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Adults Are Useless

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"Is every adult in this show a moron?!"

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, no longer care, or are 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 '50s, 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 Morons, which deals with everybody being like this.


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    Comic Books 
  • 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.
  • This trope is typically averted in Calvin and Hobbes, (Calvin just believes they all are) but exception has to be made for the coach of the school baseball team Calvin briefly joined in one arc. Calvin accidentally stays out in the field when the teams switch sides and catches a ball hit by one of his own teammates. The coach calls Calvin a "quitter" when Calvin asks to leave after the other players read him the riot act, despite what had just happened.
  • In Champions (2016), this is the main drive of the comic - tired of the Let's You and Him Fight-driven attitude of the adults thanks to Civil War II, former All-New, All-Different Avengers members Spider-Man, Nova, and Ms. Marvel form a team with other teens in order to show that heroes are better than just slugging each other, destroying things and leaving things alone as they disappear.
  • Aversion: The adults in Gladstone's School for World Conquerors are typically famous super villains and are quite important to the plot.
  • 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.
  • My Friend Dahmer presents a tragic Real Life example. No adult during Jeffrey Dahmer's formative years noticed his mounting psychological problems. His parents are too consumed with their marital strife and both eventually abandon him. His teachers are either clueless or indifferent to his binge drinking at school. His classmate-turned-biographer, Derf Backderf, links the lack of attention from adults to Dahmer's obsessive drive to find the perfect victim who would never leave him, resulting in his grisly killing spree.
  • This is the overarching theme of New X-Men during its second half. Following M-Day, most of the world's mutants are depowered, and the rest are being hunted and killed. The X-Men are often unable to deal with the problems the kids face, thus leaving them to fend for themselves. This ends up making most of the kids distrust and look down on the X-Men, who have been ineffectual in protecting their charges.
  • 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.
  • In Marvel's Runaways, the teen heroes don't trust any of the adult characters, even Captain America. Civil War only cements their "Adults are tools" mentality.
    • 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.
    • Spider-Man's cameo also subverts it, to a degree.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Simpsons: Given a thorough Lampshade Hanging in "Sideshow Blob", where Sideshow Bob turns into a blob monster and starts rampaging around the town. Lisa tells Bart they have to warn everyone, but Bart points out that no-one will believe them. Sure enough, no-one believes them (and everyone they visit gets eaten) right up until they get to Apu... who admits his lack of scepticism has something to do with the fact Bob's wrapping a tentacle around his leg at that very moment.
  • 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 trans-dimensional 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 believe 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.
  • Robin Series: While it's not played straight as Alfred, Harold and Dananote  are always competent and useful most adults in the series are either constantly useless or actively a problem. Tim's father has no clue how to be a parent, Ariana's uncle outright attacks Tim over a misunderstanding, Tim's teachers are combative and make no inquiries into his injuries and constant need to sleep in class, Bruce pulls heartless gambits trying to manipulate Tim, Az!Bats goes off the deep end and tries to kill Tim and after Tim's father dies Tim has to forge portions of his father's will in order to avoid becoming a ward of the state.

