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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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  • Out of all the competent adult characters in 3-gatsu no Lion, Hina's homeroom teacher is the one character to embody this trope, being unable and unwilling to interfere with the bullying going on in her classroom, despite being spoken to directly about it and knowing about the bullying for some time.
  • Alien Nine has a premise where all of the adults at an elementary school stay inside heavily armored rooms while sending their students to capture the aggressive aliens. It didn't help that at least some of the adults, namely the teacher in charge of the school's alien catching group, and the principal, were deliberately useless as part of some sort of conspiracy. The rest of the adults were just useless. Yuri's mother is especially bad; Yuri comes home from an alien assault that is awfully reminiscent of a rape, and her mother just tells her to cheer up and do her job.
  • In Beelzebub, when Oga's mother hears he's in a gang war, her reaction is to just let him deal with it. The school only has two teachers, the principal and the lunch lady, who both make a special effort to stay as uninvolved with the delinquents as possible.
  • Used as a plot necessity in the Lost Children Arc in Berserk (even implied in the title). With the exception of Guts, every adult present is either a violent and sick pervert, a completely clueless moron, or a useless coward. Turns out that the Big Bad of this arc is a teenaged girl apostle who turns the local children into her spawn to join her elf fantasy land, all of them being very lethal, while she makes adults into spawn to use essentially as her own Cannon Fodder as punishment for treating children so poorly. Also, the village children who aren't turned into monsters seem more ballsy than the adults around them, namely Jill.
  • In the manga BioMeat, nearly every bad decision concerning the outbreaks were made by adults. The only right decisions and almost every heroic act were done by children or the four main characters as adults.
  • The mother of Hinako Aikawa in Bitter Virgin is arguably worse than useless. Not only did she flat-out refuse to believe her new husband was molesting her daughter Hinako until Hinako's second pregnancy, she also made a point of hiding the first pregnancy from him so he wouldn't know "what a horrible kid" Hinako was. In fairness, when she finally did accept the truth, the first thing she did was chase said husband out of the house with a knife, and soon they moved away. Though she actually assumed that Hinako was making a False Rape Accusation against him and was actually just sleeping around. It wasn't until the doctor stated that from the bruises she wasn't a willing participant did she start to listen.
  • Bleach. Averted. Although the hero and his main group of friends are teens, the adults in the story all get their roles and place in the story. Ichigo's not the protagonist because the adults are useless but because his lineage is something special.
  • In Bloody Monday it seems that the only heroes capable of doing anything competent are high school students, from the legendary hacker Falcon to the master archer. In fact, evil agent J is actually the twin(?) brother of said archer, and K turns out to be a student from the school's Newspaper Club.
  • In Bokurano, while only the contracted children can pilot the robot, they get some help from the Japanese Self-Defense Forces officers who came to help them after Komo told her father (a Diet member in the anime and an admiral in the manga) about it. Said individuals help the children to win their battles at times and even volunteer to become Zearth pilots even if they ultimately never pilot themselves, and Kanji once wonders if the government would rather have adults become the pilots instead. This is played straight, however, when Tanaka and Seki are unable to prevent Kako from beating up Kirie, which results in Chizu stabbing Kaku, and, being unarmed, can't prevent Chizu from killing innocents in collateral damage as she uses Zearth's lasers to kill the men who raped her.
    • It's discussed later on, when Kanji meets some of the men who'd volunteered to become Zearth pilots immediately before said men go on a Suicide Mission to help him win his battle. Kanji apologizes for not doing better, but one of the men tells him that the adults should be the ones fighting for the planet. Maki's parents express a similar sentiment to Ushiro and Kanji when the two visit the Anos near the end of the manga.
  • Subverted in Bokura no Hentai: Ryousuke tries to avoid telling others that his mother has fallen mentally ill in the wake of his sisters death, and that he dresses up as her to appease his mom, however when his girlfriend finds out she confronts him about his crossdressing, learns his reasons why, and gets him to allow her parents to get involved. Ryousuke's mother is then sent to a mental health facility, where she's shown better later, and he gets sent to live his father.
  • The anime Brynhildr in the Darkness shows a group of teenagers who fighting a evil organization. During the plot you do not see a single adult who is not either useless or evil. The only exception is the uncle of the male protagonist, but he also has no share in the fights and "missions."
  • In Cage of Eden the vast majority of the adults are incredibly ineffectual or worse, not helped by most of the male adults being a bunch of perverts. The only exceptions are Oomori and Kokonoe, the former having useful first aid skills, and the latter having made a few good explosives. The doctor is competent in his chosen position.
  • Played with in A Certain Magical Index. On the one hand, most adults shown are reasonably competent (or villains), and include police officers, teachers, and doctors. The problem is that Academy City consists of over ninety percent students, so there simply aren't enough adults to do everything. The primary police force isn't even made up of adults, but is the student-run Judgement organization (adults make up the SWAT-squad Anti Skill). Throw in the fact that all espers shown have been under twenty, and adults tend to get worfed a lot.
  • All of the adults in A Cruel God Reigns except for Lindon and Dr. Orson, who dies of cancer. Greg is the cause of all of Jeremy's problems, Sandra needs taking care of by her son and not the other way around, Natasha spots the abuse but doesn't say anything, the dorm leader moves Jeremy to a new dorm away from his only steady friend, Cass' parents are abusive alcoholics, the teacher at the alternative school tries but is ineffective at managing his trouble students, Jeremy's Aunt Karen banishes him after he attempts suicide twice and attempts to seduce her husband, etc, etc.
  • The only competent adult presence in Dennou Coil, other than the main character's manipulative grandmother, turns out to be seventeen and still in high school.
  • Zig-zagged in Detective Conan, where many of the adults are okay at doing their jobs, but still worthless and the case is solved by the apparent six year old who, due to the identity problem and low credibility, needs to use an adult's voice to cover his detective antics.
    • Zig-zagged especially with Kogoro. He's shown to be a bumbling fool several episodes (Especially early on) and is an alcoholic and sometimes physically hurts Conan. However, averted because he actually does come to conclusions a lot of real life detectives would and actually knows some stuff Conan doesn't. (He's more street-smart; Conan's more Book-smart.) His biggest shortcoming is that he's competent, but impatient. He wants to get back to drinking, so he normally comes to a theory and keeps insisting he's right until proven otherwise. However, he averts this when the case is personal or if Ran or Conan are threatened, then he becomes scarily competent. There have been several cases where he got it mostly right and just needed a couple hints from Conan, or where he got it all right but only realized it after Conan did. (He's slower.) There was one occasion where he did get it right, and another where he not only got it right, but got details that Conan missed.
    • However, Shinichi's father Yuusaku is just as good a detective as he is, if not even better. He's only useless because he's simply almost never there and he'd rather continue writing about mysteries than solving them.
    • Ran's mother Eri Kisaki is a highly successful lawyer and is actually quite competent at detective work when the need arises. However like Yuusaku above, she only makes a paltry handful of appearances in the series.
    • Ultimately averted, though, by the fact that Conan is almost an adult himself (he just LOOKS like a kid).
    • If anything; Megure is perhaps the most worthless of the adults - he's so strictly adhered to police code that he refuses to take a leap of faith and think maybe not all cases are like the ones you learn about in the police academy.
    • Also averted with a good deal of recurring characters like the members of the FBI and CIA James Black, Jodie Starling, Shuichi Akai and Hidemi Hondo/Rena Mizunashi/Kir. There are a lot of members of the Black Organisation who are much smarter than Shinichi/Conan like Vermouth, Gin, Pisco or Irish (Movie 13). The Police also isn't completely useless, they are pretty competent at what they are doing, it is just that the cases shown are not solvable without thinking out of the box like Conan does. There are even police officers like Miwako Sato, Wataru Takagi, Kansuke Yamato and Yui Uehara who are able to solve a good chunk of many cases on their own. Heiji's father, chief commissioner of the Osaka Police Department Heizo Hattori, who in addition to being very smart is also an uber-badass.
  • Being a series intended for kids, Digimon tends to apply this; to which degree varies from series to series:
    • Digimon Adventure played it straight; since no adult had a Digimon partner (even though some of them didn't need one), and only Digimon are powerful enough to fight another Digimon, it meant that parents had to watch their kids saving the world. That didn't stop some parents to fight back even if it's futile or help their children to figure out a semi-cryptic prophecy.
    • Digimon Adventure 02 is even more straight about this, since even the adult villain was ultimately a puppet for the Big Bad which the kids then had to defeat.
    • Digimon Tamers averts it, since even though adults still don't have Digimon partners, they are able to kill Digimon by other means, know a lot more about them than the kids, provide technical support and ultimately it's them that make it possible for the Big Bad to be defeated.
    • Digimon Frontier only has human adults in the backstory, and have the kids saving the world by themselves since all the Digimon (some of them "adults", so to speak) die at one point (even if not permanently), so it plays the trope very straight.
    • Digimon Savers averts it, since humans manly/hot-blooded enough can punch out skyscraper sized Digimon (by the tip of their weapons), adults can now have Digimon partners and nearly everything that went wrong is due to an sorry excuse for an human adult.
    • Digimon Xros Wars plays it straight in a similar way to Frontier, since the adults remain completely unaware that Digimon even exist.
  • In The Drifting Classroom, every adult in the school ends up dead or insane within the first few volumes.
  • In FLCL most of the adults are more immature than the children in the story.
  • In Fruits Basket, virtually every adult is neglectful or outright abusive:
    • As a child, Yuki is forced to stay with a person who verbally abuses him and his mother brushes his complaints off. Kyo is completely hated by his father, who does absolutely nothing to prevent him from being locked up upon graduation. Akito's father is dead and her mother outright hates her. Rin is abandoned by her parents, so they are unaware when she is pushed out a window and locked up in a room. All of the older servants in the household allow Akito to act freely, because they feel that the God of the Zodiac has the right to treat the Zodiac any way.
