25 Things Only Parents in the 1980s Will Remember
Sharing one phone was a real treat.
Anyone who says that “parents used to have it easy” just doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Firstly, parenting is never easy. And secondly, let’s look at the 1980s, for instance. Though those of us who raised families during this decade certainly had a different experience than modern parents, the time period had its pros and cons just like any other. From sharing one phone per household to trusting Mr. Rodgers to teach kids everything they knew, here are 25 things—both good and bad, frustrating and idyllic—that only 1980s parents will remember.
The parental solution to every problem was, “Just go outside and play!”
Kids getting on your nerves? That was an easy fix during the ’80s. All you had to do was tell them to leave the house and do something—anything—out in the fresh air and sunshine. You didn’t even have to confiscate phones or tablets or iPods; you just pointed towards the door and shouted, “Out!”
A bicycle was all the freedom a kid needed.
Kids today can get lost for hours on the internet whenever they need an escape from reality. But in the ’80s, kids only had bicycles as a means of escape. If you and your kid got in a tiff in the ’80s, you knew they’d be just fine after a few hours of escaping from their “jerk parents” on their Schwinn 10 speed.
Kids didn’t need to “check in.”
An ’80s parent could go an entire afternoon—and sometimes even an entire day—without knowing exactly where their kids were. Were they next door at the neighbor’s house? Hanging out at the mall? It didn’t matter! Whatever they were doing, they were probably fine.
You knew everything your kid was reading or listening to.
There was no need to search anybody’s browsing history in the ’80s. If you wanted details on your child’s media diet, all you had to do was check their bookshelf (or under their mattress). You could skim the song titles on every cassette and the table of contents in every magazine and instantly get an overview of how pop culture was shaping them.
But seeing your daughter dressed like Madonna felt like the worst thing in the world.
It seems silly now, but there honestly was a time when it felt like your daughter dressing like Madonna from the video “Borderline” meant she was destined for a future of truancy and ill-repute. We were so wonderfully naive and innocent back then.
Everybody in the family shared one phone.
Just in terms of pure logistics, it was impossible for a kid to be on the phone all day in the ’80s. Tying up the family phone line during this decade meant nobody else would be able to use it, and that just did not fly with 1980s parents.
Also, because most landlines were centrally located, a kid really couldn’t have a private phone conversation without at least one parent being within earshot.
Girls spent hours in the bathroom making sure their perms were sufficiently poofy.
So… much… hairspray. An ’80s parent could never forget the unmistakable odor of hairspray filling the halls on a typical morning. Even when all the kids had left for school, a thick cloud of Aqua Net would still be hanging around the house.
Car safety meant putting the kids in the “way back.”
Booster seats for kids in the ’80s were a luxury few families felt the need to invest in. The safest place for them, after all, was in the “way back” of a station wagon, where they could roll around with the groceries and cling to the back seat (or each other) during sharp turns.
Babies could sleep on their stomachs.
Parents didn’t live with the anxiety of sudden infant death syndrome in the ’80s. Back then, it didn’t matter whether your baby wanted to sleep on their stomach, their side, or their back; as long as they stayed in their crib, you had done your due diligence as a parent.
Family trips to the mall were fun and common outings.
Shopping used to be a fun family activity. The whole gang would climb into the car and go to the mall, and once you arrived, everyone would go their separate ways. Dad would be at Kinney Shoes, mom would hit up Casual Corner, and the kids would settle in at either Camelot Music or Chess King. Later on, everybody would meet up for a snack at the food court. Orange Julius anyone? Ah, now that’s a way to spend a weekend.
You were nervous about your kids combining Pop Rocks and Coca-Cola.
Though you were ostensibly older and wiser than your kids in the 1980s, sometimes you could be just as susceptible as they were to urban legends—like the one about Mikey, the Life cereal kid, who purportedly consumed the deadly combo of Pop Rocks and Coca-Cola and then exploded. Was it true? Your logical brain knew that it wasn’t, but that didn’t make you any less nervous that your kids might try to find out for themselves.
The best toys were just accidents waiting to happen.
It’s amazing that in an era of Slip ‘N’ Slides and Shrinky Dinks, every kid wasn’t somehow walking around with fractured ribs and black lung. Seriously, what made 1980s parents (and manufacturers) think that these toys were in any way safe for children? We guess if kids learned anything from these experiences, it was how not to let a little bruising—or burning—slow you down.
Birthday parties happened at home.
Planning a birthday party in the ’80s never broke the bank, and it rarely involved more effort than just baking a cake and remembering to pick up candles. Your kid simply invited a small group of friends to your house, and then everybody sang “Happy Birthday,” ate some cake, opened gifts, and maybe played a few games in the living room. The whole thing took two hours max and never cost you more than $50. Trampoline parks were nothing 1980s parents could’ve seen coming.