    Fan Works 
  • In Alexandra Quick, this is zig-zagged. The adults do attempt to help, but many refuse to believe Alex when she warns them or tells them what's happening, and often she ends up taking action because she can't see any sign that the adults aren't being useless.
  • Atonement: With few exceptions, the kids drive the story and handle the important things. Main character Madison lampshades it often.
  • The counselors in Calvin At Camp let the kids get away with anything, aside from actually leaving.
  • From Swing123 and garfieldodie's Calvinverse fics:
    No, The town won't save Calvin. They'll be worthless. Worthless to the end.
    They really are idiots, aren't they?
  • In Christopher Weston Chandler & Magi-chan's Stone, Voldemort attacks Chris at school and fails, killing Voldemort. Not only is school not immediately called off, all Borb hear about it is when Chris says he was bullied worse than usual at dinner the next night.
  • In Code: Half Demon, this trope is currently in full swing of this trope. It is a crossover with Code Lyoko so this is expected.
  • In Co-op Mode, as this is Worm, this automatically applies. A special example though is the Winslow's gym coach Wolf Shane - due to James being possibly conducive to his own goals, he can be seen as a Reasonable Authority Figure when James and Taylor get into a fight with the Trio and their cronies. However, he ends up as a Double Subversion, as he does not particularly care for his job, being more interested in his own wants than actually being a coach.
    Coach Shane: “I’ll be honest here. I don’t approve of steroids. But with the girls’ track team bringing home medals, Blackwell wants the other teams to earn some trophies. If our football team doesn’t start winning games, she’s going to make me do weekend training for the guys. And that would cut into my weekend plans. I think I can turn you into a decent running back or a passable lineman, but there’s no point if you’re going to get disqualified. So. Can you pass a drug test?”
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • In Kyon: Big Damn Hero, Kyon's parents are like this. Other adults are, fortunately, far more useful.
  • The Lone Traveler plays with this trope in every which way except conversed.
  • Le Papillon Rising has Gabriel, who might not be useless, but is bad at parenting. Gabriel somehow doesn't notice that he's been neglecting his traumatized son so much that the kid's gone completely insane, even though Adrien is doing very little to hide it. Oh, but he's a great "Dad" to Ladybug, who he's protective of and tries many times to convince not to date Papillon... oh, the irony.
  • Played straight in Like Pinning Butterflies, where the adults are all too happy to overlook murder, arson and kidnapping for the sake of a quiet life.
  • 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 Neon Metathesis Evangelion, nearly none of the idiots are helpful to the protagonist kids. Gendo, Fuyutsuki and Ritsuko are merely using them as tools to be exploited. Misato may care about them a bit, but her desire for revenge against the angels is stronger, and in any case she's unable to really show affection. Kaji may sympathize with the pilots a bit, but even as a U.N. inspector he can't do much, and he isn't there for Asuka when she would have needed him. The only adult who has some positive influence on the children is Maya.
  • 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.
  • One More Time, One More Chance plays this straight for the most part. With the exception of Rei and Satsuki (and any adults associated with them), the staff at the orphanage and Ryuuko's school do practically nothing to protect her from bullies and, in the latter case, especially, they bully her, too. Likewise, said orphanage also adopted or sent her out to crap homes. Satsuki is really not amused with this trope.
  • 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.
  • The Pieces Lie Where They Fell:
    • Played with in much of the story - the protagonists themselves are young adults, but most of the adults in Canterlot who are older than them are unaware of the situation with the Nightmare and, though skilled at their actual jobs, are led to believe the protagonists are the villains. They drop this entirely when Memorizing Gaze finds out the identity of the Nightmare's host and informs Captain General Gentle Step of the truth, at which point the Guards do all they can to help the heroes.
    • Utterly averted by the Equestria Girls arc, as Principal Celestia and Vice-Principal Luna are, unlike their canon counterparts, absolutely not oblivious to Sunset's behavior; they just can't act against her without physical proof or personally catching her in the act of breaking the rules (and she's very good at not being seen doing so), and go out of their way to help the Bearers. Also unlike their canon counterparts, they are present during the final battle and, though they aren't very effective, are still part of the group that tries to get the Element of Magic from Sunset.
  • Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness: As in canon, Headmaster Mikogami's general response to any threat amounts to "sit on my ass and do nothing while Tsukune's group risks their lives in my place." Best displayed in Act III chapters 40-44; both Kuyou and a Fairy Tale armada invade and attack Yokai Academy one after the other, and instead of trying to stop them, he sits back and watches as Tsukune's group fights them back in his stead.
  • Constantly averted in Sailor Moon: Legends of Lightstorm, where the two main adults are shown to be extremely competent. The escalating threat of the Negaverse leads Luna to take Serena to the titular Lightstorm for training in The Celestial Renegade. Though he has lost his powers, Lightstorm proves intelligent enough to build weapons and other devices infused with "Moon Kingdom science" out of common human materials and technology, such as grapple gauntlets that automatically adjust to whatever surface he latches onto with them. His prowess in combat makes him one of the deadliest characters in the series, and the Sailor Scouts are shown to train under him constantly. The other main adult, Tuxedo Mask, appears to be far stronger than in most other incarnations. His razor roses have been seen to slice through material as tough as Negaverse drone armor, his strength has increased significantly, he constantly gets into the middle of battles to fight back-to-back with Sailor Moon, and his durability is high enough to withstand an exploding subway while shielding another person.
  • Demonstrated by the school faculty in the Cardcaptor Sakura fic Shadow of the Dragon. Said faculty repeatedly refuses to take Satome's bullying seriously even when he threatens Sakura and her friends with rape, which leads to multiple rape victims. It takes his Attempted Rape of Tomoyo, which is only stopped by Sakura's Big Damn Heroes moment and Satome's subsequent arrest, that they finally take him seriously.
  • Shining Pretty Cure. The only adult who even suspects something might be going on is Ren, the friendly owner of the neighbourhood cafe.
  • In Swinging Pendulum the instructors at Shin'hou Academy never help Asuka with her coursework and ignore her when she's bullied. Her cousin, Kyouraku Shinsui tried to intervene, but it gave the impression that Asuka was coasting on her family name.
  • Parodied in Episode 3 of Gag Dub Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series by, of all people, Tristan — "Don't our parents even care that we're missing?"
  • Averted in Yu-Gi-Oh! GSTART: All adults seen so far are competent and helpful individuals who take the odd goings-on quite seriously.
  • The Dragon King's Temple plays with the trope: SG-1 does its best to protect and help Zuko and Toph, but Poor Communication Kills hits them hard and they only manage to make Zuko sicker until Toph decides to put her foot down.
  • Foxfire Jet certainly feels this way.
    Jet: Adults are all the same. They talk, and plan, and act without asking the opinion of anyone actually involved in the situation. In this case: us. They just ignore us or treat us like we're not there.
  • In the Hey Arnold! fanfic Hey Arnold: the Furnace, Grandpa Phil was under the assumption that his grandson was playing a game with his friends, unfortunately not realizing that his grandson's life was in danger, and that it would be the last time he'd see him alive.
  • This gets Played for Laughs during a scene in Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku!. While clearing out the game stalls at the U.A. Culture Festival, Izuku accidentally butts heads with Kendo Rappa, a hulking man with a Super Strength Quirk. Izuku glances over to his parents for a way out of this situation, but Inko is too frightened to do anything. Hisashi is the opposite, shrugging at his son with full confidence that he'll emerge unscathed thanks to Izuku winning the Superpower Lottery.
  • Crimson And Emerald: Izuku brings up how none of his teachers ever helped him nor intervened on the bullying. The teachers saw Izuku as Quirkless kid with no future and didn't even bother.
  • In the Danny Phantom fanfic Resurrected Memories: Played with as while the adults in Ember's past qualify with her parents and teachers ignorant to the fact that she was being severally bullied at school and thus did nothing to stop it leaving her with several emotional scars, but in the present this is averted as most are shown to be kind hearted individuals who are good at their jobs and care about those under their watch such as with Mr. Lancer doing what he can to try and make Danny's very difficult life a little easier and especially Mrs. Murray who is shown to enjoy her job as a teacher, is a great mother to her two daughters as well as a loving sister, once the two figure out each others true identity that is.