    • Also, Kyoko's parents neglected her, and kicked her out of her house after getting in a fight trying to quit her gang. Her father tells Katsuya that he's crazy when he tells him that he hopes to marry her.
    • Subverted by Hanajima's family (who did everything they could to help her with her ESP, including transferring her to a new school when she was bullied) and Kyoko herself (who did such a good job raising Tohru that Tohru considered her words as lessons to get through life). Hiro's mother is loving, if ditzy, and Kagura's mom worries about her daughter's well-being (at one point, she discourages Kagura from attending an event that Akito will be at, implicitly fearing that Akito would hurt Kagura like Kisa was hurt). Zig-zagged in the case of Kisa's mother. She failed to notice that her daughter was horrifically bullied at school and is upset with Kisa for not telling her about it, but then Tohru explains how the worst part of bullying is that the victim believes they're at fault and does their best to hide it from people who could help them. Kisa is then sent to live at Shigure's house for awhile so she and her mom can recover, but her mom calls often to see how Kisa's doing and make sure she's eating well.
  • Completely subverted in Fullmetal Alchemist: the military personnel are far from incompetent. They are highly skilled, extremely intelligent, and almost as central to the plot as Ed and Al. If anything, the brothers thinking adults are useless gets them into a fair bit of extra trouble. In the end, Ed he can only succeed by trusting and accepting the help of the adults on his side, including his own absentee father.
    • When Edward and Alphonse Elric disobeyed a direct order from Major Armstrong to search the abandoned laboratory 5, refusing to wait for him to look into the matter deeper before going into the lab, second Lieutenant Maria Ross and Sergeant Denny Brosh slap and berate both of them on that, trying to do everything themselves, being just a child still and ends it with "'s okay to trust adults sometimes." The slapping part with Al apparently didn't work since he's a suit of armor and all.
  • Kaze Hikaru author Taeko Watanabe's lesser known work, Family!, bases almost entirely on this trope: it revolves around an American family whose teenage children are sensible and mature while their parents are completely clueless grown-up kids. Almost all other "adults" are just as frustratingly childish. Strangely enough, Freddy and Sharen were shown to be decent parent material back when their children, Jay and Fee, were just toddlers, but for some reason, Freddy becomes a helpless crybaby while Sharen just turns absolutely oblivious of how other people feel and enthusiastic about Cookie Monster. Their youngest daughter Tracy is also known to be completely fearless when being kidnapped; in fact, she just calls her parents on the phone to let them know that she won't be home any time soon, and decides to stay to help the pathetically clumsy kidnapper with his soul-searching, and yet no one other than Fee seems to be a tad bit concerned about her absence at all.
  • Future Boy Conan: Conan is an uber-capable 10~12 year old, capable of running roughshod over all the adults in the series. His female co-star Lanna is similarly, if not as capable.
  • In Gakuen Ouji none of the teachers notice or care about the rape of the boys or the extreme bullying that occurs between the students. When Rise gets locked in a closet and is screaming for help, the teacher walking by ends up putting up a charm to dispel bad spirits instead of letting the poor girl out.
  • In the first arc of Ginga Hyouryuu Vifam we have a bunch of children holed up in an abandoned military installation with some weapons, and elsewhere on the same planet we have the Terran military in a state-of-the-art underground facility. The children manage to beat back several enemy attacks, while the military base gets wiped out along with all personnel after just one.
  • In Great Teacher Onizuka (GTO), the only adult who seems to be competent at anything is Onizuka himself. He's only lucky.
    • Justified Trope. The kids of the manga are actively fighting their teachers and other authority figures. It's hard to be useful to people who will completely ruin you just for trying. And it's not luck that lets Onizuka get through to them, it's the sheer fact that they are incapable of hurting, beating, embarrassing or otherwise driving him away.
    • In the first episode, he outright says he wants to avoid this trope since he felt it firsthand.
    "They just saw me as a delinquent. When someone keeps calling you useless you eventually believe it yourself. That's why I want to be there and help the kids be the best they can be.
  • In Haruhi Suzumiya, the only character over 20 who actually does anything is Future Mikuru (and it's questionable if she counts, as she's just an aged-up version of an existing teenaged character). Could be more of a case of There Are No Adults/Invisible Parents also. The adults rarely impact that story, the only ones who appear are Future Mikuru and Koizumi's Organization minions (Arakawa, Mori, etc...who actually seem to be hyper-competent). The only ones who seem useless are the North High administration.
  • Played pretty straight throughout in Highschool of the Dead. With rare exceptions (like Saya's parents) anything an adult does makes the situation immediately worse.
  • Teachers in Iris Zero mostly don't concern themselves with their students' problems. They claim it's impossible for a normal adult to comprehend things connected with Irises. It goes as far as ignoring an event that leaves the student body in fear and Toru being heavily bullied due to his lack of power.
  • Kirby: Right Back at Ya! was especially bad at this. The adults are always at the mercy of their dictator King Dedede who made such poorly-veiled excuses to get everyone to blame Kirby for any major atrocities that King Dedede so obviously caused himself (out of spite for Kirby), and the adults never learn despite suffering over 60 times. They don't even learn to appreciate how helpful Kirby can be when he himself gets dirty fighting monsters while they are busy running around like headless chickens. Only the children have common sense, but sadly, they lack credibility.
  • Let's Lagoon: There's only one adult, he just washed up on the island and is probably injured, but he's pretty useless (and probably had a thing going on with the female castaway) which irritates the resourceful protagonist to no end. Turns out he didn't have a thing going on with the female castaway, but instead her sister.
  • Little Witch Academia is inconsistent about this. It's mostly averted in the OVAs, where the adults aren't the heroes saving the day but they at least do the responsible things you'd expect from adults; but it's mostly played straight in the TV series, where all the adults besides Ursula and Croix are ridiculously incompetent—they exist only to teach classes and prescribe punishments, sometimes needing the kids to sort out their messes. They signed a major funding contract for the school without reading it because it's in ancient dragon language, but, naturally, Diana can read it and discovers the dragon who wrote it was taking advantage of their inability to read it, giving them much less than he owed them.
  • Played in Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple. In most of Kenichi's fights his masters stand on the sidelines, even joking and gambling on the outcomes, even if his life is in danger. This is because they believe that a good master stays out of their disciple's fights. It's subverted to hell and back whenever Kenichi is attacked by a master-class or something: they'll step in and beat the life out of whoever attacked their disciple. However, it is played completely straight with the staff of Kenichi's high school, who seem completely unaware of the massive gang activity right under their noses, and his parents, who are oblivious that their son has a habit of getting into life-or-death battles with skilled martial artists from around the world.
  • Loveless, oh so much so. Every adult is either abusive, ineffective, or emotionally fucked up enough to not be able to help, whether that's with Ritsuka being abused by his mother or all those 12 year old kids running around on their own getting into spell battles.
  • Averted in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Vivid, where Einhart is captured and befriended by the adult cast very early on, before she even gets the chance to meet (and fight) Vivio. It helps that that the Lyrical Nanoha franchise as a whole lacks a Competence Zone.
  • In Mahou Sensei Negima!, After the True Companions went back in time to Set Right What Once Went Wrong, some of them went straight for help from the adults. After being heard, they were told to leave the rest to the grown-ups, to which Weasel Mascot Chamo responded by saying "Tsk, tsk, tsk. You don't get it, principal. History has already proven that it's no good to leave things to you guys. You should leave things to us here." In the end, while they did help, it was the students who saved the day while the adults were useless (mostly because the Big Bad had already developed countermeasures for them).
    • There's also a number of aversions, as there were several useful adults around, but they all sat off to the side and watched. Later chapters see the adults actually getting involved a little more.
    • Most adults, and at least one of them is a badass, have proven to be anything but useless, what with saving Negi's behind after he was OHKO'ed by the incoming Big Bad.
  • In Mai-HiME, most of the adults seem to have a very strong Weirdness Censor in play, and the few that aren't are almost all tools of the Ancient Conspiracy.
    • On the other hand, Midori is an adult and is arguably the great unsung hero of the series as well as being the most level headed of the HiME (despite first impressions to the contrary). Additionally, Natsuki's adult contacts provide her with a lot of useful information and one of them also bales her, Mai, and Mikoto out of some trouble they had managed to get themselves into. Furthermore, while most of the adults have little knowledge of what's going on around them, most of them seem to be quite competent within their own professional spheres (and it's also worth noting that the majority of the younger characters are rather in the dark about what's going on as well).
  • In Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic we see the adventures of Aladdin, Alibaba and Morgiana, which are all teenagers. And they are involved in saving many people, fighting dangerous monsters, and evil mages. While many adults are not incompetent, starting with Sindbad and his generals, only a few of them are morally pure, so the real heroes are just the teenagers.
  • Mazinger Z: Plays with it but subverts it. The weapon most powerful in the world is handed over to a teenager, and Dr. Hell and his servants (who are all adults) are unable defeat a bunch of teenagers... but neither Kouji nor Sayaka nor Shiro -nor Boss and his gang- would have been capable of protecting humankind and defeat Dr. Hell if they would not been supported by plenty adults. All workers in the Institute (starting with Prof. Yumi, who was a good scientist and strategist) were fully competent and without them Mazinger Z would have not got the frequent upgrades, repairs and maintenance it needed. This situation was repeated in the sequels: Great Mazinger and UFO Robo Grendizer.
  • My Bride is a Mermaid: Pretty much all the adults except for Masa and Ren are either incompetent or wildly apathetic.
