Life in the 80s. If you are looking for information on how life was different in the 1980s then you have come to the right place!
As a child growing up in the 1980s (I was born in 1975 so the pivotal years of my childhood and teens, from ages 5 to 15, took place in this decade) our life was vastly different then from the world we know now.
Like seriously different.
My kids even call the 80s the “olden days”.
I have suddenly become one of those “old” people who lived before the Internet was a thing. Heck, even cordless phones weren’t around when I was young.
Yet the more time passes, the more I look back on those days with so much fondness and nostalgia because I miss their simplicity.
Yes technology is great but back then, ignorance was bliss.
As kids, we didn’t know better and because we didn’t know better, we lived the most amazing lives, without all the bells and whistles that our kids now have.
Now I know there have been a few memes already created about growing up in the 80s (my kids had to tell me what a meme was, because hey, those didn’t exist when I was a child!).Yet this here is my own personal, in-depth report on all the things that still come to mind when I think of life in the 80s.
OKAY HERE GOES. BE PREPARED TO TAKE A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE!
GROWING UP IN THE 80s: MANNERS & DISCIPLINE
Back when I was young, children were seen but not heard.
We were taught to respect our elders and do what we were told.
We didn’t dare to talk back.
We didn’t dare to question things (out loud).
We still got smacked if we really misbehaved.
Some parents would use wooden spoons, others used belts.
My mom would make me go out and pick my own twig or stick for my hidings (and yep, I was smart so I always picked the smallest one).
Fear was a good motivator to keep us in line. Scare tactics worked.
Parents didn’t pamper kids and children didn’t think they had “rights”.
We just did what we were told because we thought parents had eyes in the back of their head and that they would always find out.
GROWING UP IN THE 80s: RELATIONSHIPS
We never confessed all our deepest feelings to our parents.
We weren’t mushy with our “I Love You”s.
Parents usually skipped the Birds and Bees and puberty talk, assuming we would work it out on our own sooner or later.
We knew they loved us because they put a roof over our head and kept us fed.
If we had a fight with our friends, our parents didn’t try to solve it.
In fact they probably didn’t even know what was going on.
GROWING UP IN THE 80s: ENTERTAINMENT
If we woke up early in the morning, it never crossed our minds to go wake up our parents. We would go straight to the TV.
There was no Cable TV.
There was no Netflix.
Back then there were only five channels and if we woke up before 6am there would be a static signal on Channel 1 (SBS, here in Australia) which indicated that we were up too early.
We knew never to make too much noise in case we woke up our parents. We didn’t think of running and jumping into their bed.
Children’s shows like cartoons were played only in the mornings and then there was a long stretch of day where the TV only played shows geared solely to adults.
If we were really, really desperate we could watch an Elvis Presley, Shirley Temple or Jerry Lewis midday movie.
We also had to live by one rule: sit back from the TV or you will need glasses later on (the correct magic distance was 5 times the length of the TV screen apparently).
But we didn’t depend on the TV for entertainment.
We got our first VHS player the summer I finished sixth grade so if you missed seeing a movie at the cinemas before then you had to wait until it was screened on TV as the big Sunday night movie.
We would wait with abated breath to catch the first showing of all the blockbusters like ET and Back to the Future on TV. That was an event in itself and the highlight of our week.
Once VHS cassettes became all the rage every kid in town could be found on a Friday or Saturday night at the local video store, trying to rent out their favorite movie. The store would be crowded and buzzing with activity, desperate to find our next-must-see movie fix.
It cost $2 to rest a movie for the whole week or $5 for a new release for one night and the late fees were much feared. Sometimes we pretended to be a new person just to get a new card and avoid those late fees if we were slammed with them.
There were no PS4s.
No Wiis. No Xboxes.
The closest thing to an electronic game was a Game and Watch or Atari (which my parents didn’t see the purpose of purchasing because they didn’t like the idea of us staring into something for hours every day.)
We all wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid, Rubik’s Cube, View-master and My Child doll.
An Etch-A-Sketch, Simon Says, Care Bear or real Barbie were just as coveted.
But seriously, our moms didn’t rush to the shops to buy us any of these things when they came out.
We were used to hearing NO and going without.
GROWING UP IN THE 80s: PLAYTIME
Kids were encouraged to go outside to play after school in the streets and expected to be home in time for dinner.
