17 Times the Parents of ‘Stranger Things’ Screwed Up
Parenting in the 1980s was a whole lot different. But on a sci-fi TV show set in the same time period, bad parenting goes to a whole new realm. That’s especially true in “Stranger Things,” where parents on the show make us feel like we’re all living in the upside-down because it’s just that cringe-worthy. Some of it is due to sheer anxiety from demogorgons running amuck — which we'll let slide — but other times, it looks like downright neglect, at least by modern-day standards.
Of course, without bad parenting, a lot of the incidents that make the show truly great probably wouldn't have happened, and “Stranger Things” wouldn’t be what it is. But we still have to call out the 17 worst bad parenting moments from the show.
**Warning: There are a few plot spoilers ahead.
1. Every Single Thing About Eleven’s “Father,” Dr. Brenner
Dr. Brenner, the man who turned El into a human science experiment, is the actual worst. Do we really have to delve into why he’s not only the most horrible father but the most horrible person on the entire show?
He’s not technically her dad but he’s basically a surrogate who she calls “Papa” in the first season. He’s happy to put her in harm’s way to learn about the other dimension, and his brainwashing and telekinetic-training define her terrifying childhood. Worst TV dad ever.
2. When Will’s Dad Returns for His Funeral for the Wrong Reasons
When Will is presumed dead after a lookalike corpse is found in the first season, his deadbeat dad returns. But soon we find out that he’s only there because he thinks there might be some kind of payout.
Of course, badass Joyce sends him packing. But he’s made his mark as a truly terrible dad who couldn’t actually care less that his son is (maybe) dead.
3. When the Wheelers Have No Idea What’s Going on in the Basement
Hey, it was the ’80s, and parenting was a whole different cup of Kool-Aid. But Mike and Nancy’s parents, The Wheelers, aren’t quite doing their due diligence. We can gather that right away at the start of the first season because Mike’s house is the designated hangout, which is typically the place where parents stay out of the way.
The kids have the basement to themselves to play their nerd games, tap into the upside-down or, really, do whatever they want. El lives there for an extended period of time, and neither of the parents realizes it. Even when stuff gets real, they seem completely unphased.
4. When the Wheelers Don’t Discipline Mike as He Gets Older
In the third season, Mike’s character is a bit mouthier. Obviously, he’s a teenager and all, but he’s kind of a brat! Whenever his mom calls to him down in the basement to say something nice like, “Dinner is ready!” he just screams at her to leave him the hell alone.
It’s not that surprising for a teen to act out, but the weird part is she never comes down and drags him up by his ear, demanding an apology. She just lets him run the show and seems to disappear when he tells her to. Eek. Lay down the law, Mrs. Wheeler!
5. The Abuse From Billy’s Dad
In season two, we meet Billy and MadMax and find out that they don’t have the best parents. Max seems to deal by skating and hanging out at the arcade, while Billy seems to get the raw deal. We see his dad smack him around.
Then in season three, in a flashback scene, we see him as a kid in California before he comes to Hawkins. Even as a little boy, his father belittles him and abuses his mother, which causes her to desert them. It’s all around traumatic, and while Billy isn’t the most pleasant character, especially in the latest season, it’s easy to feel bad for him due to his rough coming of age.
6. Dustin’s Mom Treating Him Like a Baby
We meet Dustin’s mom at the start of season two, and while she’s no doubt loving and nurturing, she also talks to him like he’s 5 years old. She calls him “Dusty” and asks him if he’s constipated again to his horror.
Honestly, it’s a bit of a relief to see that someone is paying attention at all considering the other negligent parents on the show. Still, she somehow misses that there’s a demon living in a cage in his bedroom who eats the cat. Oh well. I guess even helicopter parents get distracted.
7. When Steve Hates His Dad
We don’t get a whole lot of background on Steve Harrington’s family. But we believe the Farrah Fawcett–hair-sprayed character when he calls his dad a “grade-A a**hole.” Plus, the absence of Steve’s parents and his ability to throw parties on a whim makes you think there’s not a lot of supervision at that household.
While in season one, Steve is kind of a jerk, he comes a long way, ends up being a darn good babysitter and turns out to have a lot of common sense. We trust you, Steve Harrington.
8. When Joyce Is an Anxious Mess … Pretty Much Constantly
Joyce basically saved everything in the first two seasons. Plus, she’s a single mom who holds everything together on her own. But her unhinged anxiety is almost hard to watch. Just imagine being her kid! She’s shaky, chain-smokes and is pretty much a wreck at any given moment.
Of course, she always redeems herself, and without her intense anxiety to fuel her forward, Will would never have been saved in the first place. Everyone would’ve presumed him dead, and he’d have been left to actually die in the upside-down. Anxiety or not, she’s clearly the best parent on the show, but hopefully, we’ll see her doing some deep-breathing or meditation in season four. It might be time well spent.
