Common theme running through initial seasons of shows featuring a Kid Hero. The young hero meets a series of dismissive characters who assume ineptness because (wait for it) — "You're just a kid." The dismissive characters can be good or bad, but will meet their comeuppance by the end of the episode (or the season, if it's a multi-episode arc).
Requires a show built around the concept of a hero who is stronger or more competent than they appear.
Because the conceit of this trope wears thin after two or three years, it often quietly fades, only to reappear in another character.
When its the villain instead of the hero whose youth is being remarked on, you might be dealing with an Enfant Terrible, in which case you're in big trouble.
See also Stay in the Kitchen, where a character is as "just a woman" or "just a girl". Frequently found in plots based around athletics, or the Macho Disaster Expedition.
Such a character may frequently be on the receiving end of Not Now, Kiddo.
Not to be confused with Just a Kid, the Australian name for Caitlin's Way.
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Anime & Manga
Nue of Air Gear is the Thunder King, making him one of the top riders of the series, and is also one of the youngest of the Kings.
The Girl part of Gunslinger Girl means that this is the usual reaction to them, even from people who have heard of their existence. The gunslinger part means that said people die soon after making this mistake.
Lampshaded by almost all the villains Gohan fights in one-on-one battle in Dragon Ball Z. Goku also suffered from this in the Dragon Ball series and in GT, which annoyed him even more, as he was reaching his sixties and was one of the strongest beings in the universe.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Lieutenant Ross and Sergeant Brosh lecture Ed and Al on how their youth means that they should give adults some more responsibility in the story. Of course, Ross is effectively shut down by Maes Hughes, who, Genre Savvy man that he is, knows who the main characters are.
The Prince of Tennis: Ryoma's rivals often comment derisively on him being just 12-to-13 years old and in his first year of junior high. And they end up losing to him soon.
Notably averted in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, where the Time-Space Administration Bureau will recruit anyone sufficiently skilled and responsible (or plot-important), regardless of age. No one magical ever looks down on, underestimates, or refuses to fight Nanoha or her peers because of their ages. Even her Muggle parents are surprisingly understanding and permissive.
17-year-old turned 7-year-old Shinichi Kudo in Detective Conan finds this a serious problem as no-one will take his deductions seriously. Then again, he still makes the best of the situation by constantly exploiting his ability to be underestimated by the culprits.
He's not immune to the trope in his teenage body either. In a recent chapter, police detective Satou confidently told her partner that the two "high school detectives" would get stuck and come running back to the police. She was immediately struck speechless when they arrived to announce that they had whittled down 50 cars to just three suspects.
Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs: Fireball is often the butt of jokes because he's 18 years old and his teammates are all over the age of twenty. 24-years-old Colt is the one who treats him like a child the most.
The title character from King of Bandit Jing is also a victim of this; you'd think by now the bad guys would learn that the infamous "Bandit King" is no more than 16 years old.
His age is somewhat debatable - in the manga, due to the art style, he looks younger, at least in the beginning.
Daisaku gets this a lot at the beginning of Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still, especially from Tetsuoko, who is jealous of Daisaku's mature manner (for a kid) but also of the close bond he shares with Ginrei.
Gundam Wing. Noin is bitter at having been defeated by "just a kid". To which Wufei retorts she underestimated him because he was young.
Of course, he 'just a woman'ed her.
Victory Gundam. Usso gets this a lot, given that he's only 13. He's Genre Savvy enough to use this to his advantage several times, because he knows people will underestimate him, or hesitate to harm a kid in battle. Of course, some of his opponents get Genre Savvy right back and treat him as as much of a threat as any adult soldier.
Sôsuke Sagara gets this from time to time. Especially noticeable in the arc where he had to cooperate with other soldiers to assassinate Gauron. None of them (except Gray) were willing to listen to his advice or input, because they were so insulted that Mithril would send a "kid" to help. They were proven wrong within an episode, and it ended very badly for them because of it. Plus they were really shocked when they found out that Sôsuke was an Afghan guerrilla when he was eight. Prior to that, he supposedly was a highly trained KGB assassin. Now he's 16 and the only man at Mithril who can use the Lambda Driver.
