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In some shows that revolve around teenagers, preteens, or younger children, adults can't do anything right — if they appear on-screen at all. Teachers tend to be annoying sticks-in-the-mud who do nothing but spoil people's fun. Parents are clueless, and either over- or underprotective. And any other designated authority figures the kid might come across? Forget it.
Usually, this is just plot necessity (especially on comedy shows). After all, a High School Hustler could hardly get anything done if the teachers kept their eyes open, and if the parents were vigilant; being told that You Are Grounded would wreck the plot.
But on a handful of drama shows, there's a real venom to it. Radio Free Roscoe is about a group of heroic teens who defy a tyrannical school administration. On a smaller scale, Degrassi The Next Generation has episodes where it is implied that stealing school property is no big deal, but it's disgraceful to inform on the thief.
This can also occur in shows where you Can't Get Away with Nuthin' — kids who break school rules somehow always get caught, but due to bad luck, not because a teacher was alert.
This is also common when adults are told something is happening, but simply don't believe it, resulting in a Cassandra Truth. The logical extreme of this trope is There Are No Adults.
This trope often gives the impression that only teens or younger kids are capable of saving the world and stuff. The problem with this is that it implies that there's no point in telling adults about your problems because they'd either disbelieve you or be too useless to help.
However, this trope can occasionally be used in a more mature fashion to demonstrate a moral about growing up and realizing that adults are not all-powerful. This is especially common in military or war-themed shows and literature, where the point is that adults are ultimately unable to protect the younger generation. This version is, unfortunately, often Truth in Television. Another interpretation of this is merely that the adults who can help won't because the dilemma's solution (at least the obvious and often more exciting one) would pretty much wind up breaking several laws and safety codes. This can be especially true in a lot of shows involving the police or military; the ones who strictly adhere to code are always shown incompetent whereas the ones who break code are the competent ones. It may be a good way to teach that you can't solve all your problems by just asking the grown-ups to help.
Another seldom-used aspect of this trope sort of plays off the above. In this version, it's not that Adults are useless; quite the opposite. The problem is that the protagonists — because of youthful embarrassment, a need to prove themselves or simple ego — can't ask for help, or accept it when it's given. The message here is that asking for help is a good thing (one can't do everything alone) and not bothering to trust people with more skill/experience ultimately causes more trouble than it's worth. This version is also Truth in Television, but you'll not find many young people who are willing to admit that.
Another more mature variant of the trope (and one that is also unfortunately Truth in Television) is that the adults are abusive and other adults around cover for the abuse or justify it and/or the abusers. While in many settings there's someone the child could eventually find for help, in some (small towns in The Fifties, before the internet, fundamentalist religious societies) there isn't or the children don't know/can't find the actually supportive adults and/or can't identify their treatment as abuse.
Sometimes it may even be a simple case of Poor Communication Kills - sometimes the adults seem worthless because they aren't seeing it from the characters' point of view. Or a combination of the above where the kids simply don't tell the adults so they don't know.
Parental Obliviousness and Police Are Useless are subtropes. An Obstructive Bureaucrat may show up, but it's not something the younger age group encounters often.
See also: Teenage Wasteland, Competence Zone, Parent Ex Machina, Best Years of Your Life, Lazy Husband, Babysitter from Hell. For an inversion, see Teens Are Monsters.
Not to be confused with Humans Are Bastards, which deals with everybody being violently like this.
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Anime & Manga
Future Boy Conan: Conan is an uber-capable 10~12 year old, capable of running roughshod over all the adults in the series. His female co-star Lanna is similarly, if not as capable.
Fullmetal Alchemist: The military personnel are far from incompetent. They are highly skilled, extremely intelligent, and almost as central to the plot as Ed and Al. If anything, the brothers thinking adults are useless gets them into a fair bit of extra trouble. In the end, , he can only succeed by trusting and accepting the help of the adults on his side, including his own absentee father.
as Edward and Alphonse Elric disobeyed a direct order from Major Armstrong to search the abandoned laboratory 5, refusing to wait for him to look into the matter deeper before going into the lab. Second Lieutenant Maria Ross and Sergeant Denny Brosh slap and berate both of them on that, trying to do everything themselves, being just a child still and ends it with "...it's okay to trust adults sometimes." The slapping part with Al apparently didn't work since he's a suit of armor and all.
Mazinger Z: Plays with it but subverts it. The weapon most powerful in the world is handed over to a teenager, and Dr. Hell and his servants (who are all adults) are unable defeat a bunch of teenagers... but neither Kouji nor Sayaka nor Shiro -nor Boss and his gang- would have been capable of protecting humankind and defeat Dr. Hell if they would not been supported by plenty adults. All workers in the Institute (starting with Prof. Yumi, who was a good scientist and strategist) were fully competent and without them Mazinger Z would have not got the frequent upgrades, repairs and maintenance it needed. This situation was repeated in the sequels: Great Mazinger and UFO Robo Grendizer.
Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: Heavily lampshaded in Season 3, usually by Asuka and Kenzan, as the kids easily resign themselves to the fact that the adults have fallen apart and it's up to them to take charge. Principal Sameshima might also be a Deconstruction, since from the start, having to repeatedly burden teenagers with the responsibility of saving the world truly causes him a great deal of guilt and inner-turmoil.
Zigzagged in Detective Conan, where many of the adults are worthless and the case is solved by an apparent six year old.
Zigzagged especially with Kogoro. He's shown to be a bumbling fool several episodes (Especially early on) and is an alcoholic and sometimes physically hurts Conan. However, averted because he actually does come to conclusions a lot of real life detectives would and actually knows some stuff Conan doesn't. (He's more street-smart; Conan's more Book-smart.) His biggest shortcoming is that he's competent, but impatient. He wants to get back to drinking, so he normally comes to a theory and keeps insisting he's right until proven otherwise. However, he averts this when the case is personal or if Ran or Conan are threatened, then he becomes scarily competent. There have been several cases where he got it mostly right and just needed a couple hints from Conan, or where he got it all right but only realized it after Conan did. (He's slower.) There was one occasion where he did get it right, and another where he not only got it right, but got details that Conan missed.
However, Shinichi's father Yuusaku is just as good a detective as he is, if not even better. He's only useless because he's simply almost never there and he'd rather continue writing about mysteries than solving them.
Ultimately averted, though, by the fact that Conan is almost an adult himself (he just LOOKS like a kid).
If anything; Megure is perhaps the most worthless of the adults - he's so strictly adhered to police code that he refuses to take a leap of faith and think maybe not all cases are like the ones you learn about in the police academy.
Also averted with a good deal of recurring characters like the members of the FBI and CIA James Black, Jodie Starling, Shuichi Akai and Hidemi Hondo/Rena Mizunashi/Kir. There are a lot of members of the Black Organisation who are much smarter than Shinichi/Conan like Vermouth, Gin, Pisco or Irish (Movie 13). The Police also isn't completely useless, they are pretty competent at what they are doing, it is just that the cases shown are not solvable without thinking out of the box like Conan does. There are even police officers like Miwako Sato, Wataru Takagi, Kansuke Yamato and Yui Uehara who are able to solve a good chunk of many cases on their own. Heiji's father, chief commissioner of the Osaka Police Department Heizo Hattori, who in addition to being very smart is also an uber-badass.
The only competent adult presence in Dennou Coil, other than the main character's manipulative grandmother, turns out to be seventeen and still in high school.
Being a series intended for kids, Digimon tends to apply this; to which degree varies from series to series:
Digimon Adventure played it straight; since no adult had a Digimon partner (even though some of them didn't need one), and only Digimon are powerful enough to fight another Digimon, it meant that parents had to watch their kids saving the world.
Digimon Adventure 02 is even more straight about this, since even the adult villain was ultimately a puppet for the Big Bad which the kids then had to defeat.
Digimon Tamers averts it, since even though adults still don't have Digimon partners, they are able to kill Digimon by other means, know a lot more about them than the kids, provide technical support and ultimately it's them that make it possible for the Big Bad to be defeated.
Digimon Frontier only has human adults in the backstory, and have the kids saving the world by themselves since all the Digimon (some of them "adults", so to speak) die at one point (even if not permanently), so it plays the trope very straight.
Bleach. Averted. Although the hero and his main group of friends are teens, the adults in the story all get their roles and place in the story. Ichigo's not the protagonist because the adults are useless but because his lineage is something special.
The mother of Hinako Aikawa in Bitter Virgin is arguably worse than useless. Not only did she flat-out refuse to believe her new husband was molesting her daughter Hinako until Hinako's second pregnancy, she also made a point of hiding the first pregnancy from him so he wouldn't know "what a horrible kid" Hinako was. In fairness, when she finally did accept the truth, the first thing she did was chase said husband out of the house with a knife, and soon they moved away.
Though she actually assumed that Hinako was making a False Rape Accusation against him and was actually just sleeping around. It wasn't until the doctor stated that from the bruises she wasn't a willing participant did she start to listen.
The eponymous Eva units are piloted primarily by children. It's alluded to, but not clearly explained that this is linked to the Second Impact. They do state rather clearly, though, that they have to use children, although they seem a little bummed about it at first
In Great Teacher Onizuka (GTO), the only adult who seems to be competent at anything is Onizuka himself. He's only lucky.
Justified Trope. The kids of the manga are actively fighting their teachers and other authority figures. It's hard to be useful to people who will completely ruin you just for trying. And it's not luck that lets Onizuka get through to them, it's the sheer fact that they are incapable of hurting, beating, embarrassing or otherwise driving him away.
In the first episode, he outright says he wants to avoid this trope since he felt it firsthand.
"They just saw me as a delinquent. When someone keeps calling you useless you eventually believe it yourself. That's why I want to be there and help the kids be the best they can be.
In Haruhi Suzumiya, the only character over 20 who actually does anything is Future Mikuru (and it's questionable if she counts, as she's just an aged-up version of an existing teenaged character). Could be more of a case of There Are No Adults/Invisible Parents also. The adults rarely impact that story, the only ones who appear are Future Mikuru and Koizumi's Organization minions (Arakawa, Mori, etc...who actually seem to be hyper-competent). The only ones who seem useless are the North High administration.
In Mahou Sensei Negima!, After the True Companions went back in time to Set Right What Once Went Wrong, some of them went straight for help from the adults. After being heard, they were told to leave the rest to the grown-ups, to which Weasel Mascot Chamo responded by saying "Tsk, tsk, tsk. You don't get it, principal. History has already proven that it's no good to leave things to you guys. You should leave things to us here." In the end, while they did help, it was the students who saved the day while the adults were useless (mostly because the Big Bad had already developed countermeasures for them).
There's also a number of aversions, as there were several useful adults around, but they all sat off to the side and watched. Later chapters see the adults actually getting involved a little more.
Most adults, and atleast one of them is a Badass Grandpa, have proven to be anything but useless, what with saving Negi's behind after he was OHKO'ed by the incoming Big Bad.
Mostly averted in Naruto. Throughout the first half of the series, the adults actually do most of the important, high-level fighting. Post-Time Skip, where the "Rookies" begin carrying more of the weight, it's portrayed not as this trope, but as the new generation taking up the mantle of their predecessors. And even then, apart from Naruto and Sasuke, the strongest fighters in the series are still mostly adults.
In the manga BioMeat, nearly every bad decision concerning the outbreaks were made by adults. The only right decisions and almost every heroic act were done by children or the four main characters as adults.
In Cage of Eden, EVERY SINGLE ADULT until Oomori takes a level in badass (initially, she was scared of a small, harmless furry animal) as well as using useful first aid skills. The chemistry teacher seems pretty competent, too. The doctor is competent in his chosen position.
School Days. The only adult that appears is their homeroom teacher. And true to trope, what few interactions he has with the main characters is essentially telling them to shut up so he can get on with class.