We wouldn’t wear watches so the moment the sun went down and street lights came on – that was our signal that our outside playtime was over.
We played games like Hide and Seek, Tag, Blind Man’s Buff, Hopscotch, Red Rover, Simon Says, Duck Duck Goose, Sly Fox and Stuck in the Mud almost obsessively.
Our weekdays weren’t jam-packed with after-school extra-curricular activities.
If we played sport it was somehow connected with the school and our parents expected us to take care of the organising.
We would walk home alone after training and they would assume we would get home safe.
We had the freedom to do whatever we wanted to do without parents watching over our every word or action.
We had best friends from the neighbourhood that they wouldn’t have even recognised by name or face.
At the park the playthings were dangerous. The slides were too tall and made of metal that would burn our bottoms as we slid down.
We would fly off roundabouts as they spun around super-fast.
We would often go to the park by ourselves.
We were encouraged to play with fireworks on special occasions.
If we got grazed knees, t our parents didn’t always bother with Band Aids.
They didn’t ever fuss over a little blood, sweat or tears.
GROWING UP IN THE 80s: BIRTHDAY PARTIES & PRESENTS
There were no over-the-top birthday parties for kids every year.
Instead we were lucky to have one or two big parties with our school friends before our parents ticked that chore permanently off their list.
After that it was just a quiet or next-to-no celebration. We would receive one or two presents and it felt thrilling just to get those few precious gifts.
When it was our lucky year for a party, parents didn’t organize parties at Timezone or Clowntown or anywhere special other than your own backyard.
Parents kept catering simple and didn’t fear serving junky stuff like Cheezels and red cordial.
It wasn’t a proper party if we didn’t play Musical Chairs or Pass the Parcel (for which there was only ONE prize at the end and nope, it was not always the birthday kid).
They didn’t always give out treat bags at the end of the day either.
We were used to not getting what we wanted.
Santa usually brought only one or two presents and not necessarily something from our Christmas wish-list.
There was no massive pile of gifts. There was no compulsion on behalf of parents to spend hundreds of dollars trying to make us happy.
We got used to the disappointment because we were all in the same boat together.
GROWING UP IN THE 80s: SCHOOL STUFF
Kids of course walked to school. Our parents didn’t check out or investigate a dozen schools first to see which had the best academic achievement results. Instead they sent us to whatever was nearest one.
At school, teachers could still smack you if you didn’t behave. My fourth grade teacher had a rolled up newspaper that was rumoured to have a wooden rod inside it. If boys misbehaved they were taken outside to receive a little beating.
Really bad behavior equaled the cane for the boys and the writing out of the dictionary for girls (We couldn’t confirm if this dictionary rumor because all of us were too scared to find out.)
Parents never complained about the discipline system at school or report cards.
Parents didn’t even know what our homework was, when an assignment was due nor did they force us to study. They expected that we would do it on our own.
If we did a minor naughty thing, the teacher made us face the wall in the corner of the classroom for time-out.
We were told often: “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.
There were no trophies or ribbons for participation.
Sometimes the same kid (aka the teacher’s pet) received the award EVERY SINGLE WEEK.
The teachers didn’t care if our feelings were hurt.
At lunchtime we played hopscotch, marbles and elastics with our friends.
Our parents packed us food without giving thought to how healthy it was.
We were obsessed with learning new string tricks like the Cat’s Cradle.
For music time, we learned to play the recorder.
For art, we mastered the art of macramé.
We used Encyclopaedia Britannicas as our go-to reference when doing school reports.
Salesmen would sell these door-to-door and convince our parents for fork over $1400 for the full 32-volume print edition.
At the library, we had to search for books using an old wooden card catalog.
When we checked a book out, the librarians would remove a card from inside the front cover to keep for themselves and write down the date that it was due back inside for us.
We would hand write our reports or later use typewriters.
The teachers still used chalkboards and the worst sound in the world was nails scraping down the chalkboard.
The most exciting day at school had to be when our school purchased its first Apple computer the year I started sixth grade.
Those three massive block-like pieces of equipment stood like prized jewels in a separate room where we would stare at them, watching the fluoro green cursor blink in a screen of darkness.
We knew these computers were special but honestly had no idea what they could really offer besides the chance to play Space Invaders. I don’t think the teachers knew either.