    Films — Animation 
  • 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.
  • Played straight and averted in The Christmas Tree. Judy's a decent person, if a bit dim, and genuinely cares for the children. The mayor, however, doesn't seem to have the slightest inkling that anything is amiss at the Orphanage of Fear, and is perfectly willing to fork over large sums of cash to Mrs. Mavilda without much question.
  • Downplayed in Coraline. Coraline's parents didn't do much and aren't especially nice, but they had pretty good reasons not to believe Coraline's Cassandra Truth. On the other hand, 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.
  • Justice League vs. Teen Titans: Zig-zagged — Batman can't keep Damian on a leash forever and thus opts to send him to the Titans to cool him off. However, when the potential for Raven's danger is made real, the League steps in, not wanting a threat like this to spread. That last bit is vastly different from both the comics and previous animated variations, which they are either ignored or Adapted Out.
  • 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.
  • My Little Pony: Equestria Girls, true to any High 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.)
    • They are certainly friendly and caring, but the Useless part comes from them being oblivious to a single student ruling the school for years by terrorizing all the other students, and Luna being easily fooled by falsified evidence in a scene pretty much designed to give credibility to the Satellite Love Interest.
    • The sequel Rainbow Rocks justifies this by Celestia and Luna getting almost immediately brainwashed by the Dazzlings, ensuring that the Rainbooms have to solve the problem on their own.
    • In the following film Friendship Games Principal Cinch of Crystal Prep is even worse. She says point blank in her Villain Song she has always known that human Twilight Sparkle has always been an outcast at Crystal Prep but has done nothing to help her. Instead she blackmails and pressures her students to do well in the games for her own reputation and isn't above spying and cheating. Dean Cadance is a lesser example, she is a reasonable authority figure just like Celestia and Luna and it is obvious she cares about Twilight, but isn't seen helping her against peer pressure and bulling on screen. Instead just offering her good advice knowing where she will be happiest.
  • Tom and Jerry: Blast Off to Mars. None of the adults on Earth can handle the alien invasion.