In Fruits Basket, virtually every adult is neglectful or outright abusive. As a child, Yuki is forced to stay with a person who verbally abuses him and his mother brushes his complaints off. Kyo is completely hated by his father, who does absolutely nothing to prevent him from being locked up upon graduation. Akito's father is dead and her mother outright hates her. Rin is abandoned by her parents, so they are unaware when she is pushed out a window and locked up in a room. All of the older servants in the household allow Akito to act freely, because they feel that the God of the Zodiac has the right to treat the Zodiac any way.
Also, Kyoko's parents neglected her, and kicked her out of her house after getting in a fight trying to quit her gang. Her father tells Katsuya that he's crazy when he tells him that he hopes to marry her.
Even once the kids are shown to have improved significantly, the adults are still around being not-useless. For example they're acting in the background during the Baba Yaga arc, and now during this new storyline; Yumi with Kirikou's group, Tezcatlipoca disrupting Black Star's fight with Crona.
'Salvage' has a group of them heading for Noah in the real world, as Spartoi hunt for Kid within the Book. Shinigami's not relying purely on the kids, it seems.
Although this is a bad example since the entire adult squad gets worfed in just a few panels.
Sadly true. It wasn't, technically, when the example was written.
In Bloody Monday it seems that the only heroes capable of doing anything competent are high school students, from the legendary hacker Falcon to the master archer. In fact, evil agent J is actually the twin(?) brother of said archer, and K turns out to be a student from the school's Newspaper Club.
Both subverted in Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple, as Kenichi's master are much stronger than anyone that Kenichi fights, but they will not interfere in his battles unless he's fighting a master class opponent.
On the other hand, Midori is an adult and is arguably the great unsung hero of the series as well as being the most level headed of the HiME (despite first impressions to the contrary). Additionally, Natsuki's adult contacts provide her with a lot of useful information and one of them also bales her, Mai, and Mikoto out of some trouble they had managed to get themselves into. Furthermore, while most of the adults have little knowledge of what's going on around them, most of them seem to be quite competent within their own professional spheres (and it's also worth noting that the majority of the younger characters are rather in the dark about what's going on as well).
In the first arc of Ginga Hyouryuu Vifam we have a bunch of children holed up in an abandoned military installation with some weapons, and elsewhere on the same planet we have the Terran military in a state-of-the-art underground facility. The children manage to beat back several enemy attacks, while the military base gets wiped out along with all personnel after just one.
Straight up with Gakuen Ouji where none of the teachers notice the rape of the boys, the absurd bullying and just the general horridness of all of the students. The beatings... seriously, the amount of rape and general sexual abuse is ridiculous- in the corridors! First chapter somebody screams and the teacher doesn't care. Somebody screaming 'let me out' in a locked room, they put it down to a ghost and don't check.
In The Drifting Classroom, every adult in the school ends up dead or insane within the first few volumes.
Nagisa: "Adults act like heroes but all they really want is to control us children."
Alien Nine has a premise where all of the adults at an elementary school stay inside heavily armored rooms while sending their students to capture the aggressive aliens.
It didn't help that at least some of the adults, namely the teacher in charge of the school's alien catching group, and the principal, were deliberately useless as part of some sort of conspiracy. The rest of the adults were just useless. Yuri's mother is especially bad; Yuri comes home from an alien assault that is awfully reminiscent of a rape, and her mother just tells her to cheer up and do her job.
In FLCL most of the adults are more immature than the children in the story.
Haruka's mother in Psychic Detective Yakumo does not put up any fight, protest, plea, when her daughter wants to walk into a potentially dangerous situation to rescue Yakumo.
Loveless, oh so much so. Every adult is either abusive, ineffective, or emotionally fucked up enough to not be able to help, whether that's with Ritsuka being abused by his mother or all those 12 year old kids running around on their own getting into spell battles.
Bible Black is probably the ultimate example. The teens who the story focus on are having sex everywhere, sometimes non-consensual, sometimes with teachers, and the only adults who seem to be around are Takashiro, who becomes a victim of this, and Kitami, who eggs it on and participates in it.
Used as a plot necessity in the Lost Children Arc in Berserk (even implied in the title). With the exception of Guts, every adult present is either a violent and sick pervert, a completely clueless moron, or a useless coward. Turns out that the Big Bad of this arc is a teenaged girl apostle who turns the local children into her spawn to join her elf fantasy land, all of them being very lethal, while she makes adults into spawn to use essentially as her own Cannon Fodder as punishment for treating children so poorly. Also, the village children who aren't turned into monsters seem more ballsy than the adults around them, namely Jill.
Rosario + Vampire: There are students and teachers who attempt to rape, murder, mind-control, or otherwise commit felony-grade crimes against our protagonists on what seems like a weekly basis; our protagonists, in turn, defend themselves, often with near-lethal force. In the rare event that authority figures appear or that punitive measures are taken against the offenders, it's almost laughably minimal. The teacher who turned students to stone as "art" and the math instructor who mind-controlled students to force them to study were put on suspension, nothing more. Meanwhile, our protagonists are practically knee-deep in the casualties they turn out from these often-brutal fights, and there appears to be little or no action taken against them, either. (Perhaps monsters just have a much more casual view of rape and murder, seeing as how many of them can apparently survive anything short of actual decapitation.)
In Beelzebub, when Oga's mother hears he's in a gang war, her reaction is to just let him deal with it. The school only has two teachers, the principal and the lunch lady, who both make a special effort to stay as uninvolved with the delinquents as possible.
All of the adults in A Cruel God Reigns except for Lindon and Dr. Orson, who dies of cancer. Greg is the cause of all of Jeremy's problems, Sandra needs taking care of by her son and not the other way around, Natasha spots the abuse but doesn't say anything, the dorm leader moves Jeremy to a new dorm away from his only steady friend, Cass' parents are abusive alcoholics, the teacher at the alternative school tries but is ineffective at managing his trouble students, Jeremy's Aunt Karen banishes him after he attempts suicide twice and attempts to seduce her husband, etc, etc.
The grown-ups in Tamako Market act very over-the-top, and are pretty gullible, while all the teenagers are wiser.
My Bride Is a Mermaid: Pretty much all the adults except for Masa and Ren are either incompetent or wildly apathetic.
Played with in A Certain Magical Index. On the one hand, most adults shown are reasonably competent (or villains), and include police officers, teachers, and doctors. The problem is that Academy City consists of over ninety percent students, so there simply aren't enough adults to do everything. The primary police force isn't even made up of adults, but is the student-run Judgement organization (adults make up the SWAT-squad Anti Skill). Throw in the fact that all espers shown have been under twenty, and adults tend to get worfed a lot.
In Bokurano, while only the contracted children can pilot the robot, they get some help from the Japanese Self-Defense Forces officers who came to help them after Komo told her father (a Diet member in the anime and an admiral in the manga) about it. Said individuals help the children to win their battles at times, even if they ultimately never pilot themselves, and Kanji once wonders if the government would rather have adults become the pilots instead. This is played straight, however, when Tanaka and Seki are unable to prevent Kako from beating up Kirie, which results in Chizu stabbing Kaku, and, being unarmed, can't prevent Chizu from killing innocents in collateral damage as she uses Zearth's lasers to kill the men who raped her.
Tokyo Ravens: Averted. The adults are not only competent, but play almost as active a role in the plot as the main cast. Their experience also makes them Combat Pragmatists.
In Nagi no Asukara, the adults of both the land and sea bicker so much like children that they are often rendered incapable of cooperating with each other on even important matters such as the Ofunehiki.
Cloak & Dagger nearly subvert this, by finding out what's really going on in Los Angeles and telling the kids that they'll get in contact with Captain America and send him to take out the Pride. Unfortunately, they are caught and brainwashed by Molly's parents into forgetting everything.
Parodied when the Runaways show up at Avengers Academy. Chase goes off on a defensive tirade about how adults are always meddling in the Runaways' business... before sheepishly admitting that he actually needs the Avengers' help in retrieving Old Lace. That arc also finally put an end to the Runaways' abuse of this trope; after a pointless fight breaks out between the Runaways and the Avengers, Nico breaks it up with a spell that magically forces both sides to see each other's viewpoints, and the Runaways realize that their longstanding distrust of adults has left them with some disadvantages. They ultimately decide that adults don't suck as much as they thought.
The Ultimate Spider-Man series by Brian Michael Bendis puts a big emphasis on Peter Parker being a teenager, and hanging out with his teenage friends. The other books of the Ultimate Marvel line also retool every other major Marvel hero as an asshole (because that's way edgier). This can lead to plenty of times when Peter risks his neck for his heroes only to find they don't share his ideals or views of responsibility, and are often ungrateful for his efforts. While the Adults aren't exactly useless, Spidey has good reason to be pissed off whenever he deals with them.
Even Nick Fury can often make stupid decisions that come back to haunt Peter, like building the Spider-Slayers or locking up supervillains without trial. Peter even once got beaten up by Daredevil for attempting to help him in a fight and yelled at for being too young. Really, binging on the Ultimate Spider-Man books really makes you realize just how many people are dicks in the Ultimate Universe.
When you think about it, you have to feel really bad for the guy. The entire series takes place over only 6 months, and he's still just a high schooler who's in way over his head. And he can't get help from the super-hero community, because they're ALL JERKS. There is not a single super-hero who was kind or supportive to him except maybe for three X-Men and the Fantastic Four, and they're the same age he is. Kitty even got kicked out of the X-Men when she insisted they go help him.
Peter even lampshades this in one exchange with a teacher at his high school; he questions why the Kingpin (a known crime lord) is allowed to walk free, she gives a pat answer about due process and such, and he explodes, asking whether people's idealism somehow disappears the moment they turn twenty.
The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius tends to fall into this pattern. When adults aren't outright antagonists, they're either clueless or helpless. Justified in that since Barry is a "boy genius," he's naturally the smartest person in the room all the time.
In The Beano the adults and teachers never seem to be able to prevent their kids from misbehaving. In older strips they would whack their kids with slippers or a cane but now it seems the kids never seem to get much in the way of a punishment apart from making their parents really angry.
Averted in Super Dinosaur where the adults perform important support roles if they aren't directly in the action. The Kingstons repair SD's armor while Dr. Dynamo creates valuable new technology.
Justified in the second volume of Young Avengers - Mother is a transdimensional parasite, who feeds on kids and teenagers with reality warping superpowers and one of her abilities is to hide her existence from adults, so they won't belive their kids telling them about her and won't notice her activities, even as they're happening in front of them. Worse, if you're a parent, the first person a kid targeted by her would come to, she can turn you into her brainwashed minion. And if your parents are dead, she will bring them back as her minions through they cannot get too far away from the place of their death.
Dreamkeepers: Mostly played straight as an arrow in Prelude, especially when Mace and Whip are the focus. Averted in the graphic novels, with several competent adults in the story.
Although Mr. Nibbs plays it straight in the novels.
In Sex Criminals, middle-school girl Suzie tries to find out what happens when someone has an orgasm. She turns first to a gynecologist and than her mom. Neither are any help.
In Peanuts, it was just as well that adults were never fully seen, because the rare situations where the main characters had to interact with them portrayed them as incompetent. In one story arc, Charlie Brown went to talk to his pediatrician to find out why the school board (which the doctor was a member of) had banned a book called The Three Bunny Wunnies Freak Out from the school library. The doctor fainted. The nurse later told Charlie Brown that little kids made him nervous. (Remember, this was a pediatrician.) Later, Charlie Brown told Linus that the doctor admitted that he only reads medical journals, but the pictures upset him.
Another story arc shows that Peppermint Patty's teacher is a Lawful Stupid type. A hole in the ceiling classroom was causing rain to fall on Patty's head. According to Marcie, the teacher couldn't move Patty to another desk, because that would disrupt the alphabetical seating arrangement.