  • In Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea, the adults of both the land and sea bicker so much like children that they are often rendered incapable of cooperating with each other on even important matters such as the Ofunehiki. In one instance of this, the actual children end up scolding the adults for their immature arguing.
  • Mostly averted in Naruto. Throughout the first half of the series, the adults actually do most of the important, high-level fighting. Post-Time Skip, where the "Rookies" begin carrying more of the weight, it's portrayed not as this trope, but as the new generation taking up the mantle of their predecessors. And even then, apart from Naruto and Sasuke, the strongest fighters in the series are still mostly adults.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion deconstructs this. The reason why they're useless is because most of them are at least indirectly on SEELE's payroll, and it would be a Very Bad Idea for them to act as Spanners In The Works regarding Instrumentality.
    • The eponymous Eva units are piloted primarily by children. It's alluded to, but not clearly explained that this is linked to the Second Impact. They do state rather clearly, though, that they have to use children, although they seem a little bummed about it at first
  • Haruka's mother in Psychic Detective Yakumo does not put up any fight, protest, plea, when her daughter wants to walk into a potentially dangerous situation to rescue Yakumo.
  • Rosario + Vampire: There are students and teachers who attempt to rape, murder, mind-control, or otherwise commit felony-grade crimes against our protagonists on what seems like a weekly basis; our protagonists, in turn, defend themselves, often with near-lethal force. In the rare event that authority figures appear or that punitive measures are taken against the offenders, it's almost laughably minimal. The teacher who turned students to stone as "art" and the math instructor who mind-controlled students to force them to study were put on suspension, nothing more. Meanwhile, our protagonists are practically knee-deep in the casualties they turn out from these often-brutal fights, and there appears to be little or no action taken against them, either. (Perhaps monsters just have a much more casual view of rape and murder, seeing as how many of them can apparently survive anything short of actual decapitation.)
    • The headmaster of Yokai Academy, Tenmei Mikogami, certainly comes across as such. He is the principal of a school that promotes human/monster co-existence, and yet, among other things, he allows a Swimming Club full of mermaids to suck the life out of any males they persuade to join, as well as Kuyou (who happens to be an anti-human extremist and a terrorist) and the corrupt Student Police to abuse their authority and make the other students' lives miserable, leaving Tsukune and his friends to sort such things out. In fact, when Kuyou had Tsukune scheduled for public execution because he was human, Mikogami explicitly said he wasn't going to stop it and forbade Ms. Nekonome from doing anything to intervene, something she rightfully calls him out on.
  • Satou Kashi no Dangan wa Uchinukenai: Nagisa comes to this conclusion after talking with her teacher about her friend's abusive father. Her teacher has a similar reaction when he cries over their inability to have saved Umino from her father. There were multiple signs of abuse but adults either didn't notice, didn't want to get involved, or thought Umino was lying.
    Nagisa: "Adults act like heroes but all they really want is to control us children."
  • School Days. The only adult that appears is their homeroom teacher. And true to trope, what few interactions he has with the main characters is essentially telling them to shut up so he can get on with class.
  • The only adult in School-Live! is the Sensei-chan Megu-nee, who is a Butt-Monkey who consistently gets ignored by most characters and doesn't really do anything. Subverted later when it's revealed that Megu-nee has been Dead All Along and what we see is really a hallucination of Yuki's, explaining why the others treat her like she's barely there. The actual Megu-nee was responsible and even died as a Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Averted in Soul Eater as most of the adult characters are far more powerful than the teenaged main characters and end up saving their lives at some points.
    • Even once the kids are shown to have improved significantly, the adults are still around being not-useless. For example they're acting in the background during the Baba Yaga arc, and now during this new storyline; Yumi with Kirikou's group, Tezcatlipoca disrupting Black Star's fight with Crona.
    • 'Salvage' has a group of them heading for Noah in the real world, as Spartoi hunt for Kid within the Book. Shinigami's not relying purely on the kids, it seems.
      • Although this is a bad example since the entire adult squad gets worfed in just a few panels.
      • Sadly true. It wasn't, technically, when the example was written.
  • Sword Art Online, the games get jacked by the villains to make it giant battle royales. Most of the adult authority figures play no direct role in solving the crisis apart from providing medical care for the players trapped inside the game. Sister's Prayer, a side story, reveals that the government planned on an operation to disable the batteries of all NerveGear systems simultaneously in case Kayaba had a fail-safe designed to kill the players if anyone interfered, but the plan is never put into action. In the end, Kirito is the one who plays the greatest role in saving everyone still alive in SAO, as well as the remaining players spirited away to ALO.
  • Played with in Tamagotchi. The parents and teachers are a big influence in the main cast's lives, offering effective comfort and guidance. Other adults, however, are more comical and unhelpful.
  • The grown-ups in Tamako Market act very over-the-top, and are pretty gullible, while all the teenagers are wiser.
  • Tokyo Ravens: Averted. The adults are not only competent, but play almost as active a role in the plot as the main cast. Their experience also makes them Combat Pragmatists.
  • Although Tomica Hyper Rescue Drive Head Kidou Kyuukyuu Keisatsu seems to play this straight at first, with the titular Drive Head robots only being able to be driven by children and any adult driver failing to make them run, it is ultimately subverted. The drivers' adult allies all play important support roles, ranging from building and maintaining the Drive Heads to joining them right on the scene of a rescue. About halfway into the show, a fourth Drive Head is introduced, which is actually piloted by an adult.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: Lampshaded in Season 3, usually by Asuka and Kenzan, as the kids easily resign themselves to the fact that the adults have fallen apart and it's up to them to take charge. Principal Sameshima might also be a Deconstruction, since from the start, having to repeatedly burden teenagers with the responsibility of saving the world truly causes him a great deal of guilt and inner-turmoil.
    • The original series also plays this pretty straight - especially the manga, which may as well be titled All Grownups Are Out to Get You: The Series. The Lighter and Softer anime somewhat ameliorates this.
  • In Suterareta Yuusha No Eiyuutan, it's played for full horror effect. The protagonist, Katsuragi Daichi, is horribly bullied, to the brink of death, on a near daily basis, by the vast majority of his class. The teachers not only turn a blind eye to it, and the subsequent visits to the infirmary, with all his horrific injuries, if they note that he's barricaded himself in his dorm room, for fear of his safety, they use their master key, break into the room, and physically drag him back to class so the bullies can have their way!

  • 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 belive their kids telling them about her and won't notice her activities, even as they're happening in front of them. Worse, if you're a parent, the first person a kid targeted by her would come to, she can turn you into her brainwashed minion. And if your parents are dead, she will bring them back as her minions through they cannot get too far away from the place of their death.
  • 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.
  • 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 Danny Phantom fanfic ResurrectedMemories: 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.

  • 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 gajilion 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 times 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.
  • 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.
  • In the Circle of Magic series, adults tend to be useful, excepting Street Magic. When Briar attempts to get stone mage Jebilu Stoneslicer to teach Evvy, Stoneslicer proves himself to be selfish and useless- he tells Briar to take Evvy away from Chammur and to send her to Winding Circle. He then proceeds to make a number of assumptions about Evvy based solely on the fact that she is a poor orphan, and tells Briar that she will never get anywhere because of that. He does agree to teach her only after Rosethorn talks to him, and is later revealed to be the worst possible teacher for Evvy. Plus the scene when Briar is questioned by the mutabir, or leader of Chammur- Briar repeatedly suggests possible crimes to charge Lady Zenadia with, only to be informed that she is too high in rank to be bothered with such charges, and like Stoneslicer, the mutabir dismisses the teenage gang, the Vipers, and Evvy as poor people of no real value, and not worth helping.
  • 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.
  • 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 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 selves-conscious and doesn't cope well with the unexpected; Miss Treason is ruthlessly judgemental and, for most of Wintersmith, dead. Granny Weatherwax is awesome, but she's a Sink-or-Swim Mentor who refuses to let Tiffany rely on her.)
  • 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 GONE they're not even THERE.
  • 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's torment on him. Also, aside from the fact that they condone every misdeed Tara does to make Michael's life miserable (such as making Michael trip on his birthday cake and opening his presents), Michael gets beat up by a bigger guy thanks to Tara framing him for stealing the guy's cap, and when Michael returns home, his parents don't even care that their only son had just gotten beat up by a bigger guy, as opposed to their concern on Tara when she got a small cut on her leg when falling off Michael's bike for hopping on it earlier. It works out for him though in the end.
    • 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: Slappy World 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.
    • 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 Quirrel.
    • 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.
    • 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 posessing 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.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • Every single adult in the book Little Chicago, save for a doctor and nurse at the start (and the protagonist's barely-adult sister) are horribly useless. After the eleven-year-old protagonist, Blacky, is molested by a family friend, he sees a social worker about it and the molester is put in jail. But after that, his mother is a neglectful woman who's almost constantly in a daze, stopped taking prescribed medicine for vanity purposes, and brought a drunk man home—and she doesn't really seem to care that Blacky was molested. Rather, she visits the man in prison and actually brings Blacky a letter he'd written for him (which had sexual harassment in it). The teachers and principal at school don't notice or do anything about Blacky being bullied, despite the teacher even witnessing some of it in her classroom. When Blacky is called to the principal's office, it's on behalf of the bullies, who claim Blacky is disturbing them, rather than the other way around. Then the social worker comes to Blacky's house, sees the horrible shape the home is in and how out of it his mom is, and doesn't do anything about it.
  • 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 overthrown the shadowhunters. And he could only be defeated by other teenagers.
    • The sequel series The Dark Artificies 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.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • The parents in M.T. Anderson's Pals in Peril series.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • With the exception of the Snicket siblings, nearly every adult in A Series of Unfortunate Events is outrageously stupid, and often cruel. Even the adults who genuinely want to help the Baudelaires fail them at a crucial moment due to their fears or strange philosophy.