    Films — Live Action 
  • In Aliens in the Attic, the aliens' Mind-Control Device is ineffective on kids. Naturally, it's up to the kids to save the day. However, a mind-controlled grandma becomes very useful when the kids steal the controller.
  • Bad Moms: Applies to the protagonist Amy's children Jane and Dylan. Amy quits her motherly duties to party and run rampant. She doesn't appear too concerned about her children missing meals or falling behind in school, and insults them at every chance she gets whenever they ask her for help. She then snaps right back to her senses when the kids run away to their dad and desert her as payback for her neglectful behavior.
  • 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. The protagonist, Shuya Nanahara, loses his father who commits suicide by hanging himself with a belt without any concern that Shuya now has to fend for himself, and Mitsuko's mother tried to pimp out Mitsuko when she was only 6 years old to a pedophile for the money.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Subverted in the Bring It On film series. Most of the featured cheerleading squads are depicted as being autonomous, but they're also comprised of high schoolers who are either nearly or legally adults by the time everything is said and done.
  • Most of the adults in A Christmas Star either ignore Noelle's warnings about the Corrupt Corporate Executive trying to destroy their village or angrily rebuke her for trying to stop their town's main form of income being closed down or everyone in the village being made homeless! Although when the villain's boss finds out what his employee has been doing (mainly, trying to demolish the village to create an amusement park instead of developing in the local area) he fires the man instantly.
  • The Good Son has Elijah Wood's character trying to tell the adults what a monster his cousin is, but nobody believes him.
  • 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.
  • 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 ) 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.
  • Every single John Hughes film. The adults are either oblivious (Ferris Bueller's Day Off), stupid (Sixteen Candles), or causing all the problems (The Breakfast Club).
  • Joshua's only use for adults is to be pawns in his plan.
  • This was subverted in The Karate Kid (2010). 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 favoring one side over the other. And she kept an eye out for Dre on the school trip, indirectly preventing Cheng from bullying him.
  • The Karate Kid (1984) 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.
  • Kick-Ass. Dave alias Kick-Ass is a 17-year-old boy, and as a superhero far from being Badass Normal. He is known to have fought against three gangsters to protect an innocent. But later the mafioso of New York believes that he is the one who kills his subordinates and hurts his "company". Still, neither the people who work for him, nor the New York police, who are partially corrupt, can track him.
    • Red-Mist, another teenager who is a supervillain, can find Kick-Ass, however, within a day and lure him into the trap because he is a superhero. A simple teenager had more success than mafia and police together.
    • The film also features Hit-Girl, who is an effective, badass Action Girl.
    • It is inverted by the superhero Big-Daddy, who is by far the strongest fighter in the movie. But even though he is one of the few, competent adults, he is far from being morally pure. At best, he is an anti-hero.
  • 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.
  • Matilda is full of this. Not a single student at Crunchem Hall manages to convince their parents that Ms. Trunchbull is abusive towards everyone. This is explained in the books, that the Trunchbull uses such extreme punishments that no parent would possibly believe them. It's also mentioned that Trunchbull treats the parents the same way she treats the kids.
  • In Mikey the only characters that seem to display any common sense about Mikey's behavior are his teacher and Jessie.
  • Minutemen: One of the reasons Virgil comes up with the idea of helping the other kids like them at the school is because the faculty there doesn't seem to be doing anything about it. At one point, they find Vice Principal Tolkan in front of a vending machine that Chester is currently stuck inside, and doesn't seem to bother doing anything about it on account of not being able to "change the way high school works”.
    • Similarly, instead of helping a bare naked Chester get his clothes back from bullies, Tolkan tells him straight to his face that helping him would mean that he’d be "breaking the food chain".
  • Mystery Team. The main characters insist that they're more suited to solve the case than THE POLICE.
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street Has this as Central Theme:
  • 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 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.
  • 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 appears to be competent but she 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.)
  • 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.
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day: John Connor's foster parents Todd and Janet are very neglectful of him, which angrily coerces John to spend his whole time outside home. Later on, T-1000 mimicking Janet on the phone calling John "honey" and offering him beef stew for dinner makes John point out Janet would never do something like that.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Miss Gulch in The Wizard of Oz practically controls half the county even forcing Aunt Em and Uncle Henry to surrender Toto. In the Land of Oz Dorothy looks to many adult figures to solve her problems such as Glinda and the wizard, but the wizard is powerless. However Dorothy discovers the power to return home was inside of her and didn't need help from either Glinda or the wizard.

  • 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.