GROWING UP IN THE 80s: LEGAL STUFF
We didn’t wear helmets.
We didn’t wear knee pads or elbow pads.
We didn’t have booster seats.
We wouldn’t get into trouble if we forgot to put our seatbelt on in the car.
Sometimes if we went out late my parents would let us sleep on the floor in the back of our van and we would roll around while sleeping, covered in blankets.
The coolest thing was when your dad let you drive the car while sitting on his lap.
People could smoke on live TV.
People could smoke on planes.
People could smoke with kids in the car.
People could smoke in fact everywhere – on the beach, in cafes, restaurants, nightclubs.
Cigarettes were advertised everywhere. Passive smoking wasn’t a thing.
“Real” drugs on the other hands scared us. We were taught to “just say no”.
GROWING UP IN THE 80s: PARENTING STYLES
My parents didn’t care if they went out late at night with us in tow. They didn’t organise babysitters for us or care if we got tired. We would often fall asleep stretched out across two or three chairs blanketed with our mom or dad’s jacket to keep us warm.
At home it was a different story. Bedtime was a strict 8:30pm. There was no staying up late because “we felt like it”. Parents didn’t want to see their kids awake up after then.
We would often hide under the bedcovers with a book and flashlight just to read when we couldn’t get to sleep.
If we went out for the day our parents didn’t prepack a big bag of food for us to snack on.
Most of the time they didn’t even pack us a water bottle and still we survived. We didn’t die of hunger.
Nobody ever paid for a bottle of water when it was available for free at home.
We made do with what we had, even if it was nothing.
GROWING UP IN THE 80s: TECHNOLOGY
There was no Internet.
There certainly wasn’t anything called WIFI.
There were no IPads.
There were no mobile phones.
Back then the phones were attached to the wall with cords, which meant you couldn’t move more than two meters from the kitchen or living room. Every conversation happened in the center of your house with your whole family listening in.
There was no call waiting until the later years.
If you called someone’s house and they were on a call, all you got was a busy engaged signal.
Teenagers everywhere got blasted for staying too long on the phone lest the family miss an all-important emergency call.
We felt like celebrating when cordless phones were invented.
GROWING UP IN THE 80s: DAY TO DAY STUFF
Shops were closed on Sundays.
We walked everywhere or caught the bus.
The milkman still delivered the milk.
Moms would shop for groceries once a week and other than topping up milk and bread we had to survive on whatever we had in the house.
It was normal to send the kids to go to the shops on their own to pick up those extra milk and bread supplies.
Milk cost 40 cents for a bottle when I was ten and if we were given 50 cents we could still buy a good supply of different lollies for 1 cent a piece with the change.
Chocolate and lollies were super special treats.
Fast food or takeaway wasn’t a done thing.
Everything was cash. There were no credit cards.
Moms had to put any expensive stuff they couldn’t afford straight away on layaway (called lay-by in Australia) and they would pay it off bit by bit over several weeks.
At the shops, items couldn’t be scanned because there was no such thing as bar-codes. Instead the cashier had to manually type in the price that the item sticker said.
People still had to manually wind their windows down in the car.
Wine only came in casks (at least that’s what we thought).
People didn’t have house or car alarms (for the car we later just had the old-fashioned steering wheel lock).
You could leave the house and leave the front door unlocked.
The world all in all still we felt safe.
GROWING UP IN THE 80s: FRIENDSHIPS
If you wanted to have a playdate with your friend, your parents didn’t have to pre-book or organise it. You just walked over to their house and hoped they were home.
We rode our bikes everywhere throughout the neighbourhood.
You had to write letters to your friends and family members overseas because phone calls were too expensive.
Every teen girl had a pen-pal that they confessed their deepest secrets to.
We would pour our hearts out onto paper and it would take seven days to get to the other side of the globe.
It would be weeks before we got a reply. We learnt the art of patience by visiting the empty mailbox every day after school.
We had diaries that we kept hidden under the mattress of our bed. For some reason we all thought that was the best hiding spot in the world when it was obviously not.
GROWING UP IN THE 80s: SCHOOL HOLIDAYS
The school holidays felt so long and seemed to last forever.
In the school holidays my parents would leave us at home all day to our own devices.
