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

Posted by , Updated on March 24, 2024

Did you realize there are numerous activities ’80s children could engage in that kids nowadays can’t? The world has undergone extensive changes over the past three decades. Both technology and societal culture have drastically reshaped our lifestyles. What once seemed ordinary is now seen as either antiquated, taboo, obsolete, or strange. Even though children today have greatly expanded access to knowledge and entertainment, we children from the ’80s enjoyed an increased level of freedom to explore our neighborhoods with no supervision. And that’s just the surface of it. From sweet cereals to the use of computers, there was a wide array of dissimilarities. To us children of the ’80s, it was a splendid era. For today’s kids, it might seem like an alien domain. Prepare for a journey back in time, these are 25 things ’80s kids could experience that today’s kids can’t.




Ride in the very back of the vehicle

station wagon

Let’s just start off by saying that car safety standards were a little different in the ’80s than today. This is back when station wagons were still a thing and car seats weren’t mandatory. When guests were in town, it was completely normal to give all the adults a seat in the car while we kids went in the very back. And I mean, very back. No seat. Just hanging out untethered, bouncing and bumping around, hoping dad wasn’t going to get in an accident.


Share a seat, and a seat belt, in the car

seat belt

Speaking of car safety standards, when adults found themselves in a situation where they wanted kids to use a seat belt and there was only 1 spot, guess what? Two or three kids in one spot with one seat belt, no problem!


Get tangled up in the phone cord

phone cord

I realize some of you might not even know what a phone cord is, but there was a time not so long ago that phones were connected to a base by a cord. These cords were often stretchy, coiled, and really fun to wrap yourself up in while you were talking to a friend.


Eavesdrop on someone's phone call

woman talking on phone

While phone cords were fun, what wasn’t fun was someone listening in on your conversation. On the plus side, if you were sneaky enough, you could totally pick up another phone and listen in on your sister’s conversation with her boyfriend. Welcome to a world before the internet, folks.


Play outside in the front yard without super strict adult supervision

kids playing outside

Gone are the days when mom would let kids out to play in the front yard and only occasionally peak out the window to make sure everything was okay. Now, even if it were a safe place, parents would likely be judged by neighbors and maybe even have the cops called.


Eat candy cigarettes

candy cigarettes

Even with the anti-drug campaigns and the push to make your parents feel bad for smoking around you, it was still fun to play “Grown Up” and “smoke” candy cigarettes. They had a very distinct flavor that you won’t find in any candy today. Sure, you can find them at novelty candy stores sometimes, but you won’t find them at your local gas station like we did as kids!


Play on risky playground equipment

jungle gym

What’s a broken arm or leg here or there? Playground equipment wasn’t designed for sliding and swinging. It was designed for hanging upside down and swinging from bar to bar high up in the sky. Concrete also wasn’t a big deal for flooring.


Use their brains to find a book at the library

card catalog

Today, we’ve got computers to look everything up for us. But, If you grew up in the ’80s, you likely became best friends with the “card catalog” to find books at the library. For you youngsters that aren’t sure what that is, it was a wooden cabinet full of tiny drawers that carried small cards. You sifted through the cards to find the book you wanted using the Dewey Decimal System. It was a bit more complicated.


Discover computers slowly

old computer

In the ’80s, most kids were lucky if they had a computer in the house. Even if they had one, many had little idea how to use the DOS-based operating system. The computer was like an odd alien object, mysterious and wonderful. Gradually over time, you could discover the different aspects of a computer because they were so new and fresh. It was exciting. Today, of course, computers are everywhere and the wonder and awe is kind of gone.


Pull the ends off Dot matrix paper

dot matrix paper

Before inkjet and laser printers, there was an ungodly noise machine known as the dot matrix printer. To spool the paper through, all dot matrix paper had holes punched on the ends that would interlock inside the printer and guide it through. Once you had your nice sheet of printed paper, you had the pure, wonderful pleasure of tearing the ends off.


Experience the joys of chalk


Sure, some kids still use chalk today, but it’s rare. In the ’80s, chalk boards and chalk abounded. Kids were using it on the playgrounds, their driveways, and everywhere. Chalk is making a bit of a comeback amongst many hipsters today, likely because they remember the days of yore when chalk ruled and markers drooled.