    • (This is referenced, at least, in Lemony Snicket — The Unauthorized Autobiography, in which it is revealed that the supposedly volunteer organization V.F.D. kidnaps small children to join its ranks.)
    • "Mr. Poe meant well, but a jar of mustard probably also means well and would do a better job of keeping the 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.
  • Did any of the adults (i.e. Ned and Alice Wakefield and/or the Sweet Valley Police) in Sweet Valley High ever do anything to prevent the insanity that coalesced around those "perfect size six" twins? Kidnappings, Murders, Rapes, all somehow involving the same two girls, the perpetrators constantly getting away only to cause 3-4 books worth of harassment. Parents who apparently allowed their 7 year old children the range of teenagers (if you think I'm kidding, go read some Sweet Valley Twins books where the kids go adventuring at night.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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.)
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Live Action TV 
  • In 3-2-1 Contact's "The Bloodhound Gang" segments, the adults who are the targets of con artists are typically complete idiots to the point where one easy mark has his own child have control of his own finances.
  • The entire premise of Absolutely Fabulous is that the adults are completely drug addled and useless, while the child, Saffy, is intelligent, capable and down-to-earth.
  • Are You Afraid of the Dark? featured the Cassandra Truth variety. Your parents will never believe your neighbors are vampires.
  • Arguably Arrested Development, as while all of the adults in the show constantly make terrible decisions and ruin any good thing that they get, George-Michael is running a relatively successful business and Maeby cons her way into a job as a movie studio executive. This is further highlighted by the fact that one of Maeby's better ideas as an executive is ruined by Michael.
  • Beetleborgs: The trio of Kid Heroes seem to be the only competent characters in the show when it comes to dealing with the enemies that escaped from the comic book world. The adults in this series are either incapable of dealing with this threat, due to a lack of weapons or would just flee at the first sign of trouble. The only exception to this trope is the writer of the Beetleborg comics, Art Fortunes, who sometimes supplies the heroes with new powers and weapons.
  • Beverly Hills, 90210, for some extent, with the obvious exception of Brandon and Brenda's parents (who were originally part of the main cast). As the series progressed, teens got into, or were affected by, much more serious troubles (guns, paedophilia, addiction, mafia, rape) and their parents were either oblivious or useless. The '90210' sequel also has that a bit: drugs, a hit-and-run death, stalking... and only Annie's and Dixon's folks actually do something (and only occasionally).
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • The show has a curious take on this. While Giles and Jenny Calendar are undeniably useful, and Buffy's mother proves quite smart and sensible once she finds out the truth about her daughter (though she still can't do much and it's just not realistic to help out a super-powered daughter), adult society is thoroughly useless. There is no adult organization which is not either evil (the Mayor and his administration), staggeringly incompetent (the Watchers), or both (the Initiative). The only possible exception is the coven which sends Giles to stop Willow at the end of season six; but they didn't get much, or indeed any, screen time. If they had, no doubt they'd have turned out to be a front organization for some kind of demonic cult.
    • Snyder. And how.
    • Did anyone else watch all those kids dying all the time on the show and ask themselves 'Don't these people have parents?!'
    • The one time the parents decided they should do something about the way at least one of their children dies every week, it was because a demon was influencing them.
    • The worst case was in the season 6 premiere when demon bikers attacked the town and there was no one to defend it. No cops, firemen or rescue personnel accounted for.
    • Xander's parents are drunks, Buffy's father is rarely around, Willow's mother shows up once, getting in her way, and Willow's father is mentioned in reference, with Willow worrying what "Ira Rosenberg will think of his only daughter nailing a crucifix to her wall."
    • Played up in Season 3's "Band Candy," where a certain brand of chocolate makes adults who eat it revert to teenage maturity levels.
    • In a episode, Buffy is searched for murder. At first she can escape only on account of her special powers, but then she returns to the scene of the crime unharmed, without being started by the police. In the hospital, two policemen practically run past her without recognizing her, and lastly, she can leave the city even in the bright day, in a public transport.
    • Gunn and his (on the street living) friends are also teenagers who have to fight constantly against vampires. The comics show that a group of teenagers is much more effective in the fight against vampires, than a military unit of the US army, which is suffering large losses, and can not defeat the vampires.
  • This is the standard thought process of basically anyone in the Criminal Minds universe who has a job involving teenagers or children: "Hmm, one of the kids it's my job to watch over is clearly being bullied/abused to a frightening and dangerous degree, perhaps I should report this or do something about it? Nah, it's cool, it's not like the abuser/bully might actually kill the kid, and the victim sure as hell isn't going to snap and go on a killing spree. I am awesome at my job!"
  • The teacher from Everybody Hates Chris is probably a frontrunning example in this section. She's witnessed Chris attacked by Caruso, but usually does nothing to stop or even acknowledge it. In one moment bordering on Lawful Stupid, she gave Chris a 0 on a test, despite the fact that he got every question right, but because he entered each answer on the wrong line. It didn't look to be a scantron, where it would be justified, either.
  • In The Facts of Life, the only adult who serves a purpose is Mrs. Garrett, the school's nutritionist.
  • Several examples in Friends:
    • In "The One After The Super Bowl," it's revealed that Chandler pulled up a girl's skirt during a school play, so the entire school saw her underwear. Where were the teachers, faculty and parents when he did this? It was during a school play, so surely they witnessed this and reprimanded him for it (which, ironically, would've been far more likely to be the focus of the kids' attention than seeing the girl's underwear).
    • Chandler's childhood in general, as he apparently received very little support during his parents divorce and Dad coming out as gay.
    • In "The One With The Halloween Party," none of the trick-or-treaters are with their parents or guardians.
    • Also, in "The One After I Do," why is there no babysitter at the kid's table?
    • Phoebe's entire backstory. You have to question how an orphaned 14 year old ended up on the streets and not in care or a foster home.
  • Glee:
    • There don't seem to be any repercussions for "slushie facials," or really any of the bullying. Even when Kurt is being constantly harassed for his sexuality (eventually leading to a threat against his life), the only adults willing to help seem to be his father and Sue Sylvester. Not that it works. This trope is most strongly embodied in Principal Figgins, who appears to have full-time possession of his own private Idiot Ball, though spare ones are available for all the other staff members in the school to use. The stupidity of Figgins really stands out in the fact that he believes that Perky Goth Tina is a vampire, as well as having a father who is "King of the Asian Vampires". Tina routinely uses this ruse to get Figgins to do what she wants.
    • Lampshaded in the episode "On My Way". When Karofsky tries to kill himself the faculty of McKinley conference in the principal's office. Among the things said, Sue says that she should've seen it coming, because she was principal when he was bullying Kurt and she knew something was up. Will says that they were all hard on Dave because they thought he'd hurt Kurt, they just didn't imagine that he'd hurt himself.
      Principal Figgins: It wasn't our job to know.
      Emma: Then whose job was it?
  • In Gossip Girl almost every significant adult, one way or another, is irresponsible, clueless, idiotic, indifferent about the whereabouts of the teen characters, or those adults are incapable of controlling the teen actions.
    • To break this down a little: Lily Van Der Woodsen is shown to care more about the family's status than her children and is constantly shown as clueless to the point where her son and youngest child often has to spell things out to her. Bart Bass is a womanizing hard-ass who serves mostly to remind Chuck of all the ways in which he isn't good enough when he's not getting in the way of Lily and Rufus' feelings for one another. Eleanor Waldorf is rarely home and when she is seems only to be able of criticizing Blair and Nate's parents are a drug-addicted man arrested for embezzlement and his wife who blindly persists in the view that everything will be okay even when all their assets are seized. Even Rufus Humphrey, who compared to the others is something of a model parent, is often shown as stubborn to the point of pig-headed and unable to accept that his children are capable of making their own choices and dealing with the subsequent consequences. His ex-wife disappeared to Hudson and only came back when her teenage daughter showed up on her doorstep and demanded she did so.
    • On the other hand, certain of the more minor adults fare better. The prime example being Cyrus Rose who, although constantly berated by Blair as being annoying, constantly shows himself to be supportive and useful on occasion.
  • The Haunting Hour: The parents are so unhelpful in this series that whenever their child is stalked by the Monster of the Week or haunted by a supernatural force their kid usually ends up dead or worse off by the end because they didn't listen.
  • Based on the end of the Henry Danger episode, "Jasper's Real Girlfriend," how could Charlotte's parents not have heard the commotion involving their guest attacking their daughter with a mini chainsaw in Charlotte's room?
  • iCarly: Lampshaded in multiple episodes. Each adult has his or her own brand of eccentricity. Subverted by Principal Franklin, who's competent, if overly lenient, and occasionally by Spencer. Spencer and Carly's grandfather, who only appeared in one episode, was almost freakishly competent.
  • Incredible Crew plays this trope for laughs in the "Cola Thief" sketch, where a teacher keeps her class after school because someone stole and drank nearly sixty sodas from her cabinet and won't let anyone leave until the thief confesses. One of the students points out that a boy named Wyatt, who's very plainly going out of his mind from a sugar rush, probably did it. The teacher just says they can't accuse someone without proof.
  • Malcolm in the Middle: The Wilkerson boys are generally able to outwit and overpower their teachers and neighbors, the vast majority of whom are petty and slow-witted: however, in a subversion of this trope, their mother Lois sees through all of their schemes, and rarely fails to nail them.
  • Uther Pendragon from Merlin. All this guy does is make everything worse, he is an ego-maniac, massive hypocrite and lacks the competence to make up for his flaws.
