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Adults Are Useless / Literature

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Useless adults in literature.

  • Jane Austen tended to have ineffectual parents and guardians in her books.
    • Mansfield Park has manifestly useless parents. Lady Bertram is more interested in her dog than her children. Sir Thomas overcompensates with his sternness, and otherwise leaves their upbringing in the care of Mrs. Norris, who raises Maria and Julia with rampant favoritism. Fanny, the Bertrams' niece, never gets any positive notice except from her cousin, who is only a couple of years older.
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    • In Northanger Abbey, Mrs. Allen fails to do her job when it comes to advising Catherine on etiquette. Enough so, in fact, that Catherine finally complains that she's being left dangerously to her own devices.
    • In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth and Jane do a lot of futile work trying to improve their younger sisters. It never sticks because Mrs. Bennet spoils Lydia and neglects Kitty and Mary, and Mr. Bennet prefers to laugh at their antics rather than correct them. He, at least, finally admits his error after Lydia elopes.
  • Justified in the works of Orson Scott Card.
    • 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 Ender's 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.
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    • 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.
  • 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 of all those people like that looking down on a decent human being like Jim because he's black.
  • Largely played straight in the Ahriman Trilogy. Of the various adults, only Cleon ends up not being useless.
  • 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.
  • 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. (Though as Cinnamon Bunzuh! notes, this comes off more as a Hand Wave for why the book is stubbornly sticking to its target demographic.)
      • 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.
  • The Baby-Sitters Club:
    • 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 behavior and then acting out, as she was too distracted by becoming a pageant mom for her younger daughter.
  • Averted in The BFG. Late in the book, the Kid Hero Sophie's plan to save the day is to tell the Queen of England everything and get her to send a gajillion soldiers to pump the evil giants full of holes.
  • In The Bridge of Clay the five Dunbar brothers have to manage on their own. Their mother is dead, their father has left them (and even before that he wasn't much help) and other adults, like the school counselor, are basically clueless. And their elderly neighbour, Mrs Chilman, while she comes in from time to time to patch them up, basically believes teenagers are quite competent on their own, as in her day boys of similar age would be sent to fight in World War II.
  • Zig-zagged 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.
  • Discussed Trope at the end of The Case of the Silver Egg, by Desmond Skirrow, when one of Those Meddling Kids who've found the Kidnapped Scientist (falsely accused of having defected with the eponymous invention) tries to convince a politician that they really could have done it a lot faster if the adults hadn't got in the way.
  • One of Holden Caufield's schoolmates is bullied to death by his classmates in The Catcher in the Rye and the teachers do absolutely nothing.
  • 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.
  • In the Circleverse 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.
  • 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.
  • In Robin McKinley's Deerskin, a novel in which a king takes a rather unhealthy interest in his daughter, several adults notice this but neither do or say a thing to help her even when he announces he plans to marry her, because their king is above reproach. This does not end well.
  • 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 self-conscious and doesn't cope well with the unexpected; Miss Treason is ruthlessly judgmental 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.)
  • Eludoran: No one over the age of 14 seems capable of making important decisions or getting anything done. Somewhat Truth in Fiction since the adults tend to become mired in larger issues of state security and politics. It takes a year-long absence of his daughter before Arulaine even starts to take matters seriously, and even more time to spur himself to do something about it. Then again, he WAS battling depression at the time, so that might be an explanation.
  • 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 daughter, just with amnesia runs away from them, the mother just writes to her to wish her luck.
  • In Felicity Floo Visits The Zoo, Felicity's parents either took her to the zoo despite her being sick, didn't realise she was sick, let her go off on her own, or didn't realise that she escaped. Presuming they took her, they do nothing about her petting the animals, and neither do the zookeepers.
  • 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.
    • But even they are nothing compared to Michael Webster's parents in The Cuckoo Clock of Doom, in which they constantly dote on their youngest daughter Tara and refuse to believe Michael whenever the latter tells them about Tara tormenting him. Also, aside from the fact that they condone every misdeed Tara does to make Michael's life miserable, they don't even show any concern when Michael gets beaten up by a bully at school, as opposed to their earlier doting on Tara when she got a small cut on her leg. When Tara gets erased from existence in the end, they become far better parents.
    • The grandparents in How To Kill A Monster are arguably the stupidest adults in the entire franchise. They wait until after the kids arrived to go and try to find help to kill the monster they caught and stored in the basement, deciding to lock the kids inside the house and tell them nothing, opting instead to leave notes on the fridge, which the kids find too late, as they let the monster out due to an honest mistake. The grandparents hid the truth because they were "afraid that the parents wouldn't let the kids stay with them if they knew there was a monster in the house". And rather than taking the kids with them, the grandparents genuinely believe the kids are safer locked inside the house with the monster so long as they don't open a door. Main character Gretchen is furious at her grandparents' sheer stupidity, pointing out to stepbrother Clark that the grandparents won't be coming back with help because nobody will believe them about a monster in their house.