Talking about the Lambda Driver, episode 12 shows what happens if you think of Takuma as a harmless kid. Hint: it involves a 50-meter-tall mecha and Tokyo.
Many warriors have this reaction to Thorfinn in Vinland Saga. They mostly end up dead as a result.
Asuna seems to have trouble seeing Negi as anything other the sweet little brother she has to protect. Even after getting taken down in a few seconds by him in a sparring match, she still worries about him far too much.
During the elimination round of the Mahora Fesival Tournament Arc, most of the other fighters were treating Negi, Kotaro, and Evangeline as silly little kids that seem to have lost their way. The jokes stopped the moment people more than twice their size started getting effortlessly knocked around.
Evangeline's opponent in the first round tried to avoid this by treating her as an equal and not to be underestimated; of course since Evangeline is one of the strongest characters in the setting even while depowered, she still took him down in a split-second with a half-hearted punch while distracted.
The Thousand Master himself, and a bit of a sore point. When a threat level of Ala Rubra was placed, with Zect and Eishun listed as the most dangerous... then Nagi was mentioned as, "oh, and this kid is pretty good too," complete with his own picture, which is suddenly scowling. Oh, and Zect looks like an eight-year-old while Nagi was fifteen or so.
Digimon Tamers is notorious for this, as every single one of the main characters' families plays the Just a Kid card. Jenrya's mom was probably the most memorable — she was the only one who never really supported the idea of her son fighting, even after seeing him in action.
Tamers wasn't the only season to have a Just a Kid situation. Iori/Cody got this treatment from his older teammates, two of whom (T.K./Takeru and Kari/Hikari) conveniently forgot that Iori/Cody is two full years older than they were during their first adventure with the Digimon (at least that's the age gap in the American version. Correct me if that isn't universal).
Issuing requested correction: Iori is one year older than Takeru and Hikari were when their adventures began.
In Highschool of the Dead, despite most of the main cast being high school age and obviously competent from the reader's perspective, they receive this treatment once they reach the Takagi mansion. This mostly speaks towards a cultural stigma in Japan that you're not really an adult until you're 20 and are dismissed as a kid up to that point. Fortunately, the cast gets their chance to prove themselves.
In Eyeshield 21, this was the reason why Mamori didn't want Sena to join the football team, as she still sees him as someone who needs to be protected by her. And this plays a major role in why she cannot realize that Sena is in fact Eyeshield 21.
Iris from Pokémon has a rather...odd...habit: calling Ash a kid whenever he says something she doesn't like or does something not smart. In fact, she does it often in plenty of episodes...even though she's a kid herself!
The Amazing Spider-Man: Spidey gets unmasked by Dr. Octopus in an early issue, but thanks to Peter Parker's youth (and Spidey's poor performance in the proceeding fight) neither Ock nor the assembled crowd believe Parker is really Spidey, assuming that Peter just donned a Spider-Man costume to play the hero. Years later, when Spidey unmasks on national TV, Doc Ock goes on a rampage fueled by the humiliation of being constantly beat by a high-schooler.
Subverted a lot in Ultimate Spiderman, where Spiderman is normally a well-respected threat to the bad guys until he begins to quip. His talking points normally date him (making pop-culture references or naďve assumptions), prompting the bad guy to reply along the lines of "Wait, how old are you?"
The Runaways have to deal with this kind of treatment all the time from adult superheroes. This doesn't mesh well with the runaways' ingrained belief that Adults Are Uselessat best thanks to the whole "parents are evil supervillains plotting to wipe out humanity" thing that shattered their ability to trust adults. In their well-meaning efforts to look out for the kids' well-being, the adult heroes are just reinforcing the idea that the runaways can't ever trust adult authority figures.
Films — Animation
This was the main plot of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. SpongeBob got this from nearly everyone in the movie as a reason he's not capable of doing what he sets out to do. Of course, he does prove himself.
This trope name is also the name of the third song on the movie's OST, performed by Wilco.