  • The Australian kids' show Mirror, Mirror managed an odd variant, where, aside from the Old Man, who was managing what has to be one of the most epic Gambit Roulettes ever, all the adults were at least plausibly incompetent (if not outright evil), mainly because only a few of them had any idea of exactly what was going on.
    • For the record: The adults in Louisa's family had no idea, and their tutor was in the pay of their rather nasty neighbour, who was hiding the son of Tsar Nicholas II, in a ploy to sell him back to Russia. As for Jo, her father gets clued in, but can't use the mirror. The worst offender would have been Dr Coigley, who was unknowingly working for the Old Man.
  • The earlier Power Rangers series do this to frightening levels. Not only do they have a team of six teenagers saving the world, there never seemed to be any kind of competent adult to help even with non-monster related things. This is perfectly shown in the season 2 episode "The Ninja Encounter", where a baby in a stroller is rolling down a hill. The adults jump out of the way, as if the baby stroller was a runaway train, meaning it's left to the main cast of teenagers to rescue the infant.

    In later seasons the adults started to have a major supporting role, especially in Lost Galaxy, Lightspeed Rescue, Time Force and RPM as the rangers belong to or are assisted by military organizations created to deal with supernatural threats.
  • Riverdale has a variation: The adults are criminals, even evil and crazy, like Betty's mom. Archie's dad seems to be the only normal one.
  • In Round the Twist, only Nell can regularly provide the kids with any real help whatsoever. Tony Twist, and particularly Mrs James, and Mr Snapper, aren't much help.
  • In Shadowhunters, while they mean well, the adults of the Institute tend to get in the way more than they help because of their very strict adherence to their laws. The younger characters are the ones that are actually getting close to stopping Valentine by bending some of the more restrictive laws.
  • The extent that the adults in the Japanese drama Shōkōjo Seira simply lets the bullying and torment happen to poor Seira can be extremely frustrating to watch. They could be downright evil and cruel, like Mimura Chieko who runs the school. Or they could be clueless and utterly incompetent, like Mimura Emiko, sister of Chieko. Or sometimes they gleefully take advantage of Seira and Kaito and bully them around, like the chef and his wife. Or perhaps they could be like Aran Yukio, a French teacher, who does want to help Seira, but lacks the power to really change anything. He isn't around all the time at the school to help Seira.
  • Space Cases. The two present adults on the show are unable to pilot the ship and almost seem to be the Butt-Monkey characters. The former may actually be a bit explained, since one can assume that since they didn't touch the walls as long as the kids did (in the first episode) or that they were the last two to board the ship that the living spaceship saw the kids as the "Complete" crew. The android Thelma is also worthless to Cloud Cuckoo Lander levels - then again, she's not really an adult to begin with.
  • Parents in Spellbinder nurture inexplicable reluctance to believe in their teenage children's stories about parallel words and intruders therefrom. However, once presented with undeniable proofs, they become much more competent.
  • Stranger Things: Zig-zagged.
    • Naturally, policemen, scientists, and other qualified grown-ups have no role in resolving the mysterious happenings around Hawkins when compared to the role of our five child protagonists.
    • On the other hand, Joyce and Hopper are the competent adults in the cast; they're the ones who enter the Upside Down and save Will. Season two also adds Bob and Dr. Owens, who prove very useful in the home stretch.
    • Mike and Nancy's parents are a straight example. Their son hides his esper girlfriend in their basement for almost a week without them ever even noticing. This carries over to season 2, as the Wheelers spend the last few episodes blissfully unaware of where their kids are and simply assume they're with their friends somewhere. Considering the town has a habit of disappearing children, you'd think they would be more concerned.
  • Teen Wolf: Played straight and averted, depending on the episode and season. Most of the teens have to check in with their parents on a regular or semi-regular basis. And once Scott's mother finally learns about her son's werewolf issues, she becomes much more involved and informed in the kids' activities. She is also an Action Mom and The Medic for virtually everyone in town (to the point that it is a fandom joke that she is the only full-time caregiver at Beacon Hills Memorial Hospital).
    • The Argents are very effective as werewolf hunters and Stiles' father is constantly popping up as the sheriff. Sheriff Stilinski is shown to be a awesome marksman and an effective investigator once the supernatural nature of the problems in Beacon Hills is revealed to him.
    • Dr. Deaton and Ms. Morrell could count as aversions as well.
    • By Season 3B, all the adult characters except for Lydia's mother and Mr McCall know about the supernatural, and do their best to help out when they can.
  • On The Troop, when someone turns 18, they lose their courage and can no longer fight monsters.
  • The Vampire Diaries:
    • The one teacher we see at the school has zero understanding for Elena or Jeremy despite their loss; Elena's aunt is clueless; even after Vicki is attacked, her parents are nowhere to be seen, and her brother's the only one at her bedside in the hospital.
    • The founder's council is also not all that useful. When the most competent member of the town's anti-vampire defense force is DAMON there is a problem
    • This is not the case with Alaric
    • Subverted with Sheriff Forbes and Mayor Lockwood, as of season three.
    • Also subverted with Professor Shane as of Season 4.
  • In Wizards of Waverly Place, all of the Russo children, but neither of the parents, have magical powers. This works out about as well as you'd expect.

  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • Any RPG where the main characters are almost always under 20, often around 14-18. Normally there is one or two older characters to act as a sage or adviser.
  • Carl Clover of BlazBlue holds this a core belief. All adults are stupid, selfish and usually outright evil. He has a very good reason for thinking like this, though. He has since loosen up, now considering that there's at least two honest-to-god decent and good adults, Bang and Litchi. The jury's still out about that adult and Camp Gay performer chasing him (Amane).
  • Bully. Surprisingly one of the most accurate portrayals of this trope. It's set in a school, one that's plagued by bullying. Even if the student body consists of about 70 people, the adults and the four prefects seem to just stand there going, "Duuuuuuuuh" while Gary manipulates all the cliques into fighting with each other. Even if the prefects (and adults) do chase Jimmy and can be seen occasionally busting a student, it's obvious the prefects are power-hungry jerks who're oblivious to most of the stuff that goes on in the school, and so are the adults. (i.e., the nerds are able to construct potato gun turrets in the astronomy club building without alerting adults and it's implied they have no supervision, the jocks throw explosive-laden footballs at a student, the gym gets lit on fire and nobody calls the police unless you fail and nobody even mentions it afterwords.) It's safe to say even if the game has a realistic portrayal of how useless adults can be in a school setting; you can probably rest easily given that if this happened in real life, people WOULD call the police and the school would be closed in a year. (Mr. Burton especially would be fired for encouraging the bullying and the implications that he sexually harassed Zoe. Which he is anyway.)
  • The Colour Tuesday has the adults of the world at the mercy of being turned into puppets by the Others. Children aren't affected. Combines with Competence Zone.
  • Defied in Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars. Despite a divinely-enforced Competence Zone meaning only teenagers can actually fight, it's made clear everyone knows that leaving them to actually coordinate the war effort would be an unmitigated disaster. Senior military ranks, positions of authority, mission coordinators and the R&D team are all comprised of highly-educated adults.
  • Most of the adults in EarthBound are incompetent. The police force of Onett fights Ness for trespassing, and loses. Some of the Happy Happy cultists are too busy painting cows blue to care for their children back in Twoson. The Runaway Five is continually in debt everywhere they go. Porky's dad in Fourside is seen riding off of his son's success, and later in the game he's lost everything.
  • Escape From St. Mary's: Adults mostly seem indifferent to your characters' pleas for help on after encountering increasingly bizarre phenomena.
  • Two teenagers in a parking lot are entirely capable of starting a school on their own in High School Story. It just builds from there. When Hope is bullied on her school's website, the principal demands that she show proof of the bullying before he will do anything. This despite the fact that it's the school's website and he should be more than capable of accessing the public pages where other students were posting about her. There's also the fact that it went on publicly for months and absolutely no teachers or moderators took notice. He does finally call the police after she brings him the evidence, going from "does nothing at all" to "gung-ho borderline-overreacting" in record time.
  • The Kiseki Series subverts this trope as much as possible while still keeping its younger viewpoint characters relevant. There are several competent, more experienced adults that can and do show up the younger characters, every step of the way in skill and practice. Which is exactly why they stay out of situations their Bracers/police/soldiers in training can work with on their own. A student cant truly learn to rely on their skills if they had to depend on their mentors to get by. However, when they decide not to hold back, they frequently reach Story-Breaker Power levels of competence. This is also one of the reasons why the overall villains of the series, Ouroboros easily get what they want as almost all their members are competent adults. They also aren't afraid to weaponize adults' vulnerability and trust toward children, as the Black Fang and the Angel of Slaughter demonstrate with chilling effectiveness.
  • Life Is Strange is all over the place with this trope.
    • Principal Wells is almost guaranteed not to believe Max in any situation. If you tell him about Nathan Prescott having a gun in the bathroom, Wells will cite Nathan's family and status as an honor-roll student as reasons why this is unlikely. The worst he does is call him to the office. The action also backfires on Max, as he'll then contact her parents and accuse her of "telling tall tales". If you try to report David Madsen before class in Episode 2, Wells always finds an excuse to not trust what Max says no matter what choices the player has made. The only time he's remotely helpful is in the aftermath of Kate's suicide. Depending on your previous choices, he can be convinced to suspend Nathan on suspicion of drugging Kate and recording the salacious video of her, suspend Madsen for antagonizing Kate (but only if you have proof), or lightly punish Mr. Jefferson for Victim Blaming Kate. Chloe picks up on this, deriding him as a drunk more concerned with the school's bottom line. In Nathan's case, Wells is being pressured by his rich father, to the point that Nathan's records are outright falsified.
