Things '80s Kids Could Get Away With That Today’s Kids Can’t
The '80s were epic — it’s as simple as that. Neon-colored leg warmers were all the rage, it was cool to be a latchkey kid and you could ride a bike without a helmet. Today's kids have 24/7 Internet access and smart devices, but '80's kids lived in a world filled with wild imagination and exhilarating freedom.
Saturday morning meant watching new episodes of She-Ra, He-Man and Transformers with a bowl of sugary cereal — and no guilt. Kids could drop by their friends’ houses unannounced (Gasp!), play outside until the street lights came on and feel safe everywhere they went. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here are 30 things '80's kids could get away with that today’s kids can’t.
Saturday Morning Cartoon Binges
Similar to today’s Super Bowl Sunday, Saturday mornings in the '80s had fun commercials and winning entertainment. Commercials in the '80s could be cheesy or risque and often hawked toys featuring popular cartoon characters. Today's kids often aren’t allowed to enjoy a sweet bowl of Cookie Crisp or Smurf Berry Crunch while watching TV, but it was a Saturday morning tradition back in the day.
Playing with Payphones
Before the convenience of cell phones and the internet, you had to find a payphone to call home when you were out. That meant kids of the '80s had to have some loose change to dial, or they could make a collect call. Kids who wanted to visit friends or family could drop by unannounced and ring the doorbell without calling first.
Crossing All the Wires
In the '80s, you couldn't move around the house much when you were on the phone. The phones in homes were usually in the kitchen, and you could only move as far as the attached cord would stretch. The design of a landline phone's cord didn't help. It was easy for the cord to knot or get wrapped around limbs or furniture.
Waterbeds were initially made to relieve stress on joints and prevent bed sores from forming. During the '80s, one of the coolest things was having a waterbed at home. Instead of jumping on them like a traditional mattress, you could simply roll around to bring on the fun. Sleeping on a waterbed was ideal for kids with allergies because the beds didn't attract dust, dirt and bedbugs like mattresses.
Flexible Safety Standards
In the '80s, it was completely normal for kids to travel in cars without wearing seatbelts, and helmets were optional — and rare — when riding bikes. Warning labels now found on many household items weren’t mandatory, and consumers trusted the products sold by companies without asking too many questions. A kid in the '80s could be trusted to handle potentially dangerous items without causing parents to worry.
Games only had winners and losers in the ‘80s. Everyone didn't get an award just for making an effort, and gym class was often brutal for those who weren’t physically talented. Dodgeball could either make or break a kid on the playground — fast!
Sweet School Valentine Mementos
In the '80s, Valentine's Day was a holiday to love and loathe. Kids looked forward to collecting as many Valentine's Day cards as possible and gave away cards of their own to try to win over the popular kids. Everyone in the class wasn’t guaranteed to get a V-Day card because life wasn't fair, and no one stacked the deck.
Dot Matrix Printing Fun
Following the demise of the Ditto machine, dot-matrix printers took over the classroom. After a game of The Oregon Trail and battling dysentery, printing on a dot matrix was "the bee's knees." One reason these printers of the past were a blast was the paper.
Collecting Garbage Pail Kids
Cabbage Patch Kids were the dolls to have in the '80s, but Garbage Pail Kids offered an edgier assortment that looked like they escaped from underneath the stairs. Instead of gushing over doe-eyed, collectible dolls with odd oversized heads, some kids chose to focus on Garbage Pail Kids collectible cards featuring weird, freaky, gross characters.
Cuddling with Teddy Ruxpin
In between episodes of Saturday morning cartoons, commercials featuring must-have toys ruled the airwaves. Kids in the '80s had to have a Teddy Ruxpin doll. Love him or hate him, Teddy Ruxpin was an undeniable fan favorite who either creeped kids out or made them smile.
MTV for Real Music Jamming
The Buggles had it right with Video Killed the Radio Star. When MTV debuted in the '80s, the cable network focused on every type of music. Kids in the '80s lived to binge-watch videos featuring music artists like Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Run DMC and Aerosmith. Singing along to your favorite videos with friends led to hundreds of magical moments.
Moonwalking with MJ
The man left a lot of controversy and unanswered questions in his wake, but there will never be another entertainer like Michael Jackson. When "The King of Pop" was on the stage, jaws dropped and crowds went wild. On March 25, 1984, Michael Jackson first performed the moonwalk at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, and it became his iconic dance move from that point forward.
Rocking Out with a Walkman
Before the invention of iPods, CDs and mp3s — but long after 8-tracks and records — kids had this gadget known as the Sony Walkman. Sony slayed the music industry with the device, which allowed kids to pop in cassette tapes and jam out to their favorite albums on the go.
