I'm not immune to '80s nostalgia. I love that the CareBears and Reading Rainbow are making a comeback. I have a playlist that includes Richard Marx, Phil Collins, and the Bangles. When I realized I'd met Martha Plimpton (she's an actress on The Real Oneals and a badass feminist, but '80s kids know her from a seminal movie), I lost my damn mind because, you know, "Goonies never say die!" I had a magical childhood, but now that I'm a mom I'm kind of horrified by the things '80s parents let their kids do.
I am a true child of the 1980s. I wore neon spandex and rocked the side ponytail. I went on long solo bike rides out to Dead Man's Hill (because every neighborhood has a Dead Man's Hill, you guys). On a rainy day I spent hours playing on my Lite Brite or brushing My Little Pony's hair. I watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, He-Man, and Thundercats. My childhood was full of a kind of pure innocence and fun that only the '80s could provide. Of course, my sister and I were also walking ourselves down to the local Circle K, buying Big League Chew, and scaling the rock wall at the top of which people were using drugs, so there's that.
It's not that '80s parents were careless or callous. Parents these days just have more access to up-to-date information and the latest research than their parents did. Although I do think there's something to be learned from how carefree childhood used to be, I wouldn't go back to '80s-style parenting.
They Let Their Kids Stay Home Alone
A few decades ago, it used be fairly common for parents to leave their kids home alone after school and until they got home from work. The "latchkey kid" phenomenon peaked in the '80s, along with the divorce rate and maternal participation in the work force. Plenty of kids came home from school, did chores and homework, and got dinner started all on their own.
These days, some states actually regulate latchkey kids, setting a minimum age for when a child can be left alone. I won't even let my toddler be by herself in the bathroom (although maybe that's more about getting back at her for never allowing me to pee in peace than it is about safety).
They Let Their Kids Ride Bikes Without A Helmet
It's not that helmets didn't exist, it's that the "cool kids" never wore them. I was decidedly not a cool kid (shocking, I know). I remember how excited I was when I graduated from the mushroom head "Li'l Bell Shell" to the more aerodynamic Mirage Pro-Tec. Still, I was literally the only kid in the neighborhood whose mom made them wear protective headwear while riding a bike.
Young riders are now required to wear helmets in 21 states, and many cities have their own ordinances. Plus, parents are aware of horror stories about traumatic brain injury. So, yeah, you better believe my little muffin will be protecting her melon whilst astride her banana seat. (What, they don't make those anymore?)
They Let Their Kids Skip The Car Seat
Yeah, we had them, but we didn't necessarily use them, and they certainly weren't as fancy and well-tested as the current models. I've never had to install a car seat without the LATCH system.
We certainly didn't use car seats as far into childhood as we do now. My 8-year-old niece is in a booster seat. At her age, I was sitting in the middle seat of my grandpa's truck and shifting for him, or in the rear-facing backseat of our station wagon.
There's no way in hell my baby girl will be anywhere but in a child restraint system in the back seat before prom.
They Let Their Kids Play On Questionable Equipment
My sister freaking loved to bounce around in the Johnny Jump-up when she was a baby. It's basically a swing seat attached to the door frame by a series of bungee cords. Unfortunately, it's also a death trap. As an elementary kid, my favorite thing to do was to swing so hard I lifted up the legs of the base.
Today, we have exersaucers and remote-controlled baby swings vetted by extensive research, and jungle gyms made of material that doesn't burn your skin when it's been in the sun. We fancy.
They Let Their Kids Eat Processed Foods
My grandma frequently served up microwaveable salisbury steak and mashed potatoes. It was always exciting when I got the blue one with the little penguin, only because it had a dessert. My mom and dad cooked, but I longed for the Tony's pizza days. I loved the way the pepperoni curled up to make a greasy little swimming pool.
In the '80s, food was all about convenience, but that also meant preservatives. A lot of millennial parents, like myself, balk at lists of unpronounceable ingredients. Personally, I try to go the organic, local, whole food route, but the rules apply mostly to my kid. For example:
Me: I'll get back to you later. But first, chicken nuggets.
Me: Oh no. They're for me. I don't let me kid eat that garbage.
They Let Their Kids Go Out And Play In The Neighborhood
Organized sports? Kindermusik? Playdates? Surely you jest. My best friend and I made a club house on the banks of the polluted creek. Later, we found squatters in it. Funsies!
One day, when my sister and I were little, my mom sent us next door to make cookies with our neighbor. She called when we hadn't come home and was told we'd left hours ago. In fact, we'd decided to toddle our way downtown. We were stopped by someone down the street who gave us ice cream. So, yeah, I won't let my own kid go past the driveway.
They Let Their Kids Drink Water From The Hose
In the '80s, when you got sent out to play you were expected to stay away from the house for a good, long while. Thirsty? That's what the hose is for. Turns out this wasn't the safest because, you know, toxic chemicals.
My husband doesn't even want our daughter to drink from the tap. Bottled water only for her royal highness.
They Let Their Kids Babysit Their Younger Siblings
OK, so technically she wasn't supervising me, but my sister (who was a toddler when I was born) was left alone with me. My mom couldn't figure out why I kept screaming, then she caught her biting me on the head (my luscious black locks hid the marks).
If someone's going to take care my kid, they better be trained in infant CPR and possibly have a degree in early childhood education.
They Let Their Kids Watch Questionable Movies
My favorite movies when I was a kid were Sixteen Candles, Gotcha, and The Sure Thing. That last one is about how John Cusack travels across country to meet a girl who will definitely have sex with him. Ah, a tale as old as time. I watched Pet Sematary at a sleepover in third grade and had nightmares for a month.
Now we have parental controls. I know I'm not the only one who was horrified to find out that YouTube Kids wasn't as kid-friendly as I thought. I'm a bit of a hypocrite, though, because I only stopped watching The Walking Dead with my baby in the room once she started mimicking the zombie noises.
They Let Their Kids Play With Seriously Disturbing Toys
I'm way too worried about the impact on my kid's psyche to let her play with that crap. Elmo might be annoying, but he won't give my kid nightmares. He's also probably the only product of the '80s I couldn't parent without.