9. When Mrs. Wheeler Flirts With Billy
No spoilers from season three here, but we know from season two that Billy is the worst kind of trouble. Still, the pool moms, including Mrs. Wheeler, like to ogle at him.
Mrs. Wheeler engages in some heavy flirtation, which is pretty sketchy, not just because he’s a kid and a total creeper, but also because, oh yeah, she’s married.
10. When Ted Wheeler Is Utterly Useless
Perhaps we can’t blame Mrs. Wheeler completely for being bored because, let’s face it, her husband leaves a lot to be desired. He’s basically a clueless dad who lives with his family but never pays attention to what’s going on — even if it’s happening at his own dinner table.
A prime example is in season two when Dustin comes looking for Mike. Or Nancy. Either of them will do! But Ted Wheeler has no idea where they are because, well, he’s a dad in the ’80s? He calls to his wife who thinks they’re at Will’s. Then he tells Dustin, “Our children don’t live here anymore. Didn’t you know that?”
Actually, they do, Ted. They are always in your basement. You just aren’t paying attention.
11. When Hopper Terrifies Mike to Get What He Wants
In the third season, Eleven and Mike are officially dating, and Hop, being the doting dad that he is, feels a bit uncomfortable. He’s having trouble digesting it all, but his approach is all wrong.
He ends up threatening Mike into staying away from El. It complicates the pair’s relationship to say the least and basically makes them both miserable and lovesick for most of the season. And what does Hopper do? Celebrates his victory and brags about it to Joyce.
12. When Erica’s Parents Are MIA
In season two, Erica, Lucas’ younger sister is a pretty minor character. But in season three, she has a major role as the annoying girl who is constantly demanding ice cream samples from Steve and his work partner, Robin, at Scoops Ahoy. When she gets caught up in the sci-fi drama, you’d think she’d be a little worried that her parents won’t know where she is, but she doesn’t seem to be. She makes a brief mention of not making it to some family party, but that’s all we hear about it.
She’s not a teen like the rest of the group — she’s a 10-year-old child! For starters, she probably shouldn’t be constantly tromping the mall annoying people, but where is the search party when she doesn’t come home late? Apparently, no one cares about her whereabouts.
13. When Joyce and Hop Head Out of State Without Telling Their Kids
Come to think of it, it’s not just Erica and Lucas’ parents who are MIA. In the most recent season, there seems to be an almost total lack of parental supervision. Like, yes, there is a lot going on, but hello, Joyce! There’s evil lurking and your son was in the upside-down once already.
Would you like to maybe check in with him? Call the house before you head out to Illinois and let him or Jonathan know you’re going somewhere? That might be nice! If Eleven didn’t have superpowers to spy on her and Hopper, the kids would have no idea where they were. Not cool, Joyce and Hop. Not cool.
14. When Hopper Is a Belligerent, Drunken Dad
It’s hard not to love Hopper, even with all his flaws. Like the drinking, the smoking and the previous pill-popping, which all clearly developed out of the pain of losing his daughter. He adopted Eleven and clearly loves her, so yay for his big, squishy teddy bear heart that we know is in there.
But he’s an emotional dude who reverts to some pretty bad behavior when he’s upset. In season three, he drives home drunk and stumbles into Eleven’s room belligerent and hollering, disrupting her sleepover with Max. Again, he’s hard not to love as a viewer, but as far as teens go, he’d make for a pretty embarrassing dad.
15. When Mrs. Wheeler Jokes About Never Knowing Where Her Kids Are
Mrs. Wheeler has a good heart, and she gives Nancy some good advice and encouragement about believing in herself in season three. But it doesn’t make up for the fact that she has no clue where her kids are. Ever.
When Joyce approaches her panic-stricken looking for the kids at the carnival in season three, she chuckles and shrugs — who can keep up? She expects Joyce to understand this because, ya know, it’s summer.
16. When Joyce Uproots the Kids at the Worst Possible Time
If you haven’t seen the final episode, we’ll give you a moment to avert your eyes. At the end of the last episode, after Hopper is presumed dead, Joyce decides it’s time to finally take her family, as well as Eleven, and head out of Hawkins for good. While she’d long been talking about leaving the town of horrors, why now?
El just lost her dad, and Hawkins is the only real home she’s ever known. Her and Will now have to leave behind their close-knit group of friends and, for El, her boyfriend. It’s more than a bit traumatic in terms of timing, don’t ya think? While it makes sense that Joyce would want to leave, it would’ve been far more logical a couple of seasons ago.
17. When Hopper Never Gave El the Note
The season ends with Eleven reading a beautiful note he had written to Eleven. He talked about love, pain and so many lovely things, making for a sad, serene kind of ending.
It’s heart-warming that she finally gets to hear his beautiful words after he’s supposedly gone, but he never spoke them to her or gave her the note in person! We know some dads have trouble expressing themselves, but that was a missed opportunity, Hop!