Films — Live-Action
The Neverending Story. The Prime Minister (or whoever he's supposed to be) didn't want Atreyu the child, he wanted Atreyu the warrior. Atreyu just shrugs and says he is the only one of his tribe with that name and they can take it or leave it. They take it.
In Romance of the Three Kingdoms the veteran generals of Wu were reluctant at first to follow the orders of their new chief strategist Lu Xun because he was just "a mere young scholar". They later gave him their full support after seeing how effective the strategy was in curb-stomping the invading Shu forces.
Prince Caspian: Trumpkin doesn't even try to hide his initial disappointment to find that the powerful kings and queens who ruled Narnia during the Golden Age have come back as children (Year Inside, Hour Outside complicates things that way).
In the Night World series, made vampires are frozen at whatever age they are turned at, and lamia (vampires that can eat, have children, etc.) can stop their physical aging at any time they want. This ends up meaning that several people who have to fight vampires have to silently recite something along the lines of, "They're not really kids." Amusing, considering even vampire kids who are young would still be rather dangerous to a human.
In Hunger, the second book in the Gone series, by Micheal Grant, this is the excuse of almost everyone for not working, because every character is under 15.
Harry Potter saves the day about once a year, but the good adults, with the exception of Dumbledore, treat him like a child until the sixth book or so. In particular, using this trope was Umbridge's modus operandi. To be fair, even disregarding the number of near-death experiences, hairs-breadth-escapes, and hideously one-sided battles Harry's had to face, you can't blame the adults for trying to prevent him from getting blown up or having his soul sucked out.
But you can blame them for not sharing critical information which directly concerns him simply because they think he can't handle the Awful Truth. Especially when they do this over and over again and Harry always finds out anyway.
Appears a lot the Young Wizards series, mostly used by parents. But in book 4, 14-year-old Nita uses this trope on a month-old kitten bard; the kitten is not amused, and starts lecturing....
"A terrorist doesn't let strangers into her flat because they might be undercover police or intelligence agents, but her children bring their mates home and they run all over the place. The terrorist doesn't know that one of these kids has bugged every room in her house, made copies of all her computer files and stolen her address book. The kid works for CHERUB."
The frequently-underestimated eleven year old chemistry genius and proto-goth-chick Flavia de Luce solves mysteries in books like "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" and "The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag." In the latter, the constabulary are infuriated she is always better informed than they are and put it down to the fact that as a kid, people open up to her. (The fact is, she's also smarter than they are.)
Thorin Oakenshield was equivalent in age to a fourth or fifth grader when he fought at Nanduhirion and earned his nickname. Dáin Ironfoot was even younger at that battle, where he slew an orc-chieftan. And not just any orc chieftain but Public Enemy Number Twonote Smaug was Public Enemy Number One at the time. Azog!
Children under fifteen are by default looked down on in A Song of Ice and Fire, but they can definitely prove themselves and gain a following if they're strong enough. Women are treated the same way. Being both of these things, Daenerys likes to twist this trope to her own benefit whenever an advisor or commander voices some opinion that she disagrees with or believes is short-sighted.
Daenerys: I am only a young girl and know little of such matters, but it seems to me that [voices an opinion she has no intent of changing].
At the end of Tunnel in the Sky, the stranded kids are finally rescued. The adults treat them like they're still children when the students survived years on an alien world and built a thriving, civilized colony.
Artemis Fowl has had it impressed on him many times that the hardest part of being a pre-teen criminal mastermind is getting people to take you seriously, especially when dealing with his own race. Faeries tend to respect him more, though they still get irked at being outsmarted by a mud boy.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy, at least during the high school years. It disappears largely after then, because everyone in Sunnydale (and beyond) has apparently heard of Buffy and is no longer surprised at her abilities. The trope was back in full swing during season seven, with the training of Dawn and the Potentials.
The Wire: Omar Little, one of the lead characters, dismisses many young players in the Baltimore drug trade because they're "just kids", including using the phrase exactly to describe Michael, who is meeting with Marlo, in late season four. One such child, Kenard, is looked at by a Baltimore police officer as an example of how Omar's influence and brazen antics have spread to young, impressionable children, who view him as a hero. Near the end of the series, Omar is unexpectedly gunned down by Kenard, and had dismissed the child as a threat when he walked into the store.