    • The parents of the protagonist in The Ghost of Slappy in the Goosebumps: SlappyWorld series, namely his father when he scolds him near the end of the story for ruining the birthday party his best friend has when it clearly was not his fault, and when Slappy in ghost form throws spaghetti on him and a custard pie in his face in the cafeteria, instead of asking who did it and seeing if he was alright, the teachers along with the students just laugh, they might just think it is harmless fun and he is not actually hurt, but makes you think that everyone at school is against him, and to make things worse, he is not even that unlikable of a kid.
  • In Greek Ninja it's a group of teenagers running around trying to save the day.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Zig-zagged in Harry Potter. Because the books are written from Harry's point of view, the adults in the books sometimes seem useless; but several adult characters, most notably Dumbledore, are actually aware of whatever evil plot Voldemort is trying to execute, but have very good reasons to leave Harry out of the loop. It is also lightly implied that Dumbledore gives Harry this feeling intentionally in order to train him without him being aware of it, especially in the first book. And, when the adults do something themselves, they actually save the day most of the time - the Battle in the Atrium and the Inferi cave, in particular. However, there are also several examples in which adult characters don't act very responsible at all. Specific examples of both sides of this trope are:
    • As a rule of thumb, Malfoy is allowed to bully Harry and his friends and make racially charged comments towards Muggle-born students without consequence. He is only directly shown being disciplined twice (once by McGonagall in book 1 and once by Mad-Eye Moody in book 4, and the fact that the latter was an active Death Eater in disguise ought to ring some alarm bells), and is indicated to have had to go to detention as his schoolwork slips in book 6.
    • Harry is sent home to the Dursleys every single Summer for most of the series, you know, the family that once made him live in a cupboard under the stairs and treated him as a slave for most of his life. They would repeatedly lock him into his room and tried to contain him so he couldn't return to Hogwarts. This is, whether intentionally or not, one of the greatest oversights the adults could make knowing Harry is critical to defeating Voldemort, because if they hurt or killed Harry, as abusers sometimes do if victims seem to be escaping their power, they could have done nothing about it. Even though that could mean the prophecy would be focused on Neville instead, it is a really stupid idea to gamble with the lives of your only gambit against Voldemort. There is no given reason for why Harry had to be sent back or why someone such as Hagrid or Dumbeldore could not have taken him in instead.
    • Subverted in the first book. When Harry and his friends tell Professor McGonagall someone is planning to steal the Philosopher's Stone, she merely tells them off for interfering with business that isn't their own. The problem here is that the Stone's presence at Hogwarts should have been top secret and if three first-year students know of it, she should have realized security has been compromised. On the other hand, Dumbledore saves Harry's life by arriving at the nick of time during his confrontation with the Voldemort-possessed Quirrell.
    • Played straight in Prisoner of Azkaban. When the truth about Sirius' innocence comes to light, the Ministry of Magic does not believe Harry and his friends and still wants to sentence Sirius to a Fate Worse than Death. The characters who do believe Harry know they can't do anything to change the Ministry's point of view, so Dumbledore leaves it to Harry and Hermione to save the day. Arguably justified, as they're the only characters who are in a position where they can do anything, but it still fits the trope.
    • 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.)
    • In The Order of the Phoenix Harry feels that the adults are unnecessarily keeping him in the dark about what is happening, not to mention that the Ministry spends most of its energy making sure Harry and Dumbledore shut up about Voldemort by any means necessary. Subverted when it's explained they had perfectly good reasons for keeping him in the dark (namely, Voldemort has figured out how to read Harry's thoughts), and Harry's own plan backfired spectacularly because Voldemort had also figured out how to influence his thoughts. That said, Dumbledore concedes to Harry that he, Dumbledore, could have handled the situation better and allowed Harry to get more help, and misunderstood how Voldemort was trying to manipulate him.
    • The biggest subversion happens in the sixth book. Harry is aware of an evil plot, in which Draco Malfoy is one of the key players. When he tries to warn the adult characters, most notably Dumbledore, of this plot, he gets the feeling he is constantly brushed off and tries to stop Malfoy himself. It turns out that Dumbledore is aware of this evil plot, but chooses not to act to keep Malfoy safe from Voldemort's wrath, should he fail. The evil plot in question is in fact a murder plot against Dumbledore himself. Since Dumbledore was already fatally cursed and had only one year to live, he used this murder plot to arrange a Thanatos Gambit with Snape to prevent Voldemort from ever possessing the power of the Elder Wand. He left Harry out of the loop because these details would only distract him from what he really needs to know.
    • Book seven lampshades this trope with this exchange:
      "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."
