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25 Things That ’80s Kids Could Do That Today’s Kids Can’t

Known for neon clothing, Madonna, and dark puppet films, the 1980s was undeniably wacky. Things have changed quite a bit since then – technology has taken over, the American diet has changed, and even socializing is totally different. From unsupervised playtime to a regular PB&J in your lunchbox, these are the crazy things that 80s kids did, that today’s kids wouldn’t even think about…

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Never Forget Your Payphone Quarters

You’d never think to have any coins with you these days, but you wouldn’t go anywhere without a few quarters if you were a child in the 80s. Back before cell phones, you’d have to use a payphone to call for a ride or check in with your parents. You might still see a payphone every now and then, but even if it worked, it wouldn’t have nearly the same meaning it did in the 1980s.

Photo: wikipedia.org/Corvair

The Matrix Didn’t Remind You Of Keanu Reeves

Classic 80s computer printers had dot matrix paper. If you ever used one of those machines, you’d remember feeding one long piece of paper through the printer with the rolling knob on the side of the machine. You’d remember the side-to-side motion of the print head, and the screeching, nails-on-a-chalkboard noise it made while it was doing its thing. Perhaps the best part was tearing off the little, dotted edges.

Photo: wikipedia.org/M62

Adults In The Front, Kids In The Back

From the Woodie station wagon to the original Dodge Caravans, the 80s was a time of packing the car with people and fooling around. Safety wasn’t really at the top of the priority list when it came to cars, and these cars were made to be stuffed to the brim. Adults would sit in the front – possibly belted in – and kids were in the very back of the wagon or van. They were usually not belted in. It was a bouncy, wild ride of freedom.

Photo: throwbacks.com/Reddit

Pack It Up, Pack It In

Packing it in was so popular, it was common to stuff two kids in one seat. They’d even share a seat belt. Safety was, again, not a priority. If there was a bench seat available (and there were a lot of bench seats in cars back then), this pack-it-in technique could go to even greater extremes.

Photo: teenagebedroomsonscreen.com/timebombtown

Like, Totally Vintage

Land lines were epic. Funky colors, funky shapes, and the longer the cord, the better. Teenagers would talk on the phone for hours, stretching cords to the snapping point. Of course, cords that length would get tangled, often with the teenager inside.

Photo: depop.com/jamielovely

Gag Me With A Spoon

A second phone in the house was nice to have, but not when your younger sibling would listen in on your conversations. Eavesdropping was rampant in the 80s. While big sis was talking to her boyfriend on the phone in her room, little brother was listening in on the other line, gagging.

Photo: dailyrecord.co.uk/Kerry Mullen

Parents Believed Front Lawns Were Safe

There was once a time when kids could play out in the yard, by themselves, with no second thought. That time was the 80s. A quick glance out the window was all a parent needed to feel confident their child was safe. It’s a long way from the way kids are supervised today.

Photo: nasher.duke.edu/Sally Mann-Candy Cigarette

They “Smoked” Like Chimneys

Before the major crackdown on cigarettes, kids thought it was cool to “smoke” candy cigarettes. What they were made of, nobody knew. The flavor was awful, but it didn’t stop anyone from buying candy cigarettes from the gas station and “smoking” whole packs of them.

Photo: insideguide.co.za/The Inside Guide

Kids Were Tough As Nails

Busted up, dangerous playground equipment is pretty much a thing of the past, so the 80s had plenty of it. Playgrounds of that time period were not made for the acrobatic activities that today’s kids are getting into. Kids back then were none the wiser, hanging around on jagged metal jungle gyms, with hard, concrete floors.

Photo: cantonpl.org/Canton Public Library

Libraries Weren’t Just For Brainiacs

If you don’t know the answer to a question, or the definition of a word, you’d probably just look up the answer in your smartphone. Back in the 80s, you’d either get over the nagging question in your brain, or you’d head to the library to do some good old-fashioned research.

After getting an annoyed finger-to-the-lips gesture from the librarian, you’d probably wander over to a familiar wooden cabinet with a card catalog. You’d search through the grid of drawers for a card containing the location of the book you wanted, using the Dewy Decimal System. The whole process took just a little longer than finding your answer on a smartphone.

Photo: britannica.com/Microsoft Corp.

They Were Just DOS-ing Around

You’d be lucky – and a little wealthy – if you had a computer in your house in the 80s. You’d be even luckier if you knew how to use a computer with a disc operating system (DOS). Back then, computers were much more basic and used mostly for word processing and gaming. Street Fighter was only just released in the late 80s, and popular computer games like Doom, Duke Nukem, and Mortal Combat hadn’t even been invented yet.