Latch-key kids were the norm.
Older kid often watched after their younger siblings.
Parents didn’t think twice about whether we would be bored. They didn’t feel compelled to organize us play-dates.
Even if your mom was a stay-at-home-mom, you would spend days happily playing at home.
There was no rushing off every day at 9am to go to fun-parks, zoos, playdates, Gymboree, movies etc.
Those things were a treat, not a given.
I went to the zoo once when I was a kid (my kids over went over a dozen times one year with their annual zoo pass).
I went to Luna Park once when I was a kid (my kids have been so many times they have lost count).
If we went swimming during summer, our parents didn’t fuss about sunscreen and we would come home red as lobsters on occasion.
Sometimes they would drop us off at the pool for the day and not even stay.
When sunscreen became popular it was SPF8 (not SPF 50+). Our moms still opted to lather themselves up with olive or reef oil.
And not once did the idea of skin cancer ever come up.
GROWING UP IN THE 80s: MUSIC
If you wanted to listen to your music you either turned on the radio or listened to your cassette collection.
There were no iPods.
There were no CDs.
There was no Spotify so you had to wait for the announcer to tell you the song and artist but oftentimes they didn’t.
Our walkmans were our most prized possessions, though they needed plenty of batteries to keep them running.
If you liked a song and didn’t have the original cassette you had to keep the radio on all day just to try and catch it again.
We would wait all day just to record that one song on our blank cassette.
Then we would play the song back slowly – a few seconds at a time – to try and write the lyrics down.
Most of the time we got the lyrics wrong.
With friends, we would all be singing along different versions of the same songs.
We had to watch the Saturday morning TV show Rage (the early Australian version of MTV) to find out what songs had made it to the Top 40.
If a song was considered too “rude” like Madonna’s Justify My Love (yep that was in 1990 but it stands out in my memory) the video clip was banned and wouldn’t be played.
We would spend afternoons just lying down in our bedrooms listening to our favorite songs over and over again.
We had to rewind and fast-forward cassettes to the next song and got excited if we stopped at the exact right place.
They still sold records at the time and that was what made up our parent’s entire music collection.
It sucked if the little needle skipped because your record was scratched.
All our favorite songs would later become indelibly imprinted on our minds. Hearing them now takes us instantly takes us back to those good old days.
GROWING UP IN THE 80s: PHOTOS
There was no such thing as camera phones or selfies.
We had Polaroid cameras or the old-fashioned sort that would have either 24 or 36 photo films.
Developing films was expensive.
We were precious about which photos we took with those films and we never knew what the photos would like until we developed it weeks or months later.
The worst thing in the world was when we accidentally opened up the camera without rewinding the film thus ruining the whole film in the process.
GROWING UP IN THE 80: NEWS AND EVENTS
There was no social media.
You had no idea what your friends were up to on the weekends.
You had no idea if you were missing out on something important.
If it wasn’t specifically shown on the news or written about in the newspaper you were clueless as to what was going on in the rest of the world.
Kids were obsessed with the comic section of the newspaper.
We collected other comics like Archie and Betty and Veronica.
We were slightly scared of the word “war” because adults talked about The Cold War as though a bomb could be dropped on us anytime
We believed what the newspaper and TV told us because there was no way to prove they were wrong.
GROWING UP IN THE 80s: IN SUMMARY
The books were the best. I loved The Babysitters Club, Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High series.
The TV shows were the best. We loved Growing Pains, Family Ties, Who’s The Boss, Full House, The Cosby Show, The Golden Girls, Alf, Married With Children, Happy Days, The Facts Of Life, and Different Strokes.
The music was the best. We had Madonna, Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, Prince, Bon Jovi, Wham! and the coolest girl bands like The Bangles and Bananarama.
We wished for Reebok Pumps, scrunchies, bubble skirts and Hypercolor shirts.
Clothing was still flammable. And yep sometimes it would catch alight if you stood too close to the gas heater or fireplace.
The fashion was crazy and we didn’t care how bad we looked. To the contrary, we thought it was the coolest thing in the world.
ALL IN ALL, GROWING UP IN THE 80s taught us:
The skill of using our imagination
That less is more
And the best things in life are truly free
If I have missed any pivotal 80s memories please let me know! I would love to know what your stand-out memories are from your childhood.
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