  • 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 also applies to bullying: the kids are in constant danger from violent bullies with almost no help from adults, and by the time adults do try to intervene, the big head bully Henry has got so close to Ax-Crazy that he intimidates them too. And when the police are called as a result of this and an attack that puts one of the kids in the hospital, they can't prove who was behind the attack. And while Mike Hanlon's parents actually take attacks on him seriously, they also know that the current local authorities are too racist to stand up for the only black kid in town.
  • A Lion In The Meadow: The mother fails to notice the lion in the meadow even when he roars, and when she hands the boy the match box, she fails to realise there's actually a dragon in it.
  • 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, stops taking prescribed medicine for vanity purposes, and brings 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.
  • 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.
  • Most of the adults in Losing Christina don't believe Christina about her two Sadist Teachers that are mentally deconstructing her.
  • 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.
  • The Mortal Instruments:
    • 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.
    • When the mother of Simon finds out that he is a vampire, she calls him a monster, and disowns him. His sister Rebecca, on the other hand, who is also a teenager, continues to be with him.
    • Valentin, the first Big Bad, has failed miserably. His plan was thwarted by Clary and Jace, who were both teenagers. His son Jonathan, on the other hand, was a much more dangerous opponent, and almost overthrew the shadowhunters. And he could only be defeated by other teenagers.
    • The sequel series The Dark Artifices shows even more examples for this trope. In the Institute of Los Angeles are two adults. One is completely insane so that practically his nephew directs the institute. Another adult would be more competent but has no interest in guiding the institute, leaving the teenagers simply to themselves. A third adult, who is competent enough, is separated from her family for racial reasons because she is a half-fairy. And last but not least, the villain of the first book is also an adult.
  • Played with in The Mysterious Benedict Society. Rhonda, Mr. Benedict, Milligan, and Number Two are actually quite useful however being adults they are unable to do certain things to prevent the Emergency. They have to get a gang of children to do so, which makes them feel useless because they're stuck on an island while the kids are out undergoing a dangerous spy mission.
  • In One Fat Summer, local tough Willie Rumson is all but a psycho threatening Bobby Marks, even going so far as to kidnap him for a night. Unfortunately Bobby's parents are caught up in their own problems, his sister is paying more attention to hiding her new relationship, and the local sheriff is Willie's uncle. About the only one who curbs Willie's behavior is Dr. Kahn, but that has more to do with not wanting his employee harassed while on the clock.
  • Occurs in One Of Us Is Lying, albeit with some subversions. See also Police Are Useless, because hoo boy.
    • Eli is a subversion. A lawyer working for a non-profit, Until Proven, he's the first person to mention the possibility of Simon having other enemies, helps Bronwyn start her own investigation, and represents Nate after he's wrongfully arrested. In the sequel, Knox works for him as an intern.
    • The Bayview High teachers are played like fiddles by the real killer actually Jake. Every time a new posting is made about the murder, the Bayview Four get pulled into the office and grilled about it. They're still at it in the sequel, when a zero-tolerance policy on gossip apps just means no one has any incentive to report the Truth or Dare game for fear of losing their phones.
    • A recurring theme is the Bayview Four receiving perfectly reasonable, sensible advice from the adults in their lives that they simply find doesn't work out in real life. For example, the advice for the kids to distance themselves from each other seems perfectly reasonable in deflecting suspicion, in practice their lives are falling apart and their social groups have pretty much closed ranks on them, so who else can they turn to but those in the same boat?
    • Nate's PO is a definite subversion. She's clearly on his side and is no fool, giving him good and sensible advice and escorting him to the police station to act as advocate when he's questioned. She can't stop him being wrongly arrested though.
  • The protagonist of The Outlaws is a teenage cadet at a military academy in an unnamed German city. Shortly after the end of WW 1, he tries to organise armed resistance against the November revolutionaries and seeks help from people who he supposes to be natural enemies of the new order, like a certain retired officer. All he gets are kind words, empty praise, and eventually indifference.
  • 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.
      • A few?
      • 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.
  • 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.
  • The title poem of Allan Ahlberg's Please, Mrs Butler! has a succession of kids (or possibly the same kid repeatedly) complaining that a boy named Derek Drew is bullying them, and Mrs Butler airily advising them to deal with the situation however they see fit.
    Lock yourself in the cupboard, dear.
    Run away to sea.
    Do whatever you can, my flower.
    But don't ask me!
  • 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.
  • Rachel Griffin: In The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin, the teachers of the Academy of Adventure are good at helping deal with bullies, but not with invisible vampire-wraiths after curfew. And at least one of them is evil. Summed up in this quote from one senior student:
    "Someone please fetch one of the competent tutors."
  • Room One by Andrew Clements (author of Frindle) zig-zags 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.