Justified in Locke & Key - similar to Peter Pan, children are the only ones who can believe in magic. Adults might see it, but they wouldn't quite process it as being abnormal. If fact, once the children hit 18, they forget everything to do with magic, meaning the Locke siblings are more or less on their own when all hell quite literally breaks loose. This is averted in more mundane situations, where adults are shown to be anything but useless. Like in issue 1, when Nina kills a psycho with a hatchet for threatening her son.
Shining Pretty Cure. The only adult who even suspects something might be going on is Ren, the friendly owner of the neighbourhood cafe.
Lampshaded and then averted in Futari Wa Pretty Cure Blue Moon. Dawn/Ogata Kirei/Cure Dawn notes that she's supposed to leave fighting evil to the thirteen-year-old title characters because she's without her powers, but doesn't seem to be very happy about it. Near the end of the series, she becomes an active combatant.
Stephen Ratliff's Marissa Star Trek universe is notorious for this. In order for Marissa's "kids crew" to be great, every adult they come up against has to be a bumbling imbecile. In one episode, the Maquis even invented a drug that knocked out everyone over the age of 15.
In Kyon Big Damn Hero, Kyon's parents are like this. Other adults are, fortunately, far more useful.
A major topic of discussion in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, with Harry frequently telling others how adults who do not treat him as an equal are obstacles to be dodged or manipulated (including those very adults).
The adults in Oh God Not Again are more useless than usual, but mainly because, unlike Harry, they don't have knowledge from the future, so you can hardly blame them for being behind. Harry does sometimes get them involved on purpose when they can help, such as going straight to Dumbledore when Hagrid gets Norbert.
The counselors in Calvin At Camp let the kids get away with anything, aside from actually leaving.
Unusually for a story about runaway orphans, this trope is strongly averted in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fan fiction Our True Colors. Here the adults catch on to the true state of affairs quickly and are working behind the scenes to help resolve things.
Averted in Yu-Gi-Oh! GSTART: All adults seen so far are competent and helpful individuals who take the odd goings-on quite seriously.
Played straight in , where the adults are all too happy to overlook murder, arson and kidnapping for the sake of a quiet life.
Films — Animation
The Land Before Time III. Not long after a meteor storm, the Great Valley's main water supply, a river running down from beyond the wall, mysteriously dries up. Rather than say, investigating the river's source (they could have sent fliers if they were worried about carnivores), the adults decide to wait in the valley and hope the water returns. In the meantime, water is running low, tempers are running high and all the food is quickly dying off. In the end, it's the children who accidentally find out that the water was blocked off and the adults can't agree on a plan of action and guess what? The children save the day! Again! By accident! Again!
This is a very common occurrence throughout the series. None of the adults want to risk personal safety going out into the Mysterious Beyond for any reason whatsoever, leaving the children to do everything themselves.
In the 4th film, where Littlefoot's grandmother (who had been willing before to leave and search for a flower with healing properties) and the mother of a new character not only fail to go after their runaway children but don't even seem worried or concerned that the kids are gone.
Both used and subverted in Coraline. Coraline's parents didn't do much. But Bobinsky gave Coraline a subtle warning and Spink and Forcible also warned her that she was in terrible danger. And at the end, Spink and Forcible gave Coraline an important item to help her find the eyes of the ghost children.
My Little Pony Equestria Girls, true to anyHigh School themed work, zig-zags, but it zags a lot more. Celestia and Luna can be reasonable authority figures when given the right evidence... except that during the climax, they're pretty much nowhere to be found, along with the rest of the school staff (Apart from the lunch lady.)
The entire town in The Boxtrolls really but a special mention should go to Lord Portley-Rind, if it's not about cheese, he has absolutely no interest.
Films — Live Action
Film/The Good Son has Elijah Wood's character trying to tell the adults what monster his cousin is, but nobody believes him.
Sky High has the Commander and Jetstream as the only competent heroes shown in work, but they are taken down in seconds by the villain in the final. Principal Powers is only seen putting students in detention. Anything worthwhile is done by adolescents. Even the villains are all young. Sort of. (Except Stitches, but he's basically controlled by Royal Pain anyway.)
Part of the charm of The Little Rascals film series was that the kids would regularly (and unintentionally) teach the adults a lesson.
The Lost Boys has a group of 12-year-old vampire hunters attempting (and at one point succeeding) to kill the group of teenage vampires. In fact all the main characters are younger than 20 with the adults being unaware until the big reveal at the end where one character displays he knew what was going on all along. Even then, he doesn't know everything that was going on, although he immediately knows that his house has just been destroyed in a vampire attack. That his daughter was dating a master vampire appears to have been completely unknown to him.
In the first Transformers movie, much of the first tier of authority that Sam Witwicky encounters regarding the title being is best summed up by his disbelieving question of a police officer, "Are you on drugs?!" This only applies to the civilian adults. Those involved in the military usually perform rather well considering the circumstances, even if it's not always the best actions to take.
Battle Royale. Not only does the government allow the capture of entire classrooms of children, but they allow putting them on an island, giving them deadly weapons, and telling them to go kill each other, last one alive wins and is free to go. On top of that, the parents never even TRY to save their children from being murdered, and instead the entire country (or possibly even the world) allows it to happen, waiting for the competition to end and see the winner.
In the original novel, most parents, upon hearing their children have become part of the Program, merely resign themselves. Those who do resist are gunned down.
This is true in both the manga and novel; the first chapter of the book hints it, and the manga integrates it into at least one character's back story.
The Fratellis in The Goonies suffer this from time to time in their confrontations with the Goonies. They seem to be able to handle the cops (and Feds) just fine, but they can't quite handle a bunch of teenagers.
Joshua's only use for adults is to be pawns in his plan.
The Night of the Hunter: Rachel Cooper, the foster mother who takes in the Harper children, is the only adult in the film who is immune to Harry Powell's charms. Uncle Birdie does put in an effort, but after he discovers the mother's body he apparently doesn't report it because as the town eccentric/drunk he fears people will blame him.
In WarGames, two teenagers are the only people who seem to be willing and able to avert nuclear holocaust, while parents, four-star generals and nuclear scientists act befuddled or indifferent.
The three children in Hocus Pocus try to inform adults and enlist their help against the witches. It always fails. It doesn't help that the witches turn around Max's attempted warnings to their advantage (they pretend that he's giving them an introduction and give a musical act note "Oh no, she's singing from a distance!") or the fact that they enchant a large number of adults to "dance until [they] die". Then there's the fact that the the witches have come back from the grave prank has probably been played a million times in that town given the local notoriety of the events surrounding said witches.
This was probably the single worst thing about the 2004 Thunderbirds movie, which shoved most of International Rescue out of the way to leave the plot to the Kid-Appeal Character Alan Tracy, Brains' son, and Tin Tin (all of whom are pre-teens). Yeeah.
This was subverted in the 2010 remake of The Karate Kid. Mr Han trained Dre for the tournament. Dre's mother supported him and would have beat the snot out of the kids who messed with her son, if she knew who they were. And the school principal sent both Dre and Cheng out after Cheng purposely tripped Dre, not favouring one side over the other. And she kept an eye out for Dre on the school trip, indirectly preventing Cheng from bullying him. The original plays it straight and subverts it. On one hand, Mr. Miyagi is there to stop the fighting between Daniel and Johnny. On the other hand, the kids' parents do nothing at all to prevent the fights. Daniel's mom provides moral support for her son, but doesn't do much. Ali's parents shrug off the fighting like it is nothing. Johnny's parents don't even appear in the film.
The main character in The Tin Drum realizes this and refuses to age past 3 years old. This means that he eventually becomes a chronological adult but remains a Spoiled Brat of a child.
Mystery Team. The main characters insist that they're more suited to solve the case than THE POLICE.
In Mikey the only characters that seem to display any common sense about Mikey's behavior are his teacher and Jessie.
In the Hallmark Channel made-for-TV movie The Santa Incident, Santa has to rely on the help of a couple of kids. Most of the other adults are Homeland Security goons who mistake him for a terrorist.
The Social Network. Granted the main characters aren't small children, but all the adults they go to for help simply blow them off - Prince Albert, the lawyers (one can almost forgive Mark for his Jerkass behavious towards them) and most of all the Harvard president Larry Summers.
In The Way Way Back, lonely teenager Duncan is ignored by his mother, Pam, who seems only concerned about pleasing Trent, her overbearing boyfriend. Pam doesn't notice Trent saying horrible things to her son until the end of the movie. Trent, Pam and their neighbor also smoke pot and ignore their teens when they get stoned. Averted with Owen, the water park employee who notices Duncan is unhappy and lonely and becomes a friend to him.
Played straight when the kids in Bradleys Summer stop a terrorist plot, and then decide to chase the terrorists after they'd become kidnappers, the adults are all like "Good luck!" and do nothing to try to help the kids or let the cops handle it. Subverted later on however, when one of the adults actually does do something useful: knock out one of the terrorists while he's holding a gun to the kids.
In What We Did On Our Holiday the children end up honouring their granddad's wishes and giving him a Viking funeral after he dies on the beach because the adults are too busy getting ready for a party and arguing for them to be able to tell them what has happened
Justified in Animorphs as many of the protagonists don't want to risk the lives of others and they also know there are few they can actually trust due to alien infestations. This is occasionally subverted however.
Played straight in book 50, when Marco says that they can't work with adults because adults are too reality bound, and could never believe that they were actually fighting aliens.
And then there was that Trekkie . . .
Eventually fully averted once they find adults they can trust not to be infested. This ends in them getting the support of the government and becoming much more effective.
Played with in Matilda. None of the teachers at Crunchem Hall challenge The Trunchbull because they are absolutely terrified of her. It is eventually discovered that Miss Honey's fears of her are particularly justified. Not a single student manages to convince their parents that The Chokey exists. It's sort of justified by Matilda's theory that the various punishments from The Trunchbull are so over-the-top that the parents simply don't believe it. It's also likely to be Dahl's commentary on the boarding schools he himself attended as a child.
Zigzagged in The Candy Shop War. The kids parents are completely unhelpful thanks to mind-controlling white fudge. The other adults, however, do manage to help the kids.
When one of the teenagers asks the oversoul why no one in the older generation is standing up to Elemak's tyranny in Earthfall, it explains that they don't dare while he's holding their children hostage. The children being held are free to act (apart from being locked up).
In Enders Game, the adults don't intervene when several students conspire to attack Ender, so he'll be forced to deal with it himself and not rely on anybody helping him.
In Shadow of the Hegemon, Ender's mom reveals that they knew all along about Peter and Valentine's online personas but decided not to interfere. They read everything Peter publishes and then pretend not to know anything about international politics. They also were smart enough to know that trying to teach religion to a child after infancy is pointless.
With the exception of the Snicket siblings, nearly every adult in A Series of Unfortunate Events is outrageously stupid, and often cruel. Even the adults who genuinely want to help the Baudelaires fail them at a crucial moment due to their fears or strange philosophy.
(This is referenced, at least, in Lemony Snicket — The Unauthorized Autobiography, in which it is revealed that the supposedly volunteer organization V.F.D. kidnaps small children to join its ranks.)
"Mr. Poe meant well, but a jar of mustard probably also means well and would do a better job of keeping the Beaudelaires out of danger."
One of Holden Caufield's schoolmates is bullied to death by his classmates in Catcher In The Rye and teachers do absolutely nothing.
Stephen King's IT, the children in the Loser's Club are the only ones who know what's really going on in Derry. The adults are ineffectual and many of the Losers have troubled home lives: Beverly Marsh's father is physically abusive, Eddie Kaspbrak's mother is neurotic and smothering and Bill Denbrough's parents spend all of their time grieving for their younger son George and ignoring Bill.
The book lampshades this at one point, when a character comments that the adults who do care become (however vaguely) aware that Derry is a Town with a Dark Secret and move away.