The trope is then used word for word in the season five finale. Michael has become a stick-up boy in Omar's mould, and when he holds up Marlo's "bank" is told "Shit, you just a boy!"; [blam] "And that's just your knee."
Game of Thrones: Tywin Lannister dismisses the 18-year-old Robb Stark as a threat because of this, figuring that he'll probably run back home to the North at the first sight of battle. He is oh so very wrong. When the dust settles, his son is a prisoner of war, and half his army has been destroyed. Turns out that Robb is actually quite the tactician.
In the NES version of Final Fantasy III, one of the villagers in Ur thinks the four Onion Kids are crazy because they want to save the world.
In Dissidia 012 Duodecim Final Fantasy, Vaan thinks that the Onion Knight is way too young to be fighting with the rest of them, and elects to be his "older brother". This mainly consists of him trying to get Onion Knight to take it easy at every term which really ticks off the Onion Knight, who's surprisingly mature and strong for his age.
Mission Vao in Knights of the Old Republic is constantly annoyed this trope, to the point of it being a Berserk Button. She's just fourteen and sounds like a typical teenager, except for the part that when she demands to be taken seriously, she has good reason. You can avert actually treating her like this, though.
Seeing as she survived on her own in one of the worst slums in the galaxy after her brother ran off, when she is an age, gender, species, and attractiveness level (nubile, female, pretty-looking Twi'lek of uncommon coloration) that would have pigeonholed her into prostitution, slavery, or worse and frequently explres tunnels and passages in the Undercity where even the party's Mandalorian mercenary won't go without a full entourage of armed men, even withoutZaalbar for backup, her annoyance at being blown off as a kid is pretty justified. Mission is definitely Little Miss Badass.
Sylvia: My name is Sylvia, but you can call me 'Sylvie'! Sigurd: Huh? Just a little girl. You better find a place to hide, it's dangerous here. Sylvia: Little... GIRL!? You ever see a little girl with THESE!?
Played straight in Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones with Ewan, his older sister and mentor still tend to see him as a little boy (the latter less so than the former, however, Saleh is shown to acknowledge and praise Ewan's skills despite the scoldings).
Also played straight with Rolf in Tellius games (less so in Radiant Dawn since he does get older) by his brother Boyd, and the majority of the people on his support list, excluding the sickly priest Rhys and his mentor Shinon, for the most part. Some of his support conversations basically begin with someone telling him that he's too young to be on a battlefield, while he denies it vehemently, and later proves them wrong at the A support level.
In the The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask manga Link also has to deal with this when he's traveling the world. He's invited to show a group of soldiers in training how to fight; the guy in charge knows that Link is a little badass, but the trainees mock him. Until he beats them up, of course. It's then commented that he fights like a man but when it comes to food, he acts like a kid. Majora's Mask itself (as well as the manga) uses this trope when Link is turned into a Deku Scrub, too.
Amusingly averted after Link regains his normal Hylian boy form. Children aren't allowed outside the city walls, it's too dangerous, but since Link has a sword the guards will let him do whatever he wants, despite the fact that he's ten and barely comes up to the guards' waist. The best part about that is that the guard apologies for treating him like a child.
Even older incarnations of Link aren't immune. When Link revives Scrapper in Skyward Sword, the robot in question refuses to give him a modicum of respect (saving his life only warrants a reluctant offering of "obligatory gratitude"), calls him a child, and then takes to taking jabs at his height by permanently nicknaming him Master Shortpants.
Mega Man 8: Tengu Man looks down (literally) on our hero and says, "It's just a kid. Don't make me laugh." in some instances in the English releases.
Which is kind of a silly case, when you think about it. Mega Man might look and act like a child at some points, but he's actually older than every other robot in the franchise save Proto Man.