Pop-Tarts for breakfast? Why not!
If your kids ate any breakfast at all in the ’80s, you felt like parent of the year. Why would you bother to check the ingredients on the back of a Pop-Tart box? Hey, it had something that resembled fruit on the inside, and that was enough for you. Worrying about what sort of chemicals your kids were consuming was not at the top of your to-do list.
”Just say no” was the only drug talk you needed to have with your kids.
Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign was everywhere in the ’80s, and during those innocent years when society still knew so little about the crippling hold of addiction, this was a comforting quick fix that helped parents sleep a little more soundly at night. As long as your kids knew how to say no to drugs, they’d be perfectly safe—or at least, that’s what you convinced yourself.
Mr. Rogers could be your babysitter.
Sure, parents will leave their child in front of a TV screen while they get five minutes of peace and quiet, but they never feel great about it. However, there was one thing that made doing this feel just a little bit better in the ’80s: Fred Rogers.
No parent ever felt like they were doing a terrible job when they left their kid in the TV company of a man who would say things like, “The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.” Really, what did it matter if such a good life lesson was coming from a television screen?
Watching TV with your kids was a regular occurrence.
Kids these days rarely even watch TV—all the good stuff is on YouTube and Netflix, or so we’ve been told—and they certainly wouldn’t sit down to watch the same shows that their parents are watching. In the ’80s, though, pretty much every television show could be shared with the whole family. Cheers, Hill Street Blues, Family Ties, M*A*S*H—they were all programs mom and dad could (and did) watch with the kids, and everyone enjoyed them equally.
Cartoons were only on one day a week.
There was something comforting about knowing that your kids would only be vegging out in front of the TV in one of two situations: 1) watching any of the aforementioned shows with you, or B) watching animated characters like The Real Ghostbusters (pictured here), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Transformers on Saturday morning, the only time these cartoons were on. You never had to wonder on an average weekday, “Are they up in the bedroom watching something horrifying?” because streaming services weren’t options.
And MTV seemed like the worst thing your kids could watch.
Parents in the 1980s were so sure that a channel featuring 24 hours of music videos and singers with big hair and far-too-tight leather pants was going to corrupt their children and rot their brains. But in retrospect, those videos weren’t all that bad, and even the worst and most controversial of ’80s rock videos don’t hold a candle to 99 percent of what’s on YouTube now.
The most violent video games involved hammers or eating ghosts.
One of the most controversial topics on the table today is whether or not video games lead to violence. And while we don’t have the answer on today’s games, we’re pretty sure what kids were playing in the ’80s was not capable of causing much damage. Games like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Frogger, and Dig Dug probably weren’t inspiring kids to go out and throw barrels at Italian men or pump up lizards until they popped. That means, 1980s parents could rest easy.
You didn’t care about other kids’ accomplishments.
There were only two things that mattered to ’80s parents: that their child was alive, and that they were in school. The rest was gravy. Asking questions like “Does he engage in cooperative play?” or “Does she displays a social smile?” was, well, out of the question.
Not only was smoking okay, but smoking in front of children was okay.
In the 1987 book The Modern Man’s Guide to Life, they lay out a pretty extensive guide on where you’re NOT allowed to smoke: not at funerals or weddings, not in someone’s home without an ashtray, and not in hospitals. Everywhere else, the authors claim, is fair game. In an enclosed room with children? No problem! (To be fair, people didn’t know nearly as much about the negative effects of smoking back then, but still.)
Everyone actually had dinner together.
In the ’80s, dinnertime was a special occasion when everybody gathered around the same table and actually spoke to one another—it wasn’t just something we saw on Family Matters (pictured here). To today’s parents, this probably sounds like pure fantasy, but it did happen, and even the worst dinner conversations are something we’ll never forget.
Not putting sunscreen on your children was not a big deal.
A sunburn is just summer’s way of saying, “Hello!” Or at least, that’s what every ’80s parent told themselves when they forgot to put sunscreen on their children for the umpteenth time. Was it irresponsible? Absolutely. But nobody looked at a beet red baby in the ’80s and thought, “He’s going to get skin cancer!” Instead, they thought, “Somebody’s having one heck of an August!”
It was still possible to be unreachable.
It sounds unfathomable now, but during the ’80s, it really was possible to be unreachable. All you had to do was take the phone off the hook for a few hours, and nobody could find you. Nobody asked, “Did you not get my texts or DMs or voicemails or Facebook messages?” No, once they heard that busy signal, they knew you weren’t available. And for more on this wonderful decade, check out these 50 Things Only People Who Lived in the 1980s Will Remember.
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