There are several hints that It has placed some kind of subtle but strong "look the other way" effect on the town, so that something really out of the ordinary has to happen before an adult can really notice it.
This happens constantly in Harry Potter. On the other hand, it is also occasionally averted and subverted, particularly in the massive battle near the end of the last book:
"We shall secure the school against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named while you search for this — this object." "Is that possible?" "I think so," said Professor McGonagall dryly, "we teachers are rather good at magic, you know."
It is lightly implied that Dumbledore does this intentionally in order to train Harry without the latter being aware of it, especially in the first book. And, when the adults actually do do something, it tends to be pretty spectacular- the Battle in the Atrium and the Inferi cave, in particular.
Played straightest in Goblet. Several powerful wizards vow to find out how Harry's name got into the cup, and apparently find out nothing over the course of a school year. (The fact that one of those wizards is actually behind it all merely highlights that the others never noticed anything even though he was circumstantially a prime suspect.)
Subverted in the Grey Griffins series. Adults save the kids' asses a lot. Adults are pretty powerful, in fact, on both the hero and villain side of things. The number of important adult characters looking out for the Kid Heroes is in fact a plot point, as the main character is rich and has a bodyguard with some magical friends.
In the build up to the Author Filibuster that was the fourth book, during the third book in the YA Maximum Ride series, one of the characters starts a child uprising against adults. Naturally, there's no such thing as a web-faring adult to also support/argue the issues, and the adults really are responsible for it all. After all, every adult so far in the series is evil, no matter how long they spend being friendly to begin with.
Except Valencia Martinez, who is fairly useful and kind. (Although admittedly, she did apparently allow her daughter to be made into an avian-human hybrid, but she does say that she was locked out of the project against her will. Possibly if she hadn't been, things might have turned out a little better.)
In Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, there is a rather surprising lack of adult half-bloods. In fact, only one has been seen so far. Granted, this is somewhat subverted in that there ARE useful adults, they just don't have mystical magical powers.
The implication being that most of the half-bloods are killed off by various monsters before they reach full adulthood, as Quintus pointed out.
However, there have been some mentions of a few historical figures (who reached adulthood) being half-blood as well. Such as Harriet Tubman, daughter of Hermes.
Chiron has a wall full of photographs of successful adult Half-Bloods.
''The Heroes of Olympus averts this for the Roman Camp with a whole city of adult Veterans and others out in the real world who will help questors on request.
The Tomorrow Series: Those few adults that the teenagers do have contact with are either unable to offer help, or are completely incompetent.
Aimee by Mary Beth Miller: Almost all of the adults in the book are/were useless. The most egregious example is Aimee's family: Her dad was a crazy fundamentalist preacher, her real mom was a drunk and a player, and her step mom was abusive in more ways than just hitting. You get the picture.
In the Circle of Magic series, adults tend to be useful, excepting Street Magic. When Briar attempts to get stone mage Jebilu Stoneslicer to teach Evvy, Stoneslicer proves himself to be selfish and useless- he tells Briar to take Evvy away from Chammur and to send her to Winding Circle. He then proceeds to make a number of assumptions about Evvy based solely on the fact that she is a poor orphan, and tells Briar that she will never get anywhere because of that. He does agree to teach her only after Rosethorn talks to him, and is later revealed to be the worst possible teacher for Evvy. Plus the scene when Briar is questioned by the mutabir, or leader of Chammur- Briar repeatedly suggests possible crimes to charge Lady Zenadia with, only to be informed that she is too high in rank to be bothered with such charges, and like Stoneslicer, the mutabir dismisses the teenage gang, the Vipers, and Evvy as poor people of no real value, and not worth helping.
Averted in the Young Wizards series, where the adult wizards actually listen to and believe the child wizardsnote "So, a talking speck of light told you that the book which describes the entirety of reality has gone missing? Okay, thanks for telling us.", and the adult wizards, although having less raw power than the child wizards, have a lot more skill and knowledge. The child wizards still get to go on (dangerous) adventures, though, since fighting evil is the job of every wizard, regardless of age, and the adult wizards have their hands full with their own battles against evil.
Playes straight in the eighth book, "Wizards at War". All of the adult wizards start to lose their power, so the teens and younger wizards are in charge.
Every Goosebumps book. There's a reason Blogger Beware has a "Questionable Parenting" section for each story. Yes, some arguably have the excuse of magic hiding what's going on, but some cases are just silly.
For example, in Say Cheese and Die...Again, the narrator is cursed to continually gain weight, putting on more than three hundred pounds in one day, and his parents chalk it up to an allergy attack and leave him to just go to school as normal the next day. Even though he can't fit in their car. Meanwhile, his friend was cursed to continue to lose weight until she looks like "a stick with a lemon on the top", and again is just sent to school as normal.
Chicken Chicken (book #53 of the original series) is even worse. It's painfully obvious that Crystal and Cole are turning into chickens (what with their feathers appearing and their lips turning hard and beak-like) and the parents DO NOTHING. To make matters worse, they're preparing chicken for a barbecue in front of their affected kids and they laugh at Crystal and Cole when they start acting like chickens during the barbecue.
Did any of the adults (i.e. Ned and Alice Wakefield and/or the Sweet Valley Police) in Sweet Valley High ever do anything to prevent the insanity that coalesced around those "perfect size six" twins? Kidnappings, Murders, Rapes, all somehow involving the same two girls, the perpetrators constantly getting away only to cause 3-4 books worth of harassment. Parents who apparently allowed their 7 year old children the range of teenagers (if you think I'm kidding, go read some Sweet Valley Twins books where the kids go adventuring at night.)
Every single adult in the book Little Chicago, save for a doctor and nurse at the start (and the protagonist's barely-adult sister) are horribly useless. After the eleven-year-old protagonist, Blacky, is molested by a family friend, he sees a social worker about it and the molester is put in jail. But after that, his mother is a neglectful woman who's almost constantly in a daze, stopped taking prescribed medicine for vanity purposes, and brought a drunk man home—and she doesn't really seem to care that Blacky was molested. Rather, she visits the man in prison and actually brings Blacky a letter he'd written for him (which had sexual harassment in it). The teachers and principal at school don't notice or do anything about Blacky being bullied, despite the teacher even witnessing some of it in her classroom. When Blacky is called to the principal's office, it's on behalf of the bullies, who claim Blacky is disturbing them, rather than the other way around. Then the social worker comes to Blacky's house, sees the horrible shape the home is in and how out of it his mom is, and doesn't do anything about it.
In the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, with the exception of Jim, every adult that Huck meets is some kind of murderer, thief, charlatan, liar or phony. One of the points of the novel is the irony all those people like that looking down on a decent human being like Jim because he's black.
Played straight and averted in the books. Some of the parents, particularly those of the sitters themselves, are intelligent, reasonable, helpful people. Others are well-meaning but a bit clueless, and have to be given insight into their children's fears and wants by the sitters because they don't pick up on them otherwise. Possibly the straightest example of the trope are Jessi's parents, who thought it was perfectly acceptable to leave their 11-year-old daughter in charge of her 8-year-old sister and 2-year-old brother for a weekend.
Mrs. Arnold not realising that her identical twin daughters are acting out because they're sick of being treated like they're one person.
Mrs. Addison failing to realize that her kids want to spend some time with her instead of being dumped on sitters all the time.
Mrs. Barrett, when she's first introduced, is in the middle of an unpleasant divorce; as a result she is highly disorganized and does things like neglecting to leave the sitters with contact information and even forgetting to inform Dawn of one kid's allergies.
In a later book, Mrs. Prezzioso not noticing her older daughter's obsessive finicky behaviour and then acting out, as she was too distracted by becoming a pageant mom for her younger daughter.
In the kids' book Class Three All At Sea, the kids get captured by pirates on a school trip. Where's the teacher while this is going on? Making out with one of the pirates. Seriously.
The Green-Sky Trilogy has a lot of this. Raamo and his friends (considered young adults at 13) are members of a caste that actually shuts out family, so after meeting Raamo's parents in some detail at the beginning of Book One, they drop out of sight except for rare glimpses. Neither they nor Teera's parents are important to the plot. They cannot be confided in or help with the vastly important goings-on. On the other hand, the elderly priestess D'ol Falla is a central figure, and Genaa's dad contributes to Book Three.
The Trixie Belden series is full of this. The main characters are teenagers who solve mysteries that the adults cannot.
The parents in M.T. Anderson's Pals in Peril series.
This is the lesson Coira learns very young in White as Snow; her parents don't remember she exists, her nurse resents having to take care of her, and her nurse's replacement fails to give her what she really needs. Coira ends up practically raising herself and talks to none of them.
Room One by Andrew Clements (author of Frindle) zigzags and plays with this. The hero reads mysteries, and when he encounters one, decides not to tell adults because in all the books he has read, they are useless or obstructive.
To an extent in the Discworld Tiffany Aching subseries: In The Wee Free Men Tiff's parents and older sisters are too preoccupied to notice things, and the Baron is a well-meaning idiot. In the later ones, her parents don't know how to deal with a daughter who's a witch; the villagers automatically expect someone in a pointy hat to be able to cope with anything; and most of the adult witches have their own peculiarities that stop them being any real help. (Ms Tick is so schoolteachery that she doesn't always look at things properly; Miss Level is a bit selves-conscious and doesn't cope well with the unexpected; Miss Treason is ruthlessly judgemental and, for most of Wintersmith, dead. Granny Weatherwax is awesome, but she's a Sink-or-Swim Mentor who refuses to let Tiffany rely on her.)
In Greek Ninja it's a group of teenagers running around trying to save the day.
Subverted in the children's book Chrysanthemum. Chrysanthemum's teacher is completely oblivious to the fact that Victoria and her Girl Posse are making fun of her for being named after a flower, but it's her music teacher who gets them to stop.
Every single higher-up is at a Clave meeting. All of them. While Jace's group of inexperienced youths are pursuing the Mortal Instruments, the maniacal Valentine, and attempting to stop The End of the World as We Know It. Anyone who isn't is either insane with power, revenge, or a spy.
Subverted with Magnus Bane. Physically he looks to be about nineteen, slightly older than the protagonists. But he is actually centuries old and thus technically more of an "adult" than even the oldest Shadowhunters. He is also incredibly useful.
"Someone please fetch one of the competent tutors."
In Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain, it's not so much that the adults are useless, it's more that almost no one in either the hero or villain community takes The Inscrutable Machine seriously. It takes them breaking into Mech's home and trashing his Powered Armor to establish themselves as something other than children playing a game.
Gregor, Boots and Lizzie's parents are not completely useless, and never by choice, but they are rarely able to help Gregor with his unique problems. Averted in Gregor the Overlander when his dad manages to steer them back to Regalia.
Averted with Vikus, though he usually plays more of a supporting role.
Justified in Lockwood & Co. because the Talent to see ghosts disappears when children and teenagers enter adulthood. Adults are usually stuck in supervising and support roles.
Averted in The Troop. The boys believe that it's totally OK to pass things off to the adults, since when a grown-up handles things, it gets done Right The First Time. It doesn't last.
Emily The Strange The Lost Days: a thirteen-year-old girl who has amnesia is alone in a small town and lives in a refrigerator box behind a diner. Why should anyone care?
Molly's parents are worse. They are raising a free-range child and when a girl looking like their dauighter, just with amnesia runs away from them, the mother just writes to her to wish her luck.
Generally averted in The Poster Children. When informed, the adults insist on helping; especially, when a pair of students are savagely beaten and one almost drowned during a test out of campus, the Sheriff is incredibly frustrated that such a thing was able to happen and wanting to find the perpetrators but being unable to.
Live Action TV
Uther Pendragon from Merlin. All this guy does is make everything worse, he is an ego-maniac, massive hypocrite and lacks the competence to make up for his flaws.