  • In Saving The World and Other Extreme Sports, 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. note 
  • In The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School, as required by the Boarding School genre, none of the teachers are any use. Most of them are just not up to dealing with the menace that engulfs the school (and a couple are actively collaborating). Miss Kaye, who is an undercover agent of the Diogenes Club, gets nobbled by a combination of bad luck and enemy action just when she might have been useful. The headmistress deliberately stays out of the way because she wants the Unusual students to step up and discover their potential.
  • Nearly every adult in A Series of Unfortunate Events is outrageously stupid, and often cruel. Even adults who do show a level of competency and/or genuinely want to help the Baudelaire children tend to fail them at crucial moments due to being too afraid to do so, having strange thought processes, or being unceremoniously killed off.
    • (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 - with apparent permission from said children's parents.)
    • "Mr. Poe meant well, but a jar of mustard probably also means well and would do a better job of keeping the Baudelaires out of danger."
    • The adults in Snicket's prequel series All the Wrong Questions are just as stupid, or evil, or in some cases out of commission, leaving their children to run several businesses in their stead. At one point all the kids agree that their parents have given up on trying to make the town a better place, and it's up to them to fix everything.
  • Because none of the servants in Six-Gun Snow White want to lose a good position (they get paid extra for keeping Snow White secret), none of them ever do anything to help the heroine.
  • This trope is at the heart of the tragedy in Skippy Dies, which is full of troubled teens whose actions ought to send red flags, yet the adults in their lives are nowhere to be seen. In particular, none of the teachers at Seabrook try very hard to help Skippy or figure out what's wrong with him. Father Furlong's lame advice to go back to the swim team (and play some rugby) makes things worse, The Automator repeatedly uses Skippy as a scapegoat, and after his death they all team up to cover up the circumstances that lead to his death.
  • Shows up sometimes in Someone Else's War. Entirely justifiable when it does, because it's a novel about Child Soldiers rebelling against the adults who kidnapped them in the first place.
  • In The Star Diaries, the seventh voyage presents an example. The navigational system of Tichy's ship is damaged, and he is stuck in a dangerous region with mysterious gravitational swirls around him. He cannot fix the system by himself, because one needs a second pair of hands for that. It turns out that the swirls cause time twists, and the ship gets packed with a crowd of Ijon Tichys from the past, present and future. However, instead of fixing the system, they waste time arguing and fighting, until the ship leaves the swirl region and Ijon from the present is left alone again. As it turns out, while the adult Ijons were squabbling, two kid Ijons sneaked out, squeezed themselves into one space suit and fixed the system.
  • 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 we're kidding, go read some Sweet Valley Twins books where the kids go adventuring at night).
  • T*A*C*K: Averted. While the occasional adult is pretty dense, most of them know enough to listen to the kids who have a tendency to come up with clever and useful solutions to the problem at hand.
  • The Tomorrow Series: Those few adults that the teenagers do have contact with are either unable to offer help, or are completely incompetent.
  • Subverted in Treasure Island. Jim does his share of actions to stop the pirates, but Captain Smollett, Doctor Livesey and Squire Trelawney act competently within their ability to do so and Ben Gunn saved the day by moving the treasure from the place it was buried, allowing the loyalists to lay an ambush on the pirates.
  • The Trixie Belden series is full of this. The main characters are teenagers who solve mysteries that the adults cannot.
  • 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.
  • The Underland Chronicles:
    • 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.
  • Referenced and then averted in the opening volume of The Wheel of Time series, The Eye of the World. When the adolescent Rand, Mat and Perrin see a mysterious dark-cloaked stranger near their village, they're all convinced that none of the adults will believe them, especially since no adult seems to have seen the man themselves. But when Perrin's master brings it up to the village Council, they quickly realize that other boys have seen the stranger too, so the grown-ups take it seriously and organize a watch to look out for trouble.
  • 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.
  • Averted in the Young Wizards series, where the adult wizards actually listen to and believe the child wizardsnote , 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.
    • Played 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. (Even then, the adults foresaw their condition, realized the consequences and put massive amounts of work into making sure their jobs could survive children doing them for a while and ensuring any touchy-but-not-immediately-vital projects were safely mothballed. The book goes off-planet too early to show in detail what's slowly falling apart at home.)
  • Played straight on steroids in Jean Thesman's The Other Ones. The class bully starts an all-out brawl in which he breaks another student's ribs, because he was confronted about playing keep-away with the new girl's purse, all of which happens in the classroom, in front of the teacher. The teacher does literally nothing except take the bully's side. Later, the protagonist invites her friend/next-door neighbor, whose unemployed alcoholic father has abandoned him with no money and all utilities shut off, to dinner. Her parents, who know that their next-door neighbor is an unemployed drunk who is often "out-of-town", refuse to believe there could possibly be anything going wrong. They also scold the protagonist for inviting a boy, whom they know has been living alone for weeks, to dinner without their advanced permission.

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