    • The local security guard, David Madsen, is outright antagonistic to Max and Kate, though he's at least shown intervening in the fight between Nathan and Warren after Chloe takes off with Max. He can be seen grilling Nathan in Episode 2. He does seem to mean well, it's just that he has trouble separating his prior military from civilian life. He ultimately turns out to be a subversion: David is actually the only authority figure investigating Rachel's disappearance and he's the key to defeating the villain. And his earlier pressuring of Kate? He knows she was sexually assaulted by a member of the Vortex Club and was trying to help but he was too heavy-handed.
    • Mr. Jefferson is a nice guy in Episode 1, but when confronted with cruel gossip about a student in Episode 2, he resorts to Victim Blaming. He also turns out to be the Big Bad all along and murders Chloe upon his reveal. It's likely he willfully invoked this trope to manipulate Kate and clean up a possible loose end.
    • Ms. Grant is also shown to be nice, but the extent of her help so far is a petition to stop Madsen from putting up security cameras. If Max signs the petition, it will pass.
    • Could also be said of the police who have stopped investigating Rachel's disappearance. However, once Max exposes the Big Bad they immediately arrest him.
      • And in the scenario where Max lets Chloe die, they immediately come down on Jefferson after Nathan confesses to his involvement in his crimes. They also go after Nathan's father for his involvement.
  • Mega Man Battle Network: All of the adults are either just standing around, willing to netbattle instead of try to fix things, or nothing. The only competent adults are either involved with the WWW (Even Baryl & Colonel), Mr. Higsby, (For different reasons) or Lan's dad.
    • Chaud lampshades this when he mentions that the official netbattlers are all off in la-la-land.
    • The spiritual sequel series Megaman Star Force also uses this, but since there are only a handful of people around the world capable of wave changing, including the villains, all of whom have roughly the same amount of experience, there is no logical reason why a kid can't be the most naturally gifted member of that group.
  • Shin Megami Tensei generally downplays this; while the protagonist and their closest friends tend to be teenagers, several games also include adults as party members and allies.
    • The Persona games are probably the straightest examples, and even they add a few wrinkles:
      • While the people doing the fighting in Persona 3 are all teenagers, the game also features adults who are in on the masquerade to some extent; they do their best to help you outside of the Dark Hour, but can't do anything directly. Also, one of the first tier Big Bads is an adult. A relatively mundane example involves Fuuka's homeroom teacher, who looks the other way when she gets bullied, and actively covers up her disappearing for ten days, all to protect his reputation.
      • Justified in Persona 4 where the conflict occurs in a dimension that the police have no access to; the only adults who know about TV World are the antagonists. This trope applies because they simply had no way to know what's really going on; the police close the case when someone falsely admits to all of the murders, and even late in the game when you are straightforward about your "extracurricular activities", your uncle, Ryotaro Dojima doesn't believe you. When you receive a threatening letter, Naoto advises against telling Dojima about it, saying that doing so would result in you being put under surveillance, thus preventing you from actually working to save the victims.
      • This is a major theme in Persona 5. Most of the adults you deal with are this trope at best, and at worst they are outright evil bastards who routinely abuse their power to get away with everything from sexual harassment to outright murder. It ultimately comes down to your teenage protagonists to set everything right. At the end of the game, one of the adults, Sae Nijima (whose aid is necessary to avoid the worst ending), acknowledges this trope and vows to defy it; it's noted that although you got the bad guys to confess their sins, it's her job as a public prosecutor to ensure they actually end up behind bars. However, several of the Confidants who help the heroes in their endeavors are working adults who are quite capable at what they do.
    • The series also has several games which outright invert this:
      • Digital Devil Saga: With only two exceptions, the cast are exceptionally skilled doctors (Heat), scientists (Serph and Gale), and nurses (Argilla).
      • In Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, the playable character and his crew are all highly-trained military personnel.
      • In Persona 2, the high schoolers that star in Innocent Sin mess everything up, and the adults in Eternal Punishment have to fix things. Although Innocent Sin's Tatsuya does join the party in Eternal Punishment later on.
  • Psychonauts: Pretty much every adult at Whispering Rock will be of little direct help once the serious trouble starts. Agents Nein and Vodelo get sent away on some unrelated mission, Coach Oleander is a villain, and Agent Cruller can't leave his HQ because his mind is too fractured and keeps devolving into the custodial staff roles he has all over the camp if he tries to leave. Although Cruller does play a decent Mission Control, providing useful tactics and advice. After freeing Fred Bonaparte (who's actually an orderly) from his psychological issues, Raz assumes he'll help get rid of Crispin (who's actually an inmate) and avoiding the need for a disguise. Fred decides to take a nap instead. (After you've gotten past Crispin, Fred will show up and chase him away. At least this means you'll be able to use the elevator again without a disguise.)
  • There are whole two adults in the Rose Garden Orphanage in Rule of Rose, and the one with actual authority is a problem, not a helper, with his implied sexual abuse of the teenaged residents, and while the cleaning lady is more observant, it doesn't matter since the Police are Useless and won't listen to her, and she gets murdered for her troubles.
  • Sir Basil Pike Public School, a game about bullying, has the uselessness of adults as one of its central themes. There's no situation in the entire game where actually going to an adult for help will get you anything but a headache. At best, he'll tell you that it was a good idea, but he doesn't have time to listen to your crap right now and you should solve your own problems, at worst, he'll babble a warped version of the Judgment of Solomon that has no answer.
  • Strongly featured in the Touch Detective series. The most competent ones often turn out to be psychopaths.
  • Yandere Simulator zig-zags this. If a teacher is called to a murder scene by a student, but Yandere-chan has successfully cleaned up after herself, she will assume it was a prank, scold the student and leave. Similarly, the police won't conduct further investigation if multiple calls come from the school in a short space of time thanks to the Headmaster bribing them to stay away from the school after his reputation was nearly ruined by a murder years ago. Otherwise, the police can quickly pick up on any evidence Yandere-chan leaves lying around and arrest her. And if the teachers know that you committed a crime, then they WILL apprehend you.

    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 painfull pasts, and most of it is caused by adults, most specifically parents failing to do their jobs properly.

    Web Comics 
  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • Adults in The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius are either never around (most of the parents), completely stupid (Jimmy's dad) or don't get onto the kids until the end. The quite possible worst example of this is probably one episode where Jimmy was being beaten up by a bully repeatedly at school. His parents assumed it was a girl and that he had found a girlfriend, even though he was coming home with BRUISES. It eventually got to the point where Jimmy had to invent something to protect him!
  • The Amazing World of Gumball: Some episodes have it stronger than others. The only consistently competent adults in the show are Nicole (though she does have her wild moments) and Larry (though he sometimes gets crazy because of all the work he does).
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender zig-zags this trope. The number of times the main characters have encountered useless, ineffectual or just plain stupid adults (Lao Bei Fong, General Fong) is about equal to the number of encounters with scarily competent and powerful adults (Iroh, King Bumi). Some are marginally useful, but rarely affect the plot directly (Hama, Piandao).
    • In all, it's more like they are useless until they become an Old Master, and then they get the appropriate degree of competence. So it's more like Avatar has an Incompetence Zone.
  • Clarence: The title character's stepfather, Chad, has even less common sense than his step-son and doesn't have any idea what others think "causing trouble" means. This is justified with Mary, the mother, because she usually has too much work to be able to watch her son carefully.
  • On ChalkZone, this applies to most of the adults in the series- they're either villains (Vinnie Ratton, Terry Bouffant, Mrs. Tweaser), jerkasses (Mr. Wilter), or completely oblivious (Joe and Millie Tabootie and Principal Stringet).
  • Code Lyoko subverts, plays straight and generally runs all over the place with this trope. At first, the middle school heroes won't tell any adults about their virtual battles with XANA because they think (probably correctly) that the first thing the adults would do is shut down the Supercomputer that's causing all the trouble, which in turn might kill Aelita. Yumi later lampshades and tries to subvert this trope when XANA threatens to cause a nuclear meltdown, saying that they're in way over their heads and need to tell somebody what's going on. The group narrowly decides to do so, but the adults are too distracted to do anything more than dismiss her with "you're Just a Kid". Still later, some of the teachers, particularly their P.E. teacher Jim, prove to be resourceful and heroic once they're pulled into the fight, but the show's Reset Button premise ensures that the Masquerade's always back in place by the end of each episode. Meanwhile, the middle-aged creator of Lyoko would probably be tremendously useful, if he weren't the The Ghost; as it is, he appears only through flashbacks, impostors, or by triggering the occasional Deus ex Machina from off-screen.
  • Codename: Kids Next Door. In it, almost all the characters over thirteen (including teenagers) are either malicious, ignorant, or incompetent. This is excusable since as the title implies, it's a show for young children. But older viewers who can't take the show for what it is may try to overthink it and see the adult villains as criminals; perhaps even omnicidal maniacs because a few villains wish to eliminate every child in the world. Heck, one episode taking place in a possible future has the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES of all people about to sign a bill stripping kids of all their Constitutional rights. Then again, this was really Numbuh 1 being placed in the Happy Headband, and thus, it never happened.
    • However one of the Operatives' father (namely Niegel aka Numbah 1's) turns out to be The KND's greatest agent, Numbuh Zero, and was briefly recommissioned to help the KND fight against Grandfather and his legion of Senior Citizombies.
    • There's also Numbuh Two's mother in her first appearance, when she defeats the Common Cold after the Kids have been unable to do so. This was fairly early in the series and Mrs. Gilligan has a completely different personality in all subsequent appearances.
    • A few adults have aided the KND, like Lasso Lass, Dr. Sigmund Teeth, and especially Moosk, but Numbuh One can't help but be suspicious of them, at least at first.