In 3-2-1 Contact's "The Bloodhound Gang" segments, the adults who are the targets of con artists are typically complete idiots to the point where one easy mark has his own child have control of his own finances.
The Australian kids' show Mirror, Mirror managed an odd variant, where, aside from the Old Man, who was managing what has to be one of the most epic Gambit Roulettes ever, all the adults were at least plausibly incompetent (if not outright evil), mainly because only a few of them had any idea of exactly what was going on.
For the record: The adults in Louisa's family had no idea, and their tutor was in the pay of their rather nasty neighbour, who was hiding the son of Tsar Nicholas II, in a ploy to sell him back to Russia. As for Jo, her father gets clued in, but can't use the mirror. The worst offender would have been Dr Coigley, who was unknowingly working for the Old Man.
Arguably Arrested Development, as while all of the adults in the show constantly make terrible decisions and ruin any good thing that they get, George-Michael is running a relatively successful business and Maeby cons her way into a job as a movie studio executive. This is further highlighted by the fact that one of Maeby's better ideas as an executive is ruined by Michael.
The show has a curious take on this. While Giles and Jenny Calendar are undeniably useful, and Buffy's mother proves quite smart and sensible once she finds out the truth about her daughter (though she still can't do much and it's just not realistic to help out a super-powered daughter), adult society is thoroughly useless. There is no adult organization which is not either evil (the Mayor and his administration), staggeringly incompetent (the Watchers), or both (the Initiative). The only possible exception is the coven which sends Giles to stop Willow at the end of season six; but they didn't get much, or indeed any, screen time. If they had, no doubt they'd have turned out to be a front organization for some kind of demonic cult.
The worst case was in the season 6 premiere when demon bikers attacked the town and there was no one to defend it. No cops, firemen or rescue personnel accounted for.
Xander's parents are drunks, Buffy's father is rarely around, Willow's mother shows up once, getting in her way, and Willow's father is mentioned in reference, with Willow worrying what "Ira Rosenberg will think of his only daughter nailing a crucifix to her wall."
Played up in Season 3's "Band Candy," where a certain brand of chocolate makes adults who eat it revert to teenage maturity levels.
Beverly Hills 90210, for some extent, with the obvious exception of Brandon and Brenda's parents (who were originally part of the main cast). As the series progressed, teens got into, or were affected by, much more serious troubles (guns, paedophilia, addiction, mafia, rape) and their parents were either oblivious or useless. The '90210' sequel also has that a bit: drugs, a hit-and-run death, stalking... and only Annie's and Dixon's folks actually do something (and only occasionally).
Space Cases. The two present adults on the show are unable to pilot the ship and almost seem to be the Butt Monkey characters. The former may actually be a bit explained, since one can assume that since they didn't touch the walls as long as the kids did (in the first episode) or that they were the last two to board the ship that the living spaceship saw the kids as the "Complete" crew.
The android Thelma is also worthless to Cloud Cuckoo Lander levels - then again, she's not really an adult to begin with.
This is the standard thought process of basically anyone in the Criminal Minds universe who has a job involving teenagers or children: "Hmm, one of the kids it's my job to watch over is clearly being bullied/abused to a frightening and dangerous degree, perhaps I should report this or do something about it? Nah, it's cool, it's not like the abuser/bully might actually kill the kid, and the victim sure as hell isn't going to snap and go on a killing spree. I am awesome at my job!"
The various Power Rangers series do this to frightening levels. Not only do they have a team of six teenagers saving the world, there never seemed to be any kind of competent adult to help even with non-monster related things (For example, if a monster attacked at, say, a carnival, there never seemed to be any adults helping lead people to safety.)
"The Ninja Encounter". A baby in a stroller is rolling down a hill. The adults jump out of the way, as if the baby stroller was a runaway train. It's left to the main cast of teenagers to rescue the infant.
In Gossip Girl almost every significant adult, one way or another, is irresponsible, clueless, idiotic, indifferent about the whereabouts of the teen characters, or those adults are incapable of controlling the teen actions.
To break this down a little: Lily Van Der Woodsen is shown to care more about the family's status than her children and is constantly shown as clueless to the point where her son and youngest child often has to spell things out to her. Bart Bass is a womanizing hard-ass who serves mostly to remind Chuck of all the ways in which he isn't good enough when he's not getting in the way of Lily and Rufus' feelings for one another. Eleanor Waldorf is rarely home and when she is seems only to be able of criticizing Blair and Nate's parents are a drug-addicted man arrested for embezzlement and his wife who blindly persists in the view that everything will be okay even when all their assets are seized. Even Rufus Humphrey, who compared to the others is something of a model parent, is often shown as stubborn to the point of pig-headed and unable to accept that his children are capable of making their own choices and dealing with the subsequent consequences. His ex-wife disappeared to Hudson and only came back when her teenage daughter showed up on her doorstep and demanded she did so.
On the other hand, certain of the more minor adults fare better. The prime example being Cyrus Rose who, although constantly berated by Blair as being annoying, constantly shows himself to be supportive and useful on occasion.
Parents in Spellbinder nurture inexplicable reluctance to believe in their teenage children's stories about parallel words and intruders therefrom. However, once presented with undeniable proofs, they become much more competent.
iCarly: Heavily lampshaded in multiple episodes. Each adult has his or her own brand of eccentricity. Subverted by Principal Franklin, who's competent, if overly lenient, and occasionally by Spencer. Spencer and Carly's grandfather, who only appeared in one episode, was almost freakishly competent.
The extent that the adults in the Japanese drama Shokojo Sera simply lets the bullying and torment happen to poor Seira can be extremely frustrating to watch. They could be downright evil and cruel, like Mimura Chieko who runs the school. Or they could be clueless and utterly incompetent, like Mimura Emiko, sister of Chieko. Or sometimes they gleefully take advantage of Seira and Kaito and bully them around, like the chef and his wife. Or perhaps they could be like Aran Yukio, a French teacher, who does want to help Seira, but lacks the power to really change anything. He isn't around all the time at the school to help Seira.
The teacher from Everybody Hates Chris is probably a frontrunning example in this section. She's witnessed Chris attacked by Caruso, but usually does nothing to stop or even acknowledge it. In one moment bordering on Lawful Stupid, she gave Chris a 0 on a test, despite the fact that he got every question right, but because he entered each answer on the wrong line. It didn't look to be a scantron, where it would be justified, either.
In Glee there don't seem to be any repercussions for "slushie facials," or really any of the bullying. Even when Kurt is being constantly harassed for his sexuality (eventually leading to a threat against his life), the only adults willing to help seem to be his father and SueSylvester. Not that it works. This trope is most strongly embodied in Principal Figgins, who appears to have full-time possession of his own private Idiot Ball, though spare ones are available for all the other staff members in the school to use. The stupidity of Figgins really stands out in the fact that he believes that Perky Goth Tina is a vampire, as well as having a father who is "King of the Asian Vampires". Tina routinely uses this ruse to get Figgins to do what she wants.
Lampshaded in the episode On My Way. When Karofsky tries to kill himself the faculty of McKinley conference in the principal's office. Among the things said, Sue says that she should've seen it coming, because she was principal when he was bullying Kurt and she knew something was up. Will says that they were all hard on Dave because they thought he'd hurt Kurt, they just didn't imagine that he'd hurt himself.
Principal Figgins: It wasn't our job to know. Emma: Then whose job was it?
Teen Wolf: Played straight and averted, depending on the episode and season. Most of the teens have to check in with their parents on a regular or semi-regular basis. And once Scott's mother finally learns about her son's werewolf issues, she becomes much more involved and informed in the kids' activities. She is also an Action Mom and The Medic for virtually everyone in town (to the point that it is a fandom joke that she is the only full-time caregiver at Beacon Hills Memorial Hospital).
The Argents are very effective as werewolf hunters and Stiles' father is constantly popping up as the sheriff. Sheriff Stilinski is shown to be a awesome marksman and an effective investigator once the supernatural nature of the problems in Beacon Hills is revealed to him.
Dr. Deaton and Ms. Morrell could count as aversions as well.
By Season 3B, all the adult characters except for Lydia's mother and Mr McCall know about the supernatural, and do their best to help out when they can.
The one teacher we see at the school has zero understanding for Elena or Jeremy despite their loss; Elena's aunt is clueless; even after Vicki is attacked, her parents are nowhere to be seen, and her brother's the only one at her bedside in the hospital.
The founder's council is also not all that useful. When the most competent member of the town's anti-vampire defense force is DAMON there is a problem
This is not the case with Alaric
Subverted with Sheriff Forbes and Mayor Lockwood, as of season three.
Also subverted with Professor Shane as of Season 4.
In Wizards of Waverly Place, all of the Russo children, but neither of the parents, have magical powers. This works out about as well as you'd expect.
In The Facts of Life, the only adult who serves a purpose is Mrs. Garrett, the school's nutritionist.
The entire premise of Absolutely Fabulous is that the adults are completely drug addled and useless, while the child, Saffy, is intelligent, capable and down-to-earth.
In Round the Twist, only Nell can regularly provide the kids with any real help whatsoever. Tony Twist, and particularly Mrs James, and Mr Snapper, aren't much help.
Malcolm in the Middle has "adults are useless apart for Lois, who is just insane and terrifying." The irony of this does not escape Malcolm, when he observes that the family is generally rescued by the idiots and lowlifes who make their life miserable when Lois Crosses the Line Twice to kick their asses.
In "The One After The Super Bowl," it's revealed that Chandler pulled up a girl's skirt during a school play, so the entire school saw her underwear. Where were the teachers, faculty and parents when he did this? It was during a school play, so surely they witnessed this and reprimanded him for it (which, ironically, would've been far more likely to be the focus of the kids' attention than seeing the girl's underwear).
Chandler's childhood in general, as he apparently received very little support during his parents divorce and Dad coming out as gay.
In "The One With The Halloween Party," none of the trick-or-treaters are with their parents or guardians.
Also, in "The One After I Do," why is there no babysitter at the kid's table?
Phoebe's entire backstory. You have to question how an orphaned 14 year old ended up on the streets and not in care or a foster home.
Quadrophenia shows the other side of this- even though the plot opens with Jimmy asking for help from a therapist, preacher, and his mom, as events wear on it's implied (even all but stated) that the real problem is that he can't accept help. As a work about youth, this makes perfect sense really, but considering his epiphany at the end, perhaps he can't be blamed for having to find his own way.
Subverted by The Children's Television Workshop and Sesame Street. Mr. Snuffleupagus was originally created as a way for children to relate to having an imaginary friend whom adults didn't believe in. The problem, though, was that Snuffy was undeniably real; it was just the adults' bad luck that they never ran into him. Critics pointed out children could interpret the situation another way: Adults would never believe you even when you're telling the truth - a dangerous moral when trying to get kids to report child abuse to an authority like a teacher or the police. As a result, Snuffy was revealed to the adults, and to drive the point home, the adults even apologized to Big Bird for not believing him.
However played straight in Abby's Flying Fairy School with Ms. Sparklenose. For each crisis of the day, Ms. Sparklenose's guidance to her preschool-age students is always some variation of her telling them to solve the problem themselves.
Teenage Mutants From Outer Space takes this trope and cranks it Up to Eleven. The rules specifically state that characters either have militant parent who will punish even the smallest infraction harshly, or hippie parents that refuse to take an interest in your life. However, since the main point of the character interaction is teenaged drama, having antagonistic parent works.
Played straight in Little Fears, which is all about children fighting against not-so-imaginary monsters that even the most well-intentioned adults just plain can't see or otherwise perceive as real. As player characters grow older, they become more and more competent in the general sense but increasingly lose the inner "magic" that comes with childhood, until around their fourteenth birthday (if nothing worse has befallen them before then) they too will forget about or dismiss their adventures and join the ranks of the ignorant soon-to-be-adults...