If playing as X in Mega Man X 4, Frost Walrus says this pre-battle: "They sent a kid like you after me? I promise to end this quickly". If playing as Zero, he says: "What's that blonde kid up to?! I don't have time for you junior!"
Also from the metaseries is Hope Stelar of Mega Man Star Force, where she calls her own son (and the hero of the game) "Just A Boy" in the third game.
NES Ninja Gaiden (For NES): Ryu Hayabusa mistakes MIB agent Irene Lew as "Just a girl. Get out of here." He is promptly shot and captured.
Used frequently in the Pokémon games. Every evil "team" has at least one member that says some variation of this, despite the fact that physical age has no effect on battles. Even Team Rocket continues to do this in the second generation games, which is surprising, considering that it was a kid who caused them to disband three years before.
Sonic Adventure 2. Eggman taunts Tails: "You're just a kid. You couldn't beat me in a hundred years!" This was extremely stupid of Eggman seeing that Tails may have managed to see him off once before in that story and actually managed to defeat him decisively when he was attacking station square in the previous game in a head to head... without his mecha. Whether Eggman ends up eating his words depends on whether you're playing the hero or dark story.
In Final Fantasy X-2, Shinra responds to questions he doesn't know the answer to with "I'm just a kid."
At one point, Yuna actually calls him out directly on this. She wants to communicate with the cactuars in the Cactuar Nation, but Benzo, the Al Bhed kid who understands their speech, isn't around. She asks Shinra if he can communicate with them and Shinra gives his standard excuse, to which Yuna responds that Benzo is also just a kid. Shinra seems very put out by this.
Considering the protagonists are all in their early teens: "At times like this, kids like you should be playing video games!"
Also in Earthbound, the sea captain who is ferrying the group to Scaraba exclaims that he thought that the foursome were just a group of kids upon them defeating the Kraken.
Backyard Sports: This is the way Sally Dobbs acts toward her brother Ronny.
One of the motivating factors behind Naoto's shadow in Persona 4.
Also seen in the Good Ending when Adachi taunts the team by saying things along the lines of "Students should stay home and study." (As opposed to, you know, bringing him to justice.)
A Running Gag in the fourth case of Ace Attorney Investigations was that everyone was dissing the young Miles Edgeworth and Franziska Von Karma as just kids, even though Edgeworth was already a prosecutor.
In the non-canon Yu-Gi-Oh GX! Tag Force 1, Kagemaru say this to the player during their second duel (after going from being stuck in a machine to being youthful, a glowing aura, and eight-pack abs) when he's losing.
Paige tries treating the others as kids in The Colour Tuesday, at which point Alex points out that she's the same age as the rest of them.
Prevalent in Nasuverse works. Then again, the one saying it is usually farbeyond mere humans.
Tsukihime: Nero to Shiki, who proceeds to destroy over a hundred of his beasts.
Both the five protagonists and two of the antagonists of the web fiction serial Dimension Heroes fit into this trope.
Vista, in Worm, is a thirteen-year-old superheroine on a team of older teenagers. She's also the member of the team with the most actual experience as a superhero, because she's had her powers since she was eleven. It frequently leads to her experiencing this trope.
Despite the page quote, the show averts this in that Aang is instantly recognized as the most important person on the planet by most people he encounters, and will react to him by either giving him respect, wanting him to complete a dangerous task for them, or attacking him on sight, and will usually result in Aang's pursuers homing in on his position regardless. This aversion is a distinctly mixed blessing to say the least.
It's simultaneously averted and played straight (by Yue and Aang respectively) in the season one finale (which, coincidentally was aptly named "The Siege of the North").
Aang: I must have taken out a dozen Fire Navy ships, but there's just too many of them. I can't fight them all. Yue: But, you have to! You're the Avatar! Aang: I'm just one kid. (buries his head in his arms)
Ben 10: Ben occasionally runs afoul of this, though never for very long: Voluntary Shapeshifting helps you escape this trope. Rather bizarrely, though, he often does find himself falling victim to this response all over again after a battle, when he changes back into his human form and the supporting character of the week realizes that he's a "just" a shape-shifting, superpowered kid rather than an alien.