Photo: historydaily.org/Reddit

Sweatbands And Short Shorts

There was a time when pelting the crap out of someone with a rubber ball was an acceptable way to pass gym class. That time was the 80s, and the game was dodgeball.

Photo: theindependent.com/Kim Schmidt – Kearney Hub

Chalk The Walk

Chalk was where it was at. Chalkboards, playgrounds, driveways, and sidewalks were all blank canvasses for the artistic children of the 80s. Though people still use chalk today, it sure doesn’t have the same meaning it did back then.

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When Ashtrays Were Fine Art

Today you might make a bird feeder or a coffee mug in art class, but back in the 80s you’d likely think of making an ashtray for your parents. Back in the days when smoking was as common as wearing Lycra Spandex leggings, nothing was more thoughtful than making a family member a homemade ashtray.

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Neon Wasn’t Just The Color Of Your Halloween Costume

Today, neon clothing is only something you’d wear to a dress-up party, a themed dance club, or on Halloween. In the 80s, neon was worn on a daily basis, and it was incredibly cool.

Photo: doyouremember.com/HOUSTON LIBRARIAN, YOUTUBE (MentalFloss)

Sloshing Around On Your Very Own Waterbed

If you’re not a kid of the 80s, you might remember your older cousin or much older sibling having a waterbed. If you did grown up in this iconic decade, you’ll remember waterbeds being one of the coolest inventions ever. The costs were high – and so were the consequences – but your friends thought you were pretty awesome if you could convince your parents to buy you a waterbed.

Photo: mandatory.com/Warner Brothers

When Light Beer Was Better

Today, you might be snubbed by a parent if you asked them for some of their alcoholic beverage. Back in the 80s, kids were sipping their parents’ light beers and super sweet mixed drinks like they were going out of style.

Photo: tasteofhome.com/Taste of Home

Before Food Allergies Shut Down The PB&J

Nowadays, allergies are so common that schools have to ban certain foods. One of those foods is peanut butter. In the 80s, everyone had PB&Js in their lunchboxes and nobody said a thing.

Photo: nma.gov.au/exhibition submissions My First Bike

Bike Freedom

You might remember your first bike. You might remember the color or the make, but you might not remember much more than that, because you didn’t ride it very often. You’d never forget that bike if you grew up in the 80s. Those were the days when you could bike anywhere and everywhere, and nobody would stop you. You’d meet your friends at the park or the arcade or the mall, and you wouldn’t even need to ask your parents for a ride.

Photo: charlestoncitypaper.com/Atlantic Entertainment Group

When Revolting Toys Were Cool

The 70s had Stretch Armstrong and the Speak and Spell. The 90s had the Tamagotchi and Polly Pocket. The 80s had the oh-so-strange Garbage Pail Kids. Who knows what the collector’s toy of the 2010s will be?

Photo: amazon.com/Dazzling Toys

Bracelets You Could Slap On

The original slap bracelets came out in the 80s. You could find them in leopard or zebra print. You could use them to accessorize your neon outfits. The fun was endless.

Photo: eightieskids.com/Matt Parker

Cereal Was A Bowl Full of Sugar

Today you might think twice about getting a box of sugary cereal as your breakfast for the week. You might opt for a fiber-and-vitamin-filled cereal, or maybe a piece of fruit. Back in the 80s, Kellogg’s and General Mills were pumping out boxes of obnoxiously bright, artificially dyed pellets of sugar.

Photo: syfy.com/Deviantart user Smokebutt

When The Saturday Morning Cartoon Time Slot Was At Its Finest

Saturday morning cartoons started long before the 80s, but they were massive all through the decade and into the early 90s. Saturday morning was a special time for kids. You could sit down and be sure to see some of your favorite cartoons like Muppet Babies, Scooby-Doo, and Garfield.

Photo: upbeatnews.com/PBS

Where In The World Is She?

You know who. Carmen Sandiego was outrageously popular in the 80s. Starting as a video game, and eventually spawning a cartoon, a game show, and more, Carmen Sandiego taught kids about how to use their brains to crack the mysteries.

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You Could Be Picky On Valentine’s Day

Sending valentines these days is an all-inclusive affair. You have to give one to every classmate. In the 80s, you were allowed to be picky, giving valentines to only those kids you really liked.

From creepy toys and no regard for safety, to wacky cartoons and animal print accessories, the 80s were unforgettable. But you only truly know what that means if you yourself were an 80s kid.