Euripides' Alcestis: Admetus is enraged that not even his parents could bring themselves to die for him, causing Alcestis to die instead.
William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The teenage protagonists are halted at every turn by their parents and other authority figures. Friar Laurence tries to help, but he decides the best way to do this is marry the pair and hope for the best. It didn't end well. This is more like a severe case of Lust Makes You a fucking MORON, as the adults try and offer fairly decent advice, but the protagonists are too blinded, deafened, and otherwise rendered Too Dumb to Live by love to bother listening to it, or even think more than five minutes ahead. Ironically, Friar Laurence's original plan would have worked, if events had played out the way he expected. He just had no way to foresee the murder of Tybalt and how that would complicate the plot. Even then, he still had a handle on things, and it was only a series of unfortunate coincidences that resulted in both title characters killing themselves. Had the messengers various people sent about various events arrived in a somewhat less unfortunate order...
At the end of West Side Story, the few adults who have appeared in the story are left alone on stage after the youth gangs carry Tony away, emphasizing how little the supposed authority figures have done. Being based on the above-mentioned Romeo and Juliet, this is unsurprising. And lampshaded for all authority figures in the songGee, Officer Krupke. The adults are useless even to one another.
In the musical Thirteen, the only kid whose parents are mentioned is Evan, when his parents get divorced and when Archie guilts Evan's mom into buying tickets to the R- rated movie "The Bloodmaster."
This is probably the fourth strongest theme in Spring Awakening. The first three being sex, sex and sex.
You kinda get this feeling playing through the Another Code games, since it generally falls on Ashley to solve everyone's problems. That said, the adults do help out, so it might the curse of not being the playable character more than anything.
Any RPG where the main characters are almost always under 20, often around 14-18. Normally there is one or two older characters to act as a sage or adviser.
Taken to absolutely ridiculous extremes in the Pokémon games, where criminal gangs do everything from stealing/mutilating/killing Pokémon to attempted Apocalypse How, and the only person who ever does anything worth mentioning about it is the ten- to fifteen-year-old Player Character.
Pokemon Black and White play it down. All of the Gym leaders aside from the first trio you meet, are enforcers of the law, and have influence in the town in general. When Team Plasma starts popping up and causing trouble the leader of the area you are in (or heading towards) is usually in the vicinity to help you out. Though plot-based battles are still done by you, they seem to crack down on grunts, even taking down the seven members of the Quirky Miniboss Squad (which you, somewhat ironically, never get to fight) as you take down the Big Bad And the Big Bad's Bigger Bad dad.
Every single Zelda game portrays Link as either a pre-teen child, or a mid-late teenager. A kingdom of guards, warriors, military, wizards, and sages, and it takes a kid (albeit one with a very special destiny) to save the day. Multiple times. And most times there's at least one NPC who dismisses him as a stupid kid who doesn't understand. The original The Legend of Zelda game averts the trope only because there are a grand total of five characters in the game; The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is possibly the only one to date where he's been treated with appropriate levels of respect by a larger cast.
Slightly averted in that several games, Link (occasionally with Zelda's or others' help) is actually a contributor to or cause of releasing Ganon back into the world by taking the Master Sword. He always fixes it by the end, so it's not quite the aversion it could be.
On a further note on Twilight Pincess, all Hyrule residents under the Twilight are rendered into spirits only superficially capable of even perceiving what is happening, with an exception of animals and two Hylians (here's a clue: you're one of them). Also, many of the dungeons are highly sacred places people don't normally go, very out of the way, or so ancient that people have mostly forgotten they ever existed. There is a good reason why adults don't help for the most part. Also, Link is probably about 17 at the youngest, so he barely counts as a Kid Hero by this point.
Though one truly hilarious moment of the trope causes Telma to berate a bunch of Hyrule Town guards who suddenly decide that there are many things they would rather do than protect a carriage (bearing a gravely ill Zora prince i.e.: a very good person to NOT let die) across monster-infested terrain.
Tidus points this out about the adults of Spira (bar Auron since he helps Tidus... in a way.) about relying on summoners to sacrifice themselves to stall, not kill, stall Sin. When called childish for this he makes it blow up in their faces by pointing out that he is at least trying to find an alternative asking them if they even bothered to do the same. Naturally they tell him "This is the only way." proving his point.
Most of the adults in Earthbound are incompetent. The police force of Onett fights Ness for whatever reason, and loses. Some of the Happy Happy cultists are too busy painting cows blue to care for their children back in Twoson. The Runaway Five is continually in debt everywhere they go. Pokey's dad in Fourside is seen riding off of his son's success, and later in the game he's lost everything.
Strongly featured in the Touch Detective series. The most competent ones often turn out to be psychopaths.
Oddly inverted in Persona 2. The high schoolers that star in Innocent Sin mess everything up, and the adults in Eternal Punishment have to fix things. Although Tatsuya does join in later on.
Absent in Persona 3 which features adults in on the masquerade to some extent and try to help you outside of the main conflict region of the Midnight Hour, but can't do anything directly. Also, one of the first tier Big Bads is an adult.
Justified in Persona 4 where the conflict occurs in a region where the police have no access and the people who do are either indoctrinated into the masquerade or are former victims. This trope applies because they just couldn't know what's really going on. The police close the case when someone falsely admits to all of the murders; and, even late in the game when you are straightforward about your "extracurricular activities," Dojima-san doesn't believe you.
The series does a complete inversion in Strange Journey. The playable character and his crew are all highly-trained military personnel.
Also inverted in Digital Devil Saga, where with only two exceptions the cast are exceptionally skilled doctors (Heat), scientists (Serph and Gale), and nurses (Argilla).
Put to obnoxiously Anvilicious use in Wild ARMs 4. You'll be sick of seeing it played out by the time you clear the first dungeon.
Megaman Battle Network is especially cruel - all of the adults are either just standing around, willing to netbattle instead of try to fix things, or nothing. The only competent adults are either involved with the WWW (Even Baryl & Colonel), Mr. Higsby, (For different reasons) or Lan's dad.
Chaud lampshades this when he mentions that the official netbattlers are all off in la-la-land.
The spiritual sequel series Megaman Star Force also uses this, but since there are only a handful of people around the world capable of wave changing, including the villains, all of whom have roughly the same amount of experience, there is no logical reason why a kid can't be the most naturally gifted member of that group.
Bully. Surprisingly one of the most accurate portrayals of this trope. It's set in a school, one that's plagued by bullying. Even if the student body consists of about 70 people, the adults and the four prefects seem to just stand there going, "Duuuuuuuuh" while Gary manipulates all the cliques into fighting with each other. Even if the prefects (and adults) do chase Jimmy and can be seen occasionally busting a student, it's obvious the prefects are power-hungry jerks who're oblivious to most of the stuff that goes on in the school, and so are the adults. (i.e., the nerds are able to construct potato gun turrets in the astronomy club building without alerting adults and it's implied they have no supervision, the jocks throw explosive-laden footballs at a student, the gym gets lit on fire and nobody calls the police unless you fail and nobody even mentions it afterwords.) It's safe to say even if the game has a realistic portrayal of how useless adults can be in a school setting; you can probably rest easily given that if this happened in real life, people WOULD call the police and the school would be closed in a year. (Mr. Burton especially would be fired for encouraging the bullying and the implications that he sexually harassed Zoe. Which he is anyway.)
There are whole two adults in the Rose Garden Orphanage in Rule of Rose, and the one with actual authority is a problem, not a helper, with his implied sexual abuse of the teenaged residents, and while the cleaning lady is more observant, it doesn't matter since the Police Are Useless and won't listen to her, and she gets murdered for her troubles.
Two teenagers in a parking lot are entirely capable of starting a school on their own in High School Story. It just builds from there.
When Hope is bullied on her school's website, the principal demands that she show proof of the bullying before he will do anything. This despite the fact that it's the school's website and he should be more than capable of accessing the public pages where other students were posting about her. There's also the fact that it went on publicly for months and absolutely no teachers or moderators took notice. He does finally call the police after she brings him the evidence, going from "does nothing at all" to "gung-ho borderline-overreacting" in record time.
Defied in Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars. Despite a divinely-enforced Competence Zone meaning only teenagers can actually fight, it's made clear everyone knows that leaving them to actually coordinate the war effort would be an unmitigated disaster. Senior military ranks, positions of authority, mission coordinators and the R&D team are all comprised of highly-educated adults.
Massively subverted in El Goonish Shive. If it isn't apparent from that panel alone, everyone really did seem to have spent the past few years ignoring the problem and hoping for the best.
El Goonish Shive zigzags this trope a bit at times, though with justification. While Mr. Verres is certainly not useless, he was eventually Kicked Upstairs due to how close he was getting to the comic's various situations, so that he's no longer in as convenient a position to be helpful. Likewise, Raven is most certainly not useless, but is forbidden to involve himself in situations where magic isn't present, so his helpfulness is also limited. There's also Jerry, who was only introduced to the plot just as he was about to die and be reborn, which, as he points out, will limit his helpfulness for a time.
Deconstructed in Gunnerkrigg Court. Antimony treats the teachers at the Court like they're useless, even those who have proved themselves competent and far more knowledgeable about the ongoing weirdness than she is. As a result, she nearly dies several times. (Annie's distrust appears to stem from the fact she had no shortage of Useless Adults in her life prior to enrollment at the Court: She could see The Guides; none of the staff at Good Hope could.)
This is addressed in Chapter 28: Sprimg Heeled, Part 2, where Jones finally calls out Antimony on this, pointing out that the situation with Jack could have been solved more quickly and with fewer problems if she had spoken to someone about it. Given that she gave Antimony crucial help twice in that chapter, releasing Reynardine and dispelling Zimmy's hallucinations with a rain shower, her words have weight. Unfortunately, the lessons didn't take as Jones again has to point out in Chapter 40 that her attitude is causing problems.
Also deconstructed in the fact that there's a very good reason not to trust some of the adults at the Court: an old conspiracy of the court's founders to sacrifice Jeanne and her lover so she would become a rage-filled wraith that would protect the Annan Waters. The problem is that the adults are very powerful and competent people ... and that is exactly why you should fear them, because some of them are not good people.
Subverted in Homestuck. At first the adults seem like simple foils for the kids. Then John's dad is seemingly easily captured by the imps, and you expect the parents to be simple plot devices. Then it turns out that he and the other kids' guardians are immensely powerful and important to the game. At least, until they all die.
Mandatory Roller Coaster offers many examples: the two guys on the couch, the two guys at the bar, and any instance of a business or office environment.
Memoria: The police won't look for Winston. More bewildering, their perfectly loving parents let them go look for Winston with little more than giving them money and instructing them to come back in a few days if they don't succeed.
The cast of Ménage ŕ 3 are mostly in their 20s, but act more like teenagers — with useless parents. The few older characters are usually more flawed than anyone, with one or two small exceptions (such as Gary's sympathetic boss).
Nathan, Angele, and Angele's husband are all enthusiastic adulterers in one way or another.
Gary suffered a puritannical religious upbringing that he claims left him socially disabled.
Amber's parents have apparently never discovered that their daughter is a fairly famous porn star.
Worst of all is Yuki's father. He doesn't seem to be intentionally abusive, but he paid so little attention to his daughter that she was repeatedly exposed to the hentai rape artwork he drew professionally, which traumatised her so much she now has an intense fear of penises.
Penny and Aggie demonstrates this trope at least once, although parents are sometimes shown as being reasonably aware of things you'd expect them to know about their kids.
In "The Popsicle War" arc, a student widely publicize a video in which she accuses another student of lesbian rape, to the point where even all the students at a completely different school know about it within a few hours ... and not a single adult shows awareness of this, not even the administrators you'd expect to be concerned about a student rapist in their population.
