bajor under the name “The Noh-Jay Consortium.” In the end, the boys sell their land to Quark and finally get their latinum. This episode showcases young Jake and Nog’s friendship, as well as their negotiating skills and entrepreneurial spirit.
In this TOS episode, the crew finds a planet that appears similar to 1960s Earth with one difference: a lethal virus kills anyone who has experienced puberty. Having been exposed when they arrived on the planet, Kirk, McCoy, Spock, Yeoman Rand, and two red shirts are now racing against time to find a cure for the deadly disease. Miri, an older girl, acts as the landing party’s guide and defender, helping the crew regain lost equipment in order to create a vaccine. The children of this world are then able to live without fear of the virus, and with only a normal amount of fear of puberty.
After encountering a research vessel whose entire crew has perished from an unknown disease, the Enterprise’s crew soon finds themselves infected with an illness that lowers inhibitions and causes a state of extreme intoxication. An afflicted Wesley does what any teen would do: he tricks the engineering crew into a force field and effectively takes control of the ship. When the adults manage to retake Engineering, a compromised Wesley still finds a way to propel the ship away from a collapsing star, saving them all. This episode serves as a sequel to the TOS episode “The Naked Time” which featured the same sickness (resulting in a swashbuckling Sulu). Fans will also remember this as the episode when Data and Security Chief Tasha Yar are, in Data’s words, “intimate.”
When the Delta Flyer stumbles upon a malfunctioning Borg cube, Chakotay, Paris, and Neelix are taken hostage by a group of five juvenile drones, the only survivors of a plague that wiped out the rest of the ship. In the end, Seven is able to talk the children into relinquishing control and leaving their Borg life behind them. The process of shedding conformity and embracing one’s own individuality is a natural part of adolescence, although there are usually fewer cybernetic implants involved. Added bonus: Borg baby!
The Enterprise discovers a team of dead scientists, and five surviving children who have been given psychic powers by a mysterious humanoid named Gorgan. Typical stuff, really. The kids nearly succeed in taking over the ship, but Kirk’s “innate goodness” (in the words of Gorgan) allows him to overcome their psychic grasp. It isn’t clear whether the children were under the influence of Gorgan the whole time or if they were just on a pint-sized power trip, but either way they are so grounded!
We’ve seen our fair share of transporter accidents in the Star Trek universe, from melding two crew members together, to creating an evil twin. But no transporter mishap is stranger than the one that transforms Captain Picard, Guinan, Ensign Ro Laren, and Keiko O’Brien into 12-year-old versions of themselves. Don’t think too much about the physics, and instead focus on how satisfying it is when the tween dream team uses a classroom computer to neutralize the invaders. We’re used to our crew being responsible and serious, so it’s a treat to see 12-year-old Picard posing as Riker’s son and throwing a tantrum. On a sweet closing note, Ensign Ro, deprived of a carefree childhood on occupied Bajor, delays returning to adulthood so that she can enjoy being a kid for the first time.
While Jake and Nog’s teenage mischief usually lived in the B plots, this episode took them front and center. Jake wants to buy a Willie Mays baseball card for his father at Quark’s auction, but an eccentric doctor outbids him. Nog then spearheads a series of favors and barters for the card, bettering the day of everyone in their path, even a suspicious and menacing Weyoun. Watching Jake and Nog’s friendship evolve as they grow up is one of the best parts of Deep Space Nine, and as this series prepared to go into dark territory with the Dominion War this episode served as a good reminder of what the Federation was fighting for.
Riker returns from a vacation on Risa with a game that turns out to be addictive and places the crew under a kind of mind control. Wesley, with the help of Ensign Robin Lefler (guest star Ashley Judd) realize something’s wrong and races to reverse the effects of the game before they’re forced to play. They manage to reactivate Data, who had been neutralized by Dr. Crusher, and he cures the crew just as Riker’s fling from Risa shows up to take control of the Enterprise. This episode teaches us that we should not give in to peer pressure, and that we should not trust everyone we meet on Risa.
The Enterprise is trapped by Commander Balok, who appears on their view screen as an imposing blue-skinned figure. Kirk bluffs his way out of this stand-off by claiming that his ship is carrying “corbomite,” a highly explosive material that would destroy both ships if ignited. The ruse works and the crew soon discovers that Balok is actually a child (played by Clint Howard) with a penchant for mischief and a now-iconic beverage called tranya. While Howard doesn’t get much screen time, his iconic turn as the child-like Balok continues to be one of the most recognizable references to TOS in popular culture.
These certainly are not the only times in the Trek universe when young people took charge. Star Trek shows us that we all have the ability to save the day, and that age truly is nothing but a number. Pass the tranya and enjoy!
Erin Foley-Chan (she/her) is a freelance writer and producer based in New York City. She can be found on Twitter @erinfoleychan, and on her couch using her dog as a blanket.