Make their parents or grandparents ashtrays in art class


Not only have a lot of art classes disappeared, but the projects were also a bit different from what you’d see today. What’s an easy craft that also serves a purpose? An ashtray, of course! While no one was suggesting students smoke, it was almost expected that one of your parents or grandparents smoked. What says “I love you”more than enabling your elders’ smoking addiction?


Sip their parents' alcohol like it was no big deal

80s kids

Want a sip of your mom’s sangria? No problem. Have your pops or one of his friends offer you a sip of beer (or even a whole one)? Classic party shenanigans. Such was the life of ’80s kids.


Collect Garbage Pail Kids

garbage pail kids

Garbage Pail Kids were pretty much the weirdest collectors toy in the ’80s. But, guess what? It was also awesome and kids today have no idea what they missed out on.


Play dodgeball at school


Dodgeball isn’t just a game you see in the movies. It was actually played. In school. You were given participation credit for trying to slam someone with a big bouncy ball. It was awesome, unless you were the last one picked for a team. Then it kind of sucked.


Wear slap bracelets as a fashionable accessory

slap bracelets

Slap bracelets couldn’t count your steps, tell the time, or give you your exact heart rate BPM, but they could magically wrap around your wrist when you slapped it. Plus, they came in a variety of colors and designs. Take that, Apple Watch!


Eat sugary cereals


The ’80s were, in many ways, the golden age of cereals. So many different kinds of cereals came out in the ’80s. And, I’m here to tell you, they were packed with sugar. So, so much sugar. Parents back then didn’t really care, either. They just wanted us to sit down and be quiet. Today, of course, cereals are more focused on fiber and vitamins.


Wear neon colors in public without judgement


There’s neon, and then there’s ’80s level of neon. Many of us ’80s kids wore enough neon to make current-day ravers jealous. Today, if you’re a kid wearing too much neon, you’ll probably get beat up.


Watch Saturday Morning cartoons

saturday morning cartoons

Saturday mornings were a sacred time for kids. It was the only time we woke up bright and early to sit in front of the television with a bowl of that sugary cereal and watch cartoons non-stop until lunchtime. From Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Thundercats, the ’80s had some of the best cartoons ever.


Sleep on a waterbed

water bedhttps://www.throwbacks.com/22-everyday-80s-things-that-are-no-longer-socially-acceptable/; personal experience

At one time, waterbeds were insanely popular. Today, of course, pretty much no one has them. If you aren’t even sure what they are, it’s pretty self-explanatory. They’re a mattress filled with water. Turns out, they’re pretty expensive and costly to maintain so people stopped using them. Still, kids in the ’80s got experience the bizarre feeling of floating on water while they sleep.


Pack peanut butter in their lunch box

peanut butter sandwichhttps://www.throwbacks.com/22-everyday-80s-things-that-are-no-longer-socially-acceptable/

In some schools, you can’t bring peanut butter to school, no matter how classic PB&J is. If there was an allergy, you just crossed your fingers and hoped that person didn’t eat peanut butter.


Bike anywhere

riding a bikehttps://www.throwbacks.com/22-everyday-80s-things-that-are-no-longer-socially-acceptable/

When you got your first bike as a kid in the ’80s, it was the best thing ever. It meant freedom. Your parents didn’t care where you went as long as you came back before dinner. You could go to your friends, the gas station down the street, the barrens, the library, the school playground, and basically anywhere your legs could pedal fast enough to get you there. Today, with a long, sad history of missing kids and kids being kidnapped, parents aren’t so willing to let kids wander off too far from home.

Curious about all those missing kids I was talking about? You should check out 25 Bizarre Stories of Missing Kids.


Use a payphone

wall of payphones

You couldn’t carry around your landline, now could you? ’80s kids carried a chunk of quarters and used pay phones to call home if they needed to. Pay phones are still around, believe it or not, but it’s unlikely any kid today has actually used one.


Find Carmen Sandiego

carmen sandiego

As a tricky way to teach kids both deductive reasoning and geography, schools and parents installed computer video games and told them it would be fun. Turns out, it was.


Select their own Valentine

valentines cardshttps://thestir.cafemom.com/being_a_mom/185828/11_normal_things_every_80s/131123/pick_valentines/1

Kids in school these days either send Valentine’s Day cards to everyone or no one. That wasn’t the case in the ’80s. You got to choose whom you wanted to give a card to. It was always a social contest to see who received the most cards…and who received none.

So, you love all things ’80s, huh? Then you need to read 25 Iconic Toys From The ’80s.