  • Partially averted with Helen Morgendorfer in Daria who shows in at least one episode that it's good to have a high powered lawyer in the family and, very occasionally, shows signs of genuine wisdom. Played straight with all the other adults in the series except one of Daria's aunts (naturally, she's a lot like Daria).
  • Darkwing Duck has Herb and Binkie Muddlefoot. They are complete morons who do nothing to reprimand their eldest son Tank for bullying his younger brother Honker. In the episode "You Sweat Your Life", it is even implied by Herb that Tank once dismembered his grandfather with a chainsaw when he was an infant, yet he describes the incident as if it's perfectly normal.
  • Doug: Roger is pestering Patty, disrupting class. It annoys Doug so much but Ms. Wingo doesn't even lift an ounce of effort to stop the bullying. When Patty finally loses it since Roger's disrupting her homework, Ms. Wingo then sentences Roger to detention...and Patty despite her being the victim. Truth in Television as most school systems in America have a Zero-Intelligence Zero-Tolerance policy of fighting where the aggressor AND the student defending themselves receive more-or-less equal punishment.
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy is pretty much the epitome of this trope. Aside from the fact that the adults are never shown physically throughout the series, the titular trio's parents also don't seem to be cognizant of their troubles. Ed's mother apparently favors his little sister over him, and his dad is implied to be little more than apathetic of his son. Edd's parents are hardly ever there for him, and only communicate through sticky notes. Eddy probably has the worst parents of them all. His brother has bullied him all his life, and their parents did absolutely nothing to stop him. On top of all that, the kids seem to take great pleasure in unnecessary cruelty towards the Eds, and the adults don't seem to punish them in any way for their troubles. This is taken Up to Eleven in the movie, where the kids actually tried to murder the Eds due to what their scam did to them. Seriously, where the hell are the adults at a time like this?!
  • Happens a lot in Ewoks. While the adults are not exactly dumb, they rely on their adolescent cubs to save the day, more often than not.
  • Every adult (or anyone above 10, really) in The Fairly OddParents! is either incompetent (Mr. Turner, the Mayor), clueless (Mrs. Turner, Principal Waxaplax), indifferent (the Dinklebergs, the Buxaplentys), cowardly (Vicky's parents), or flat out evil (Crocker, Doug Dimmadome). Even on Yugopotamia, Mark's parents are utterly useless in an emergency (such as the Gigglepie invasion or the attempted assassination of Grippulon). Fairy adults (bar Cosmo) seem fairly competent, albeit eccentric. And Timmy had to coin that quote at the top... The Show is a parody of abusive, negligent, self-centered modern parents, after all, to the point that Timmy has to dream up fairy-godparents since he's functionally an abused orphan.
  • Family Guy: All of the adults have become complete idiots in recent years who will follow anything anyone with a microphone or megaphone says even if it's really dangerous or completely idiotic. Even Lois is now incompetent, turning Brian into the Only Sane Man.
  • Mac's Mom in Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends zig-zags this trope. Unlike most adults in animation, she is not oblivious to the bullying Mac goes through at the hands of Terrance. However, she is usually is too busy working to do anything about it, and her solution to the problem is forcing Mac to get rid of Bloo. Nor does she notice Mac's visits to Foster's.
  • In the Futurama episode "Teenage Mutant Leela Hurdles", when the cast is reverted back to being teenagers, Leela requests that her parents ground her, arguing that she never had such an experience. She then sneaks out through the window.
  • Gravity Falls: Grunkle Stan is pretty much oblivious to anything Dipper and Mabel are up to. The police are vastly incompetent at their jobs as well. Averted with Stan as of season two, when he saves the kids from a horde of zombies and proceeds to reveal to them that he's always known about the supernatural stuff in Gravity Falls, but pretended he didn't so they wouldn't get in trouble.
    • It is revealed that the obliviousness of the townspeople was the result of an secret society erasing their memories so they wouldn't be haunted by the supernatural occurrences. It's implied that the mind-wiping ray also affected the sanity of the community too, leaving them not only ignorant but brain-damaged. But with the society disbanded, it appears that this may start to change.
  • The nine-year-old kids in Hey Arnold! have all sorts of misadventures without any adult supervision. No adult ever does anything about older bullies like Wolfgang, and the kids can go anywhere they want, underground sewers included. Hey Arnold! The Movie takes this to the extreme, when Arnold, Gerald, and Helga infiltrate a building riddled with security guards without too much effort. Escaping that same building doesn't end up being too hard either. Zigzagged in Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie, when Simmons' class are kidnapped by pirates, Simmons goes insane with fear and the kids are able to send a message out to the other adults, who come and save them from the pirates.
  • The action in every episode of Inspector Gadget revolves around the comically inept title character unknowingly putting himself in grave danger while his ten-year-old niece and canine sidekick have to protect him from himself and solve the case all by themselves. Other adults (e.g. Da Chief) tend to be competent and intelligent, however, so Gadget is the exception in this universe, not the rule. Possibly his idiocy stems from having a helicopter in his head.
    • However; this has been interpreted as Obfuscating Stupidity. Proponents of this school of thought say that Gadget (And possibly even Da Chief!) is aware that his ten year old niece and his dog are the ones doing all the work. They seem to have the formula down to a T, Inspector Gadget walks around getting into trouble and keeps the criminals (for the most part) distracted, while the case is solved from the shadows by Penny and Brain. He also takes the credit for it, so MAD only targets him. There have been occasions where he knew Penny and/or Brain was in danger and then becomes scarily competent.
  • Invader Zim. Every single adult (and most of the children, for that matter) is completely oblivious to the fact that Zim is an alien, despite being, as Dib points out, green, with no ears. Mrs. Bitters, however, isn't useless... she's downright sadistic.
  • Averted in Jonny Quest, where the boys provide minimal help for Race and Dr. Quest.
  • If an adult in Johnny Test isn't the main character's parents or Albert (a certain villain's butler), then they'll be either incredibly incompetent (Mr. Teacherman, the mayor), nice but unhelpful (the school principal, the president), an antagonist Depending on the Writer (The General), or useful but eccentric (Mr. Black and Mr. White). The parents have a big Depending on the Writer personality, since some episodes they're totalbadasses (whether or not they're preventing the problem) and others oblivious or too scared to do anything but rely on the kids.
  • Averted in Kim Possible, where all the main characters' parents (well, except Ron's mother, who appears to be completely oblivious to her son or what he does) help save the day at least once. Many of the other adult characters are also reasonably competent, if sometimes out of their depth dealing with the bizarre situations Team Possible takes on as a matter of course.
  • Subverted in King of the Hill where Hank and Peggy are always willing and able to get Bobby out of any trouble he might find himself in, and can even handle any problems that they themselves start. The other adults on the show however, particularly Bill and Dale...
  • The Legend of Korra on the other hand may be the biggest aversion of this trope in Western Animation. Not only are the four main characters all older teens (18-19), and by Season 4 are all full adults, nearly all of their mentors and allies, most of them extremely capable fighters in their own right, are adults. In fact, the only actual Kid characters in the entire series are Tenzin's children, plus Kai in Season 3 and 4.
  • Pick any adult on Moral Orel and you'll find some degree of uselessness or Jerkassery. Topping the list, however, are Orel's parents. His dad Clay injured Orel on a hunting trip and got so madly drunk that even Cheerful Child Orel was forced to see his father for what he was; Orel's mother, Bloberta, took over 10 episodes to realize their younger son Shapey got switched with Block, the younger son of their Distaff Counterparts the Posabules. Then there's the overall neglect of Shapey and Block, which consists of doing nothing while they play with any dangerous device you can imagine (and some you can't).
    • The episode "Innocent" lampshades this by having the adults realize their careless advice is often what causes Orel (who takes things literally) to do the crazy things that he does. They're forced to acknowledge that maybe they don't actually know what they're talking about * gasp!* . Their "solution" isn't much better. The adults, including Orel's dad, try to avoid Orel entirely and, failing that, try to avoid giving advice and passes him off on someone else. The end result: Orel tries to prove to God he is "innocent" by bathing in his friends' blood.
    • Later on in the show, however, Reverend Rod Putty and Coach Daniel Stopframe subvert this, actually doing their part to help Orel.
    • Also if the show wasn't cancelled, Orel's grandfather would have joined the family and became Orel's father figure. And in Beforel Orel he tried to be this, but at the end of the special Clay forbade Orel from ever seeing him again.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episodes featuring the Cutie Mark Crusaders will often feature this to one degree to another, such as the first such ep having well-meaning teacher Cheerilee inadvertently create the insult "Blank Flank" for kids without a Cutie Mark.
    • The episode "One Bad Apple" tries to subvert it, but fails. Throughout the episode, Sweetie Belle keeps trying to get the other two to appeal to a Reasonable Authority Figure for help against Babs Seed's bullying. Applejack later explains that, had they done so, she could have told them what Babs had been going through at home, which the Crusaders immediately realized explained why she had behaved as he did. Applejack had initially held this information back to avoid getting Babs feeling singled out by the kids and reminded of what she was getting away from. However, Applejack could have avoided the problem completely by sharing that bit of info, seeing as Applebloom knows from personal experience how it feels to be bullied about your blank flank. Also, she knows that the Cutie Mark Crusaders are completely obsessed about cutiemarks. Does it make sense to hand over a filly who's extremely uncomfortable about the subject to them without a quick explanation? Additionally, the subversion gets subverted when Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon show up to bully the CMC at the very end. The whole "telling an adult when you're bullied" thing loses a lot of weight when the bullying happens right in front of the adult who does nothing more than simply frown.
    • This "subversion" also gets viciously subverted in the fanfic Parting Words.