The trope is, however, averted gradually but decisively with regard to Cyndi's dangerous and sadistic schemes, beginning in "Her Private Chambers" when Penny's parents, overhearing her and Stan discussing what she's done, resolve to act as Penny's "allies" in stopping her. In "Mister Smiles," Lynda acts on this by calling Cyndi's mother about her actions. Although this doesn't have an immediate effect, because Cyndi's an excellent liar and actor, it does plant the first seeds of suspicion in her mother, at least. Finally, at the climax of "Missing Person," the FBI, investigating Cyndi's kidnapping, examines her laptop, which her parents surrendered, and finds on it a private journal in which she details her past and future plans to drive her classmates to suicide. When Cyndi's parents view this after Cyndi has talked her captor Charlotte into stabbing herself, they commit her to a psychiatric hospital.
The trope is firmly averted in "The Last Summer of Youth: May," when Penny's parents, Rob and Lynda, prevent a potential date rape at her party — and do it with style.
Precocious sometimes subverts and sometimes plays straight this trope. Most of the parents are just as smart as their kids, but the stuff those kids can get away with is astonishing sometimes.
Sticky Dilly Buns features sisters Amber and Ruby (who are both in their 20s, but never mind). According to a line in Ménage ŕ 3, of which this is a spin-off, their (off-stage) parents are wealthy doctors, but... Aside from their failure to bring up daughters able to handle adult life competently (one went into the sex industry, the other is screamingly neurotic), and the fact that they've apparently never even heard that their older daughter has become a fairly famous porn star, they also failed to notice that Ruby felt that they favored Amber (a problem admittedly probably exacerbated by Ruby knowing Amber's secret). Nor did they point out to Ruby that the very short skirts that she wore (thanks to some malevolently bad advice from a teacher) were hardly appropriate for someone seeking a serious graduate-level job in business. Finally, they sent Ruby to live with Amber, only telling Amber she was coming by e-mail, despite the fact that, according to Ruby, she told her mother that Amber never checks her e-mails.
In Suicide for Hire, nobody seems to bother to investigate what their teenage offspring are up to, nor get suspicious at the rash of teen suicides (despite their utter lack of subtlety). Two adults so far have found out about SFH, but only in order to request its services.
While adults in To Prevent World Peace aren't actually useless (in fact, one of the main characters is in her thirties), the magic system revolves around always-teenage-and-younger girls. Subverted somewhat in that the main characters' parents were not only aware she was a Magical Girl, they actually helped design her costume.
In lonelygirl15, all of the TAAG's parents who aren't dead (or evil) are this.
Bree's dad does display competence, for a while.
Adults, at least in the Pregame of Survival of the Fittest, are almost always unable to stop any fights, bullying, drug use, stealing, etc. The main reason of this is that if handlers want to establish their characters as "bad", they don't want to have them be caught by adults, as that would ruin the reputation.
Subverted to an extent in the v4 pre-game, where players were warned that inappropriate behaviour, if caught, would result in exclusion from the school trip.
In KIKEN, this is a Deconstructed Trope. That's because adults aren't entirely useless — some want to change the world, but are trying to balance their careers (i.e. Emiri, Juuri, Yukari and Yamato) and some are too cynical or apathetic to even believe in a changing Earth (i.e. Takeo).
Taylor Hebert, protagonist of the superhero story Worm, begins the story as a student at Winslow High and subject of an extended and viciousbullying campaign. Of all the teachers and administrators at the school, exactly one notices, exactly zero offer any meaningful assistance, and some are actively, wilfully against her. It's tragically telling that when Taylor finally meets a genuine Reasonable Authority Figure, she suspects she's under some mental compulsion.
Taken to extremes that got more disturbing every episode in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. Fred's dad actually expressed joy at the thought of him and the gang being attacked by a swarm of cicadas that had put three people in the hospital.
A source of much of the humor, where it is always up to the kids to save the day while the adults run around either clueless, panicking, or distracted. Stan Marsh's father Randy in particular is wonderfully stupid and easily led.
In "Cripple Fight," a crowd of adults allows the title event to occur until both children are beaten and worn to exhaustion... and THEN an adult comes forward, saying, "Alright, boys, break it up..."
The movie is a particularly good example of this trope. The opening song even includes the line "Off to the movies we shall go/where we learn everything that we know/'cause the movies teach us what our parents don't have time to say".
Taken to extremes in the season 6 episode "Child Abduction Isn't Funny" when the parents, in response to sensationalist news feel the only way to keep themselves from kidnapping their kids is to send them off into the wild. 4 days and a Mongolian invasion later, the parents think the kids have somehow become Mongolians and forgotten civilization. Kids are not amused. On the other hand, Mongolians themselves were quite helpful.
"I know our parents have done some stupid crap before, but Jesus Christ."
Mr. Adams is a subversion. In "The Poor Kid" he acts as the caseworker to the Mc Cormick children when they are taken from their parents. He is a dimwit who would prefer to tell Penn State jokes rather than help the children adjsut, but when he finds the foster home to be terrible too, he is very ashamed for having put them there, which is more than we get from the average adult. He did send the children back to their original homes but only because he felt the system couldn't help them.
Another subversion is Nathan's mother at the end of "Handicar". While she is very much aware that Nathan hates summer camp and doesn't want to go there, she and her husband unfortunately had already made plans to vacation in Italy while their son's at camp. Hence, she pretends to not understand what Nathan is saying (despite it being clearly understandable to the normal person) in order to say "no" to his request of staying home from camp without having to explain the reason why.
Doug: Roger is pestering Patty, disrupting class. It annoys Doug so much but Ms. Wingo doesn't even lift an ounce of effort to stop the bullying. When Patty finally loses it since Roger's disrupting her homework, Ms. Wingo then sentences Roger to detention...and Patty despite her being the victim. Most school systems in America have a Zero-Intelligence Zero-Tolerance policy of fighting where the aggressor AND the student defending themselves receive more-or-less equal punishment.
Recess has been known to go in and out of this trope. Adults in the show tend to vary between the primary antagonist (at least for the episode) to recurring obstacle to often siding with the children. And nevertheless, they are frequently portrayed as being worthless. In a startling realistic scenario, Ms. Finster actually tells a bully to leave Gus alone only for him to flat out ignore it and she is nowhere to be seen for the rest of the episode. (And neither is Randall, who you would think would find prime tattling material except for that he is afraid of them too.)
Really; we can add a lot of things done by some of the kids on that playground to this list. Half the stuff people do in Recess on a regular basis seem to be ignored by adults. Doesn't help that Ms. Finster is more keen on looking for kids chewing bubble gum or bringing outside toys in.
Miss Grotke usually subverts this trope, as she's usually always standing up for what the kids believe in and giving them advice, but at the same time, she can be pretty oblivious to the gang's plans.
Weirdly, the only consistently Reasonable Authority Figure is King Bob — the child-appointed sovereign of the playground. He's in 6th grade, so is only 10 or 11.
Subverted in The Movie. It starts out like this, but then the kids bite off more than they can chew trying to stop the Evil Plot™ and the faculty have to rescue them.
In Storm Hawks, the entire free world is at risk of being overrun by a teenage supervillain... and the only people who can save the day are a bunch of plucky teen heroes. The only adults seen are either tiny elderly folk or cannon fodder.
Plenty of other Sky Knight squadrons are seen, but they rarely end up being useful. It's partly because they tend to stick to their own terras, whereas the Storm Hawks have no ties to anyplace in particular and are free to roam the world and get into crazy adventures.
Averted with Stork, who is one of the Storm Hawks and arguably an adult, albeit a young one (early 20's, not that you'd think it). He's a Non-Action Guy, but still manages to be one of the most memorable characters.
Also averted with Starling, a Sky Knight who lost her squadron. Like the Storm Hawks, she seems to travel a lot.
W.I.T.C.H. averts this trope by having many adult characters, most villains, constantly outsmarting and one-upping the heroes. Especially in the second season when some of the villains are the previous Guardians, who have the same power-set as the heroes, but years more experience in using them, as well as being more powerful. The heroes must rely on their wits to even stand a chance.
Rugrats is the king of this trope. The adults are criminally unaware, social services level unaware, of the whereabouts of their children. Then again, who would imagine that babies would be the main characters?
In one episode the parents visit a plant nursery, put the kids down in the MIDDLE OF THE STORE, and walk away like it's normal, proceeding with their shopping. The babies were also wandering around the entire store riding/pushing a shopping cart along, often threatened by falling plants and mean looking dogs. Did none of the other customers or employees take notice of this?
The PBS show Arthur does a Take That to the Rugrats in one episode, where baby Kate is watching something similar to it, and questions where the parents are at. She switches the show to one like the Teletubbies, which she approves of.
Cracked parodied it with the kids doing things like smoking and sticking scissors in their eyes, while their parents left for Mexico. The parody ended with them being taken to court for criminal negligence, but getting pardoned because the judge thought the kids were so ugly, no sane person would want them.
Avatar: The Last Airbender half-averts this trope. The number of times the main characters have encountered useless, ineffectual or just plain stupid adults (Lao Bei Fong, General Fong) is about equal to the number of encounters with scarily competent and powerful adults (Iroh, King Bumi). Some are marginally useful, but rarely affect the plot directly (Hakoda, Piandao).
In the third season, there are a number of useful adults, particularly during the Invasion. Most notably Sokka and Katara's father Hakoda, although Teo's Mad Scientist dad is also right behind him. The Boulder and the Hippo, along with Hue and the Swamp Benders, also rank high. Naturally, all of them are captured by the end of the episode to prevent them from stealing the spotlight any further.
And then the Grand Finale has the old masters, a whole squad of Badass Grandpasand some of the most powerful benders in the world, both taking back Ba Sing Se themselves and making the plan to defeat that finally defeated the Fire Nation.
In all, it's more like they are useless until they become an Old Master, and then they get the appropriate degree of competence. So it's more like Avatar has an Incompetence Zone.
Really, the adults are less useless on average than the children - it's more a problem of "next to Aang, Iroh, and Azula, no-one with significant screen time seems consequential."
There's been a 100 Years War going on here. How many adults do you think are left? Just think the Southern Water Tribe.
Averted in Kim Possible, where all the main characters' parents (well, except Ron's mother, who appears to be completely oblivious to her son or what he does) help save the day at least once.
Codename: Kids Next Door. In it, almost all the characters over thirteen (including teenagers) are either malicious, ignorant, or incompetent. This is excusable since as the title implies, it's a show for young children. But older viewers who can't take the show for what it is may try to overthink it and see the adult villains as criminals; perhaps even omnicidal maniacs because a few villains wish to eliminate every child in the world. Heck, one episode taking place in a possible future has the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES of all people about to sign a bill stripping kids of all their Constitutional rights. Then again, this was really Numbuh 1 being placed in the Happy Headband, and thus, it never happened. But WHY was every politician accepting of the bill and not calling for the secession of their respective states, basically starting a second civil war? These are questions that burn within this troper.
However one of the Operatives' father (namely Niegel aka Numbah 1's) turns out to be The KND's greatest agent, Numbuh Zero, and was briefly recommissioned to help the KND fight against Grandfather and his legion of Senior Citizombies.
There's also Numbuh Two's mother in her first appearance, when she defeats the Common Cold after the Kids have been unable to do so. This was fairly early in the series and Mrs. Gilligan has a completely different personality in all subsequent appearances.
A few adults have aided the KND, like Lasso Lass, Dr. Sigmund Teeth, and especially Moosk, but Numbuh One can't help but be suspicious of them, at least at first.
Pick any adult on Moral Orel and you'll find some degree of uselessness or Jerkassery. Topping the list, however, are Orel's parents. His dad Clay injured Orel on a hunting trip and got so madly drunk that even Cheerful Child Orel was forced to see his father for what he was; Orel's mother, Bloberta, took over 10 episodes to realize their younger son Shapey got switched with Block, the younger son of their Distaff Counterparts the Posabules. Then there's the overall neglect of Shapey and Block, which consists of doing nothing while they play with any dangerous device you can imagine (and some you can't).