  • In the Cool Kids Table game Creepy Town, the teachers supervising the kids setting up the haunted house are incredibly ineffectual, especially considering the dangerous weapons (such as real axes and a flamethrower) that they let the kids utilize.
    • Keri's mom in game Bloody Mooney gets eaten by Mooney, the government agents both die fighting it, and her butler pisses himself in fear. The teens are able to save the day by forcing it into a van and away from the light of the moon to de-transform it.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Zig-zagged by The Children's Television Workshop and Sesame Street. Subverted at first. 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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...
  • In Monsters and Other Childish Things, adults are completely useless as only monsters can fight monsters... and only kids have monsters. Well, an adult can have a monster, but he's more likely to be a Psychopathic Manchild than anything remotely helpful. The closest most adults get to useful is if your character has a Relationship with one, like their parents, which means they inspire the kid to do better.
  • In Pokéthulhu, player characters are required to be 16 or under... everybody above high school age is either terrified and in hiding or dangerously insane.
  • 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.

  • In the musical 13, 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."
  • 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...
  • This is probably the fourth strongest theme in Spring Awakening. The first three being sex, sex and sex.
  • 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 song Gee, Officer Krupke. The adults are useless even to one another.

    Visual Novels 
  • Miho from Liar Liar was being stalked by Wakabayashi for a while. He sent her letters daily, called her house, and took pictures of her behind her back and left some on her desk. She feared for her life but the police couldn't do anything until he physically harassed her and the adults at school didn't believe her. She decided to kill him, though she couldn't get herself to do it so she got Yukari to do it instead.
  • Both played straight and subverted depending on the Higurashi: When They Cry arc. In some arcs the parents and teachers are more-or-less oblivious of the protagonist's Sanity Slippage and murderous behaviors, the police aren't much help, Child Services is useless, and the doctors seem to be in on the conspiracy. In others it's shown the police are keeping close watch, the local doctor is studying Hinamizawa Syndrome while he is oblivious to his nurse being the Big Bad, and adults in general are the key to most of the non-Downer Ending arcs.
  • Grisaia no Kajitsu: The six main character of Mihama Academy all sport painful pasts, and most of it is caused by adults, most specifically parents failing to do their jobs properly.

  • In The Adventures of Shan Shan, the main character can see things that "don't exist" and inanimate objects talk to him, but his parents can't tell what's happening. Even when his mother expresses concern about him "talking to himself," his father just laughs it off.
  • Bug Martini: Instead they gamble on your every move.
  • In Charby the Vampirate as Victor is growing up his mother emotionally abuses him while doting on his brother, his father turns a blind eye, child services leaves the family alone after decided his mother is a wonderful person and his paternal grandfather, the only person who seems to truly understand why he is a Weirdness Magnet and target for the supernatural, leaves Vic and Kellwood without explaining things to him since his presence is making Vic ill.
  • Jason Yungbluth's Black Comedy comic series Clarissa, wherein the titular character is a kindergartener suffering repeated sexual abuse at the hands of her horrible, passive-aggressive father, features nothing but useless adults. Her family knows about the abuse, but is trying as hard as they possible can to turn a blind eye to it, and her kindergarten teacher is far, far too dense to interpret any of Clarissa's numerous pleas and drawings as the cries for help they very obviously are.
  • 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 as well.
  • 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 zig-zags 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. Also definitely subverted by the Condesce, which is the only living adult Troll... and is very much not useless.
  • 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 à 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 puritanical 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 à 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.

    Web Original 
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Shows up frequently on Not Always Learning, the authority figures depicted often neglect or flat out refuse to help or look after kids they're in charge of, and some of them actively attempt to sabotage them. On a lighter note, there are several stories of teachers who just take the path of least resistance and hand out passing grades regardless of effort or merit.
  • 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 behavior, if caught, would result in exclusion from the school trip.
  • Whateley Universe: Both averted and played straight. Many adults in the Whateleyverse are in fact quite competent when shown, at least within their areas of expertise; yet since the focus is generally on the (mis)adventures of mutant teenagers, it's just as common to see some adult or other left holding the Idiot Ball. (This is occasionally justified; at least one story has a house mother being unable to see the very real problems between two roommates due to magical manipulation and thus refusing to reassign them.) According to older characters, Adults used to not be useless when it came to the bullying situation in previous years. However Carson has admitted to have committed herself to a plan involving allowing bullies free rein. What exactly that plan entails, has not yet been revealed.
    • We know a bit more about the plan. Apparently, it involves making sure the Don stays at the school, as he has a part to play in a coming Apocalypse-level event.
    • Played straight later when the students band together against the ultimate enemy and decide to exclude all adults because they would either take too long to convince or take too much time to act.
  • Taylor Hebert, protagonist of the superhero story Worm, begins the story as a student at Winslow High and subject of an extended and vicious bullying campaign. Of all the teachers and administrators at the school, exactly one notices, exactly zero offer any meaningful assistance, and some are actively, willfully against her. It's tragically telling that when Taylor finally meets a genuine Reasonable Authority Figure, she suspects she's under some mental compulsion.