Episodes Of '90s TV Shows Designed To Terrify Parents

List Rules
Vote up the episodes that were every parent's worst nightmare.

In the '90s, most sitcoms were designed for family viewing. In order to appeal to multiple generations, these shows featured kids and teens alongside their parents, grandparents, or other adult guardians. Usually, these shows kept to light, wholesome topics, like arguments over chores, or children begging for a pet. However, some plots with these younger characters must have raised alarm bells with parents, depicting kids getting into bad behaviors like drinking, drugs, and stealing. Or, children being perfectly responsible, but still being endangered by other people with guns, robbery, abuse, manipulation, and more.

Even worse, many of these stories also involve the child characters lying to adults to cover up these behaviors.  Most episodes end with the children learning their lesson, and the parental figures comforting them. These safe, happy endings put younger viewers at ease, but adults know that real life is not always so simple. Here are episodes of '90s shows that are designed specifically to terrify parents. 

  • 1
    146 VOTES

    'Strangers On the Net' - 'Smart Guy'

    'Strangers On the Net' - 'Smart Guy'
    Photo: The WB

    T.J., the titular “Smart Guy,” wants a computer game called Starship Doctor, but his dad Floyd says it's too expensive. He's sad because the game is all he can think about, but his friend Karen tells him in a kids' chatroom online she met another user named Marky412 offering to sell a bootleg version of the game for half price. T.J. is uneasy because he knows that is illegal, but between Karen teasing him for being scared to break the rules, and how badly he wants the game, he agrees. Marky412 is not at all what he claims to be, and lures T.J. into meeting in person, where it turns out he is a sexual predator. Though T.J. is protected, this is a terrifying scenario primarily for parents, who understand the risk of such a situation more than children might. 

    Even before the meet-up, this episode presents other practical fears: kids can easily get scammed with online purchases, or even waste money on legitimate sources, with kids nowadays able to rack up many game purchases on smartphones. It's even worse to know how easily kids can interact with someone online who seems friendly and get lured into physically or emotionally dangerous situations in real life.

    146 votes
  • 2
    170 VOTES

    'Dangerous Secret' - 'Boy Meets World'

    'Dangerous Secret' - 'Boy Meets World'
    Photo: ABC

    Another exploration of a heavy topic by Boy Meets World, this episode features danger that's not the fault of the teens' decision-making, but external circumstances. Cory finds that a girl named Claire Ferguson is staying with Shawn, who says he can't explain the reason she's there, but Cory must keep it a secret. Later, Shawn tells Cory Claire must move to his house, because Shawn's parents are returning home. Cory finally demands an explanation. The truth is that Claire is physically abused by her father and staying away from home for her own safety, but she doesn't feel safe calling the police because her father is an influential man who may talk his way out of consequences. Cory is willing to help, but knows Claire can't stay at his house forever; he grows even more worried when he sees a bruise on her arm. 

    Desperate, the boys help Claire travel to Vermont to stay with extended family. When Cory's parents find out what happened with Claire, they help the boys go to the police so Claire's dad won't track down where she's staying and harm her again. This story has a happy ending with Claire confirming she's safe and her father's in rehab, but adults watching would know that in real life, these cases seldom have neat endings.

    170 votes
  • 3
    166 VOTES

    'Mistaken Identity' - 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'

    'Mistaken Identity' - 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'
    Photo: NBC

    Fresh Prince didn't wait long to go into serious territory; this frightening episode occurs in Season 1. Phil and Vivian go on a trip to Palm Springs and get invited on a helicopter to get there. Will offers to drive their car there for them, but Phil says Carlton should do it instead. Will stows away with Carlton for a bit of fun. Carlton ends up getting lost, driving so slow the police pull him over, and assume he and Will stole the car. Will is more experienced and knows not to trust the police, whereas Carlton due to his more sheltered background tries to play along with the cops. His attempts at compliance only get the boys into more hot water, as the cops are biased and clearly already convinced the boys stole the car. 

    Even when Phil and Vivian show up to clear up the misunderstanding, the officers still refuse to let Will and Carlton go, growing combative. Fortunately, Phil is smart and persistent and convinces the officers to release the boys, but not all parents are as knowledgeable or comfortable confronting the police, nor should they have to be. It's terrifying to imagine their kids might get arrested for doing nothing wrong, and kept unfairly by incompetent or biased police. 

    166 votes
  • 4
    130 VOTES

    'Model Tia' - 'Sister, Sister'

    In this chilling episode from Sister, Sister, twins Tia and Tamera begin to chat with a fashion photographer online, named Varique Dalton. Varique impresses the sisters greatly at first, claiming to be famous. Tamera sends him a picture of Tia, hoping that Tia will become a famous model and get them both invited to parties. Once their parents Ray and Lisa learn about Varique, they forbid the girls to go to Varique's place for a photo session. Tia cancels the session, but Tamera goes in her place, pretending to be her twin sister. Tamera is excited as he photographs her, but grows uncomfortable when he asks to take pictures of her in a bikini. Tia shows up, and Varique eventually admits he uses many different identities online to meet people and tries to force the sisters into sex. 

    Ray and Lisa arrive, worried about the twins; rightfully so, as they tell Varique off to protect the girls. The idea that teens, even smart ones, could be led on by a stranger claiming to be influential, promising big things like making them a fashion model or invitations to parties, all to take advantage of them is very scary and very real. Parents watching this episode must've kept a close eye on their children's online activity after this. 

    130 votes
  • 5
    123 VOTES

    '38 Special' - 'Blossom'

    '38 Special' - 'Blossom'
    Photo: NBC

    Blossom entered territory that even many brave sitcoms would hesitate to go when Blossom discovers her classmate Jimmy has a gun in his locker, and it seems that he intends to use it. After rehearsing how she'll tell the authorities, she tries to call a tip line to report him. When the school searches his locker, they find nothing, leading Blossom to get scolded for a false report - and Jimmy to grow upset at Blossom for “tattling.” The ending is wildly dark even for one of these “special episodes,” reporting that Jimmy died offscreen from an accident with his gun! Jimmy's fate no doubt scares parents, but also kids - which seems to be the intent. It's awful, but an important message to impart on kids that guns are dangerous and not to be taken lightly.  

    There's also a bizarre subplot where an alcoholic clown shows up at the door asking Joey for a ride to work, and he then goes on a drunk monologue about suicide, leaving it up to Joey to help direct him to seek help. That combination of dark plots, with the unhappy ending, makes this one of the most terrifying episodes on this list. 

    123 votes
  • 6
    136 VOTES

    'The Longest Day' - 'Home Improvement'

    'The Longest Day' - 'Home Improvement'
    Photo: ABC

    Home Improvement usually dealt with lighter fare, but not on the fifth season's "Longest Day." Jill and Tim take their three boys to doctor's appointments, and Randy, the middle child, is recommended to see a specialist for a growth on his neck. The doctor says it may be harmless, or it may be a sign of thyroid cancer... but they have to wait for test results, which will take a day. Jill and Tim become extremely anxious while waiting to find out if their son has a terminal illness or not. After deliberation, they decide not to tell Randy of the possibility, hoping it will be nothing and not to worry him. 

    However, Randy notices his parents being suspiciously nice to him and realizes they are hiding something, figuring out the risk of cancer on his own. Though Randy is fine in the end, this temporary worry about cancer triggers many fears. Firstly, the obvious fear of a child dying young, but also the subtler anxiety of having to hide heavy information from children. 

    136 votes