The episode "Innocent" lampshades this by having the adults realize their careless advice is often what causes Orel (who takes things literally) to do the crazy things that he does. They're forced to acknowledge that maybe they don't actually know what they're talking about * gasp!* . Their "solution" isn't much better. The adults, including Orel's dad, try to avoid Orel entirely and, failing that, try to avoid giving advice and passes him off on someone else. The end result: Orel tries to prove to God he is "innocent" by bathing in his friends' blood.
Later on in the show, however, Reverend Rod Putty and Coach Daniel Stopframe subvert this, actually doing their part to help Orel.
Subverted in The Venture Bros., where the title characters are accident-prone morons. True, their dad isn't very useful, but that's more because he doesn't care rather than any real incompetence. Brock Samson more than makes up for anything Doc Venture is lacking in.
Doc Venture is more cynical than incompetent, being a traumatized-adult parody of Jonny Quest (in addition to "Action Johnny"). In fact it's unknown which part of the Rusty Venture cartoon-show is real, since it's implied that all of his childhood-adventures actually happened.
After season 3, Doctor Venture is forced to care about his sons now that he can't just keep cloning them. Orpheus, having gone into his mind, finds an army of Hank and Dean zombies wandering around inside Venture's mind looking for their father to love them. Orpheus mentions that they're the manifestation of Rusty's guilt of being apathetic enough toward his sons to clone them so he doesn't actually have to take care of them.
Averted in Jonny Quest, where the boys provide minimal help for Race and Dr. Quest.
Partially averted with Helen Morgendorfer in Daria who shows in at least one episode that it's good to have a high powered lawyer in the family and, very occasionally, shows signs of genuine wisdom. Played straight with all the other adults in the series except one of Daria's aunts (naturally, she's a lot like Daria).
Adults are so useless in Peanuts that, outside of a handful of scenes in the animated specials, they never appear onscreen or have any lines. Their voices are simulated by a muted trombone.
That is taken from the comic strip, which was done that way to keep eye-level with the kids. Taller adults would have not worked in that format. For those keeping score, adults were shown in the comic strip a grand total of three times: the first two times, only their legs could be seen due to the perspective of the panel being drawn at the height of Charlie Brown and Lucy, and the third time showed them as indistinct figures in the background. The first few years of the Peanut strip did occasionally feature speech bubbles from off-panel adult characters however.
This trope was always played straight in the strip, however, as the general message is that the kids are on their own to fend for themselves— particularly via their various philosophical musings and Lucy's "Psychiatric Help" stand.
Every adult in The Fairly OddParents is either incompetent (Mr. Turner, the Mayor), clueless (Mrs. Turner, Principal Waxaplax), indifferent (the Dinklebergs, the Buxaplentys), cowardly (Vicky's parents), or flat out evil (Crocker, Doug Dimmadome). Even on Yugopotamia, Mark's parents are utterly useless in an emergency (such as the Gigglepie invasion or the attempted assassination of Grippulon). Fairy adults seem fairly competent, albeit eccentric. Everyone above 10, actually. And Timmy had to coin that quote at the top... The Show is a parody of abusive, negligent, self-centered modern parents, after all, to the point that Timmy has to dream up fairy-godparents since he's functionally an abused orphan.
Arthur is zigzagged. Most of the times it's played straight when the kids solve most of their problems without the help of any adults, like in the episode "Arthur's Birthday" when they solve the problem of Arthur and Muffy's birthday's being on the same day with no adult interaction, besides Arthur's dad telling Arthur that his idea is a good idea. Occasionally it is averted, like in Arthur's Knee when the Arthur's Parents are the only people who can help Arthur with his knee.
Code Lyoko subverts, plays straight and generally runs all over the place with this trope. At first, the middle school heroes won't tell any adults about their virtual battles with XANA because they think (probably correctly) that the first thing the adults would do is shut down the Supercomputer that's causing all the trouble, which in turn might kill Aelita. Yumi later lampshades and tries to subvert this trope when XANA threatens to cause a nuclear meltdown, saying that they're in way over their heads and need to tell somebody what's going on. The group narrowly decides to do so, but the adults are too distracted to do anything more than dismiss her with "you're Just a Kid". Still later, some of the teachers, particularly their P.E. teacher Jim, prove to be resourceful and heroic once they're pulled into the fight, but the show's Reset Button premise ensures that the Masquerade's always back in place by the end of each episode. Meanwhile, the middle-aged creator of Lyoko would probably be tremendously useful, if he weren't the The Ghost; as it is, he appears only through flashbacks, impostors, or by triggering the occasional Deus ex Machina from off-screen.
While not every adult is useless, most are fairly incompetent. Matt Groening talks about many of the adult characters as morons. He said in an interview that authority isn't always quite as smart as it should be, and people like teachers and doctors all have flaws.
Invoked in "Nightmare Cafeteria" where Bart and Lisa tell Marge about the cannibalism going on in their school, and Marge promptly dismisses them telling them that she cannot fight all their battles and they should forcefully tell the teachers to not eat them.
In A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, the kids end up chasing a lot of people in costumes committing a number of illegal acts. Yet adults never seem to step in on any of the cases, even if minors risk getting injured and will sometimes actually hire the kids themselves. This was lampshaded in at least one episode when Fred asks a client why they aren't going to the police instead.
Subverted in King of the Hill where Hank and Peggy are always willing and able to get Bobby out of any trouble he might find himself in, and can even handle any problems that they themselves start. The other adults on the show however, particularly Bill and Dale...
Somewhat the case in the 80's Nickelodeon cartoon The Mysterious Cities of Gold. The three child protagonists repeatedly outsmart, escape, or defeat in combat entire groups of Spanish soldiers. Even in times where they had adult help, either the children were treated as leaders and guiders, or they ultimately ended up not being very helpful at all. Along the way they manage to solve several Incan mysteries the rest of the adults were incapable of figuring out.
Invader Zim. Every single adult (and most of the children, for that matter) is completely oblivious to the fact that Zim is an alien, despite being, as Dib points out, green, with no ears. Mrs. Bitters, however, isn't useless... she's downright sadistic.
In the Futurama episode "Teenage Mutant Leela Hurdles", when the cast is reverted back to being teenagers, Leela requests that her parents ground her, arguing that she never had such an experience. She then sneaks out through the window.
All of the adults have become complete idiots in recent years who will follow anything anyone with a microphone or megaphone says even if it's really dangerous or completely idiotic.
The only competent adults are Brian and Lois. And as the series progressed, much of Lois's competence was absorbed by Brian. Now Lois is mostly apathetic to her children's problems (which she wasn't before) and now Brian is the only adult in the show capable of using any sort of logic in their lives.
Joe Swanson is an aversion. He's likely the only truly competent person in town, barring the fact that he is a bit of a hard-nose, he's usually just doing his job.
Adults in The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius are either never around (most of the parents), completely stupid (Jimmy's dad) or don't get onto the kids until the end. The quite possible worst example of this is probably one episode where Jimmy was being beaten up by a bully repeatedly at school. His parents assumed it was a girl and that he had found a girlfriend, even though he was coming home with BRUISES. It eventually got to the point where Jimmy had to invent something to protect him!
The action in every episode of Inspector Gadget revolves around the comically inept title character unknowingly putting himself in grave danger while his ten-year-old niece and canine sidekick have to protect him from himself and solve the case all by themselves. Other adults (e.g. Da Chief) tend to be competent and intelligent, however, so Gadget is the exception in this universe, not the rule. Possibly his idiocy stems from having a helicopter in his head.
However; this has been interpreted as Obfuscating Stupidity. Proponents of this school of thought say that Gadget (And possibly even Da Chief!) is aware that his ten year old niece and his dog are the ones doing all the work. They seem to have the formula down to a T, Inspector Gadget walks around getting into trouble and keeps the criminals (for the most part) distracted, while the case is solved from the shadows by Penny and Brain. He also takes the credit for it, so MAD only targets him. There have been occasions where he knew Penny and/or Brain was in danger and then becomes scarily competent.
In Young Justice, this is usually averted by the Justice League. But there were a few instances, such as in the episode "Humanity" where the league (which includes Batman) were completely unsuccessful in tracking down Red Tornado despite weeks of effort. The team proceeds to find him and foil the villain's plan in one day.
Only a partial example. While the Team was able to find the villains, they were completely outmatched and needed the intervention of Reds Tornado, Torpedo, and Inferno to stop him and Red Tornado's help preventing his plan.
In "Failsafe", the entire team is defeated by the invading aliens without achieving any victory where the team was successful in running numerous offense action. The entire point of the training exercise was to see how the team could cope after losing the league as support.
Averted in The Weekenders. The characters' parents are all Reasonable Authority Figures who're receptive and in-touch with their children, and always have the right thing to say. (Especially Tino's mom, who is Genre Savvy.) Even Tish's mom, when she is shown as acting like a child eventually realizes that it was bothering Tish and stopped, but nevertheless enjoyed the weekend she spent with Tish and her friends. Carver's dad, portrayed as a rather uncaring authority figure by Carver is simply just stern...and it was Carver misinterpreting every chore and favour as a "punishment".
Wheel Squad averted this trope in "Hands Off My Brother". When the wheels failed to discourage the Snakes from bullying small children into stealing stuff for them, the wheels called for adult help and the adults did make it stop.
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episodes featuring the Cutie Mark Crusaders will often feature this to one degree to another, such as the first such ep having well-meaning teacher Cheerilee inadvertently create the insult "Blank Flank" for kids without a Cutie Mark. However, the episode "One Bad Apple" subverts it in that, throughout the episode, Sweetie Belle keeps trying to get the other two to appeal to a Reasonable Authority Figure for help against Babs Seed's bullying. Applejack later explains that, had they done so, she could have told them what Babs had been doing through at home, which the Crusaders immediately realized explained why she had behaved as he did. Applejack had initially held this information back to avoid getting Babs feeling singled out by the kids and reminded of what she was getting away from.
Admittedly Applejack could have avoided the problem completely by sharing that bit of info, seeing as Applebloom knows from personal experience how it feels to be bullied about your blank flank. Also, she knows that the Cutie Mark Crusaders are completely obsessed about cutiemarks. Does it make sense to hand over a filly who's extremely uncomfortable about the subject to them without a quick explanation?
Gravity Falls: Grunkle Stan is pretty much oblivious to anything Dipper and Mabel are up to. The police are vastly incompetent at their jobs as well. Averted with Stan as of season two, when he saves the kids from a horde of zombies and proceeds to reveal to them that he's always known about the supernatural stuff in Gravity Falls, but pretended he didn't so they wouldn't get in trouble.
It is revealed that the obliviousness of the townspeople was the result of an secret society erasing their memories so they wouldn't be haunted by the supernatural occurrences. It's implied that the mind-wiping ray also affected the sanity of the community too, leaving them not only ignorant but brain-damaged. But with the society disbanded, it appears that this may start to change.
The only adults of any prominence in Pelswick are two old ladies caught up in a rivalry with each other, the father who only cares about being politically correct, and the vice principal who is both a Cloudcuckoolander and overprotective of his students. Guest adults are generally even worse. The wisest adult on the show manages to be the weird guardian angel.
Mac's Mom in Fosters Home For Imaginary Friends zigzags this trope. Unlike most adults in animation, she is not oblivious to the bullying Mac goes through at the hands of Terrance. However, she is usually is too busy working to do anything about it, and her solution to the problem is forcing Mac to get rid of Bloo. Nor does she notice Mac's visits to Foster's.
Happens a lot in Ewoks. While the adults are not exactly dumb, they rely on their adolescent cubs to save the day, more often than not.