    • Ironically, Babs deals with Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon in "One Bad Apple" by threatening to tell their mothers. Come "Crusaders of the Lost Mark", Tiara's mother is revealed to be nastier than she is, so this really wouldn't be a valid solution. The same episode has adults be useless again; Cheerilee does nothing about Tiara's rude behavior, and in the end, the one to stand up to Diamond Tiara's mother is Diamond Tiara herself!
    • On a more serious note, Princess Celestia is usually instantly shut down by every major villain who appears and thus must rely on Twilight Sparkle, who's basically an extremely mature but still only partially trained teenager, and her friends to save Equestria.
  • Somewhat the case in the 80's Nickelodeon cartoon The Mysterious Cities of Gold. The three child protagonists repeatedly outsmart, escape, or defeat in combat entire groups of Spanish soldiers. Even in times where they had adult help, either the children were treated as leaders and guiders, or they ultimately ended up not being very helpful at all. Along the way they manage to solve several Incan mysteries the rest of the adults were incapable of figuring out.
  • Adults are so useless in Peanuts that, outside of a handful of scenes in the animated specials, they never appear onscreen or have any lines. Their voices are simulated by a muted trombone.
    • That is taken from the comic strip, which was done that way to keep eye-level with the kids. Taller adults would have not worked in that format. For those keeping score, adults were shown in the comic strip a grand total of three times: the first two times, only their legs could be seen due to the perspective of the panel being drawn at the height of Charlie Brown and Lucy, and the third time showed them as indistinct figures in the background. The first few years of the Peanut strip did occasionally feature speech bubbles from off-panel adult characters however.
    • This trope was always played straight in the strip, however, as the general message is that the kids are on their own to fend for themselves— particularly via their various philosophical musings and Lucy's "Psychiatric Help" stand.
  • The only adults of any prominence in Pelswick are two old ladies caught up in a rivalry with each other, the father who only cares about being politically correct, and the vice principal who is both a Cloudcuckoolander and overprotective of his students. Guest adults are generally even worse. The wisest adult on the show manages to be the weird guardian angel.
  • In A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, the kids end up chasing a lot of people in costumes committing a number of illegal acts. Yet adults never seem to step in on any of the cases, even if minors risk getting injured and will sometimes actually hire the kids themselves. This was lampshaded in at least one episode when Fred asks a client why they aren't going to the police instead.
  • Recess has been known to go in and out of this trope. Adults in the show tend to vary between the primary antagonist (at least for the episode) to recurring obstacle to often siding with the children. And nevertheless, they are frequently portrayed as being worthless. In a startling realistic scenario, Ms. Finster actually tells a bully to leave Gus alone only for him to flat out ignore it and she is nowhere to be seen for the rest of the episode. (And neither is Randall, who you would think would find prime tattling material except for that he is afraid of them too.)
    • Really; we can add a lot of things done by some of the kids on that playground to this list. Half the stuff people do in Recess on a regular basis seem to be ignored by adults. Doesn't help that Ms. Finster is more keen on looking for kids chewing bubble gum or bringing outside toys in.
    • Miss Grotke usually subverts this trope, as she's usually always standing up for what the kids believe in and giving them advice, but at the same time, she can be pretty oblivious to the gang's plans.
    • Weirdly, the only consistently Reasonable Authority Figure is King Bob — the child-appointed sovereign of the playground. He's in 6th grade, so is only 10 or 11.
    • Subverted in The Movie. It starts out like this, but then the kids bite off more than they can chew trying to stop the Evil Plot™ and the faculty have to rescue them. Played straight with the police officers who don't take any of the claims regarding the suspicious goings on at the school seriously until the very end.
  • Rugrats is the king of this trope. The adults are criminally unaware, social services level unaware, of the whereabouts of their children. Then again, who would imagine that babies would be the main characters?
    • Taken to an extreme in "Chuckie's Wonderful Life", where Chuckie is the only one preventing Angelica and other babies from turning the town into a dystopia.
    • In one episode the parents visit a plant nursery, put the kids down in the MIDDLE OF THE STORE, and walk away like it's normal, proceeding with their shopping. The babies were also wandering around the entire store riding/pushing a shopping cart along, often threatened by falling plants and mean looking dogs. Did none of the other customers or employees take notice of this?
    • The PBS show Arthur does a Take That! to the Rugrats in one episode, where baby Kate is watching something similar to it, and questions where the parents are at. She switches the show to one like the Teletubbies, which she approves of.
    • Cracked parodied it with the kids doing things like smoking and sticking scissors in their eyes, while their parents left for Mexico. The parody ended with them being taken to court for criminal negligence, but getting pardoned because the judge thought the kids were so ugly, no sane person would want them.
  • Taken to extremes that got more disturbing every episode in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. Fred's dad actually expressed joy at the thought of him and the gang being attacked by a swarm of cicadas that had put three people in the hospital.
  • The Simpsons:
    • While not every adult is useless, most are fairly incompetent. Matt Groening talks about many of the adult characters as morons. He said in an interview that authority isn't always quite as smart as it should be, and people like teachers and doctors all have flaws.
    • Invoked in "Nightmare Cafeteria" where Bart and Lisa tell Marge about the cannibalism going on in their school, and Marge promptly dismisses them telling them that she cannot fight all their battles and they should forcefully tell the teachers to not eat them.
  • South Park:
    • A source of much of the humor (at least through the first half of the show), where it is always up to the kids to save the day while the adults run around either clueless, panicking, or distracted. Stan Marsh's father Randy in particular is wonderfully stupid and easily led.
    • Stan's mom Sharon used to be this but eventually became one of the few responsible adults in the town.
    • In "Cripple Fight," a crowd of adults allows the title event to occur until both children are beaten and worn to exhaustion... and THEN an adult comes forward, saying, "Alright, boys, break it up..."
    • The movie is a particularly good example of this trope. The opening song even includes the line "Off to the movies we shall go/where we learn everything that we know/'cause the movies teach us what our parents don't have time to say".
    • Taken to extremes in the season 6 episode "Child Abduction Isn't Funny" when the parents, in response to sensationalist news feel the only way to keep themselves from kidnapping their kids is to send them off into the wild. 4 days and a Mongolian invasion later, the parents think the kids have somehow become Mongolians and forgotten civilization. Kids are not amused. On the other hand, Mongolians themselves were quite helpful.
      "I know our parents have done some stupid crap before, but Jesus Christ."
    • Mr. Adams is a subversion. In "The Poor Kid" he acts as the caseworker to the McCormick children when they are taken from their parents. He is a dimwit who would prefer to tell Penn State jokes rather than help the children adjust, but when he finds the foster home to be terrible too, he is very ashamed for having put them there, which is more than we get from the average adult. He did send the children back to their original homes but only because he felt the system couldn't help them.
    • Another subversion is Nathan's mother at the end of "Handicar". While she is very much aware that Nathan hates summer camp and doesn't want to go there, she and her husband unfortunately had already made plans to vacation in Italy while their son's at camp. Hence, she pretends to not understand what Nathan is saying (despite it being clearly understandable to the normal person) in order to say "no" to his request of staying home from camp without having to explain the reason why.
    • Liane gradually subverts this over the years, and becomes less tolerant of Cartman's jerkassery. By season 19, she forces Cartman to go to bed with a gun.
  • In Storm Hawks, the entire free world is at risk of being overrun by a teenage supervillain... and the only people who can save the day are a bunch of plucky teen heroes. The only adults seen are either tiny elderly folk or cannon fodder.
    • Plenty of other Sky Knight squadrons are seen, but they rarely end up being useful. It's partly because they tend to stick to their own terras, whereas the Storm Hawks have no ties to anyplace in particular and are free to roam the world and get into crazy adventures.
    • Averted with Stork, who is one of the Storm Hawks and arguably an adult, albeit a young one (early 20's, not that you'd think it). He's a Non-Action Guy, but still manages to be one of the most memorable characters.
    • Also averted with Starling, a Sky Knight who lost her squadron. Like the Storm Hawks, she seems to travel a lot.
  • Subverted in The Venture Bros., where the title characters are accident-prone morons. True, their dad isn't very useful, but that's more because he doesn't care rather than any real incompetence. Brock Samson more than makes up for anything Doc Venture is lacking in.
    • Doc Venture is more cynical than incompetent, being a traumatized-adult parody of Jonny Quest (in addition to "Action Johnny"). In fact it's unknown which part of the Rusty Venture cartoon-show is real, since it's implied that all of his childhood-adventures actually happened.
    • After season 3, Doctor Venture is forced to care about his sons now that he can't just keep cloning them. Orpheus, having gone into his mind, finds an army of Hank and Dean zombies wandering around inside Venture's mind looking for their father to love them. Orpheus mentions that they're the manifestation of Rusty's guilt of being apathetic enough toward his sons to clone them so he doesn't actually have to take care of them.
  • Averted in The Weekenders. The characters' parents are all Reasonable Authority Figures who're receptive and in-touch with their children, and always have the right thing to say. Even Tish's mom, when she is shown as acting like a child eventually realizes that it was bothering Tish and stopped, but nevertheless enjoyed the weekend she spent with Tish and her friends. Carver's dad, portrayed as a rather uncaring authority figure by Carver is simply just stern...and it was Carver misinterpreting every chore and favor as a "punishment".
  • Wheel Squad averted this trope in "Hands Off My Brother". When the wheels failed to discourage the Snakes from bullying small children into stealing stuff for them, the wheels called for adult help and the adults did make it stop.
  • W.I.T.C.H. averts this trope by having many adult characters, most villains, constantly outsmarting and one-upping the heroes. Especially in the second season when some of the villains are the previous Guardians, who have the same power-set as the heroes, but years more experience in using them, as well as being more powerful. The heroes must rely on their wits to even stand a chance.