The classic—and somewhat unbelievable—’90s hijinks of Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead may have inspired my wardrobe, but it seems unlikely that I’ll ever turn to the film for any advice on taking care of children.
My own career in babysitting was short-lived, coming to an abrupt halt after I realized that maybe I just wasn’t cut out for taking care of anyone else. Although I may have prematurely hung up my babysitter hat, I can still recall watching Sue Ellen Crandell (played by Christina Applegate) take on the role of temporary mom for her younger siblings when their real mom is in Australia and their babysitter suddenly dies. Nearly 28 years since the 1991 film came out, I still watch the movie with horror, realizing that this may have been the worst example of babysitting depicted in modern-day cinema. Sue Ellen will likely never be invited to join The Baby-Sitters Club, and if you have any doubt, I went ahead and compiled every babysitting don’t that was depicted in the film.
1Never hide the death of your original babysitter from a parent or guardian.
Sue Ellen may have been 17 and completely capable of babysitting her group of siblings, but, once the whole dead babysitter plot of the storyline came true, it would have been best for her to come clean. Aside from the fact that she chose not to tell her mom, Sue Ellen’s biggest mistake was not telling anyone about the death. Instead, she wraps her babysitter up in a bed sheet and deposits her at the mortuary. If this scene wasn’t a sign that Sue Ellen should not be entrusted with the care of anyone, let anyone children, then I don’t know what is.
2Don’t involve children in a plot that includes hiding the death of your babysitter.
Sue Ellen seems like a reasonable almost-adult—she does pass herself off as an executive assistant for weeks so that she can earn money for her family. But involving her much-younger siblings in a cover-up of her babysitter’s death is a definite don’t. I have very limited babysitting experience, but I personally believe that children in your care should only be worried about whether they’ll have pizza for dinner—not whether the police will find out that their guardian died.
3Don’t lose track of your spending money.
A babysitter is often entrusted with any potential spending money, and while most babysitters have no trouble keeping an eye on the kids, or the cash, Sue Ellen immediately loses their funds. Although it’s possible that their babysitter had the money, Sue Ellen later loses another round of cash, and was oblivious to the fact that her siblings were stealing from her. If she had kept a closer eye on her money, then she would have never had to work a single shift at the Clown Dog, and she could have also avoided faking an adult identity to get a job with a clothing company.
4Please, don’t trust your reckless younger sibling with the children.
After Sue Ellen lost all of their spending money and neglected to tell her mom that the babysitter had died, she was forced to work, and thus, her younger brother was left in charge. You should never pass off your babysitting responsibilities, especially when the secondary caretaker is an irresponsible younger brother. While Sue Ellen was working her 9 to 5, her brother became responsible for three siblings: One broke their leg, one stole money to buy a diamond ring for their girlfriend, and one just never did the dishes.
5Throwing a giant party is always a bad idea.
Never in the history of babysitting has throwing a giant party without your parents knowing worked out. This proves especially true in the case of Sue Ellen, as she chooses to host a lavish corporate event at her home. Looking past her obviously bad choice to ask her younger siblings and their friends to act as servers for the evening, it was Sue Ellen’s decision to ultimately throw the party that proved to be her biggest mistake. Obviously, her mom found out, and once again, I learned that whether in Hollywood or real life, you never get away with secretly throwing a giant party.
In the end, it all worked out for Sue Ellen, and she proved to be an alright babysitter. It seems unlikely that a Hollywood happy ending would extend itself to any similar real life situation, but at least the film did teach me some valuable babysitter life lessons. Years later I’ve realized that, perhaps, the most important lesson I learned from this film was that I actually wasn’t so bad at babysitting after all.