Ruling School with a Trapper Keeper
Before the Trapper Keeper came on the scene, '80’s kids were stuck with boring, bland notebooks and binders. Mead released the Trapper Keeper in 1978, but it didn’t become a status symbol for popular kids until the '80s. A Trapper Keeper featured images like hot air balloons, kittens or sports cars on the front.
Scratching ‘N Sniffing Some Stickers
Scratch and sniff stickers made school worth attending in the '80s. Students looked forward to getting their tests back with a scented sticker and collected and traded scratch and sniff stickers with their friends. Some of the popular companies that released scratch and sniff stickers included Creative Teaching Press, Sandylion and Smello Mello.
Sporting the Ultimate Kicks
Fashion for school kids was a status symbol in the '80s, and footwear mattered a lot. In search of popularity and acknowledgment, kids looked forward to showing off their latest back-to-school fashions. High-top sneakers were all the rage, and brands like L.A. Gear and British Knights were choice picks.
Taking the Pepsi Challenge
When it comes to carbonated beverages, there can only be one winner. Okay, not really, but like the Highlander, Pepsi and Coke attempted to duke it out to be the number one drink in the ‘80s, and kids will never forget the iconic Pepsi Challenge.
Troubleshooting Nintendo Cartridges
Nintendo arrived on July 15, 1983, giving '80's kids another game console option besides Atari. The graphics obviously weren’t as awesome as today's games for kids, but it was still a huge step up from the previous technology. Hanging out in basements and living rooms, '80’s kids fell in love with Super Mario Bros., Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! and Duck Hunt.
Building Parent-Free Playhouses
Before the birth of helicopter parents, '80’s kids had to rely on their own daring nerve, imagination and elbow grease to get things done. When a kid wanted a playhouse or clubhouse to get away, parents didn't shell out big bucks for a pre-made pad for the backyard.
Watching Pee-wee's Playhouse
Following a marathon of animation on Saturday, kids of the '80s looked forward to watching Pee-wee's Playhouse. CBS was the channel to watch, and Pee-wee Herman and his friends were always ready to start a wacky adventure. The childlike Pee-wee was played by actor Paul Reubens.
Learning from After-School Specials
Television wasn't perfect in the '80s, and many commercials included some risque material that might freak out today's kids. When kids couldn't talk to their parents or teachers about specific topics, they could learn from watching After-School Specials. Episodes like The Day My Kid Went Punk Rock showcased '80’s subcultures and trends.
Getting by Without Adult Supervision
Today's kids wouldn't know what to do if they were allowed to go out without cell phones, long lists of restrictions and helicopter parents to make sure all goes well. Kids in the '80s could stay out until it got dark and the street lights came on. If a kid went missing for a little while, parents didn't immediately assume the worst.
Playing on Adventurous Playgrounds
During the '80s, if a kid slipped on a piece of playground equipment, it was all part of growing up. Instead of playgrounds featuring safety turf and warning signs, it was understood that playground equipment came with some risk. Kids might chip a tooth falling off a jungle gym, a merry-go-round handle might be rusty or a swing might be creaky.
Taking A-Okay Rides
Riding around in a car during the '80s didn't come with the fear of getting pulled over for traffic tickets. Parents were okay with allowing their kids to ride in the backs of station wagons and pickup trucks with no seatbelts.
Biking Around Town
If a kid didn't have a scooter or a skateboard, the optimal way to get around the neighborhood was by bike. Kids in the '80s didn't worry about someone stealing their bikes from their front yards, outside stores or at their friends’ houses.
Lighting Up the Night
It's not just for movies. Kids in the '80s understood they could hang out late until the street lights came on — unless their parents told them differently in advance. Kids didn't have cell phones or even rely on wristwatches. You simply knew it was time to head home by watching for the street lights.
Visiting Video Arcades
Going to the mall to play at the video arcade was a rite of passage for kids and the place to be for social exchange. It was at video consoles that kids transformed into legends, seeking to secure their place in video game history with the highest score ranking.
Puffing on Candy Cigarettes
Grabbing a pack of candy cigarettes and pretending to smoke like a Hollywood star was prominent in the '80s. Anti-smoking campaigns were unheard of, and kids could even pick up packs of smokes for their parents at local stores or from vending machines, provided the store owners knew their parents.
Getting a Cereal Sugar High
Part of any '80’s kid's balanced breakfast consisted of cereal. Parents didn't mind the tremendous amounts of sugar in the cereals advertised on TV. Munching on a bowl of Sugar Smacks, Apple Jacks or Cap’n Crunch was perfect on Saturday cartoon day or even as an after school snack.
Creating Makeshift Water Fountains
A hot summer day in the '80s wasn't complete without a refreshing drink from the garden hose. Kids of all ages gathered in yards, turned on the tap and guzzled down water without a thought to using a cup. If a garden hose was good enough for watering plants, it was safe enough for kids.