Danny Phantom gets this a few times; twice from Vlad, once from Clockwork, although the latter is justified since he was trying to explain (in short) the nature of time to someone who's probably barely passing pre-algebra.
Also referred to in the opening theme. ("...Danny Fenton, he was just fourteen, when...")
Parodied when Candace once asks the boys (renowned for making bizarre inventions) why they couldn't just create some way of fixing their rocket ship without necessitating a space walk. The boys simply stare at her for a moment before Ferb comments, "Candace, we are just kids."
Throughout the Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends episode "Frankie My Dear", Bloo uses this as his excuse as to why he thinks he's better for Frankie than Mac is. Mac promptly throws it back in his face, since he imagined Bloo when he was three, making Bloo all of five years old, with the immaturity of a whiny toddler to match.
Max and Ruby: The character Max, despite being about four and not being capable of saying more than a few words at once, shows himself to be quite capable of either outwitting his older sister or helping her to get what she wants.
Underestimating a Kid Hero? How about a kid VILLAIN? Stewie, from Family Guy, shows signs of developing into a Diabolical Mastermind, yet his parents tend not to take him seriously. For example, he likes to read books like The Prince and The Art of War, yet his mother interrupts him telling him those books are not for toddlers and he should be watching Teletubbies instead. (Of course, he somewhat likes the show, but still...)
Averted in "Dragon Booster", where not only are the main cast all 16 or under (Moordryd being debatably 17), no one even mentions that Artha's 10 year old brother is going on the adventures with the group. Possibly explained by the only adults we see being Artha and Moordryd's fathers, and officials that are presumably upper class, but it's strange to only see adults in situations that simply could not be done by children (security heads and teachers), and no one thinks it's strange for the Down City racers to be primarily under 20.
Of course, on the flip side, the Down City races are the lowest ranked races, and so of course the competitors would be younger. If we had seen some higher-ranked racers, they might have been adults who might even have taunted the heroes for being "just kids"
Which still doesn't excuse no one being shocked that Lance (the above mentioned 10 year old) went on all the missions with Artha's team and the only person to even say "he's just a little kid" was Artha's Anti-Villain rival Moordryd, and even then only after Lance was attacked. Other than that, people only refer to him as short. Clearly the standards are different in Dragon City.
A theme on Young Justice; the team initially formed when the original sidekicks felt their mentors weren't giving them as much respect as they deserved. The Justice League agreed to accommodate them (albeit with issues continued to be hammered out throughout the first season). And of course, it sometimes comes up with villains too; Mister Twister actually claims to be disturbed to fight children and asks if they have any adult supervision.
It also comes up when the Justice League discovers that one of their own members, Captain Marvel, is actually only ten, leading to a vote about whether or not to keep him on. They do.
In The Penguins of Madagascar Skipper has used this phrase regarding Private a couple of times, sometimes to him, and sometimes when being a Large Ham. The best was in "Caught In The Web" when Private was taken away by Alice...
Skipper: HE'S JUST A BOY!!!!
Truth in Television: There are some children who are really, really good chess players. If you see a kid playing chess in a park, you underestimate him at your peril.
The same could be said about kids playing the most brutal Fighting Games in arcades.
Several notable bands who are known as extremely talented have had teen members, Primus among them.
No matter how old your are or how much experience or education you acquire you will always be a child in your parent's eyes.
This could be part of the reason behind teenage rebellion. When teenagers start seeing that the world is seeing htem as an adult and being given more responsibilities (being able to drive, vote, enlist in the military, etc.,) and you parents still see you as "my little baby," it's entirely possible that most rebellion is the child saying, "No, I'm not anymore." Most go in the wrong direction, but still as good a theory as any.
If you have any elder siblings, they will always think of you as the baby, even if you qualify as a genuine badass Crazy Awesome.
This was part of the real reason Joan of Arc's ability to lead an army was questioned. Women soldiers were not unheard of (especially as all the men were getting killed), some had even commanded, and it was not the first time someone had reported being asked by God to fight the English. It was the first time someone did all these things at the age of fourteen.