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Life Growing Up as an 80s Kid: Then and Now

Growing up in the 80s was quite a different experience to our kids growing up today… don’t you think?

Technology, progress and education aside, things were just better not quite the same as they are today. And it’s never clearer than in these everyday things.

1982 v Now

[mc_block_title custom_title=”1. Organising a Play Date”]

1982 – Ok, so play dates weren’t even a thing in the 80s. But if they were, they actually had very little parent intervention:

  • “Mum, I’m going to my friend’s house”
  • “Ok”
  • Picks bike off the front lawn and rides to friend’s house, without a helmet, on the footpath or on the road, with no hands.
  • Drop bike on friend’s front lawn.
  • Knock on front door and ask if friend is allowed play.
  • Hang out with friend.

NOW – Now play dates are such a ‘thing’ that there are whole webpages dedicated to how to host the best ones.

  • “Mum, can I have a play date with my friend?”
  • “Maybe. Let me just check my diary. Ok, you could see them next Saturday. I just need to check with their mum to see if they’re free. If they’re not free then, I’ll try for the following Sunday”
  • The mums make arrangements for a mutually convenient time, agree on who will host the play date and book in appropriate start and end times for the play date.
  • The visiting child’s mum will then drive child to the friend’s house with some appropriate BYO snacks.
  • The visiting child’s mum will take child inside and decline a coffee as she is eager to drop and run [but not before noticing that the host mum has baked biscuits – possibly organic]

[mc_block_title custom_title=”2. Going to the Shops”]

1982 – Things were so simple back then

  • Mothers have been taking kids to the shops for ever!
  • Everyone piles in to the car.
  • No-one puts seat belts on. If there is a small child they can sit on someone’s lap so they can see out the window too. Babies will lay in their moses basket across the backseat.
  • Mum pushes in the car-lighter and lights her cigarette against the hot wire. Everyone WINDS DOWN their window.
  • Everyone piles out of the car and leave it UNLOCKED.
  • Kids ride on the end of the trolley while mum shops for exactly what she needs. Groceries are packed in fresh bags EVERYTIME.
  • No-one asks for anything else because the last they did they were threatened with a smack and left with nothing.

NOW – Haven’t we made it harder for ourselves these days?

  • Mum packs water, snacks and wipes.
  • Everyone piles in to the car.
  • All children are strapped in to age-appropriate car seat restraints.
  • Mum puts phone on hands-free. Uses drive time to catch up on missed calls.
  • Air is climate controlled. Child locks are on all doors and windows.
  • Everyone piles out of the car, brings in reusable shopping bags and sets car alarm.
  • Kids beg for chips/lollies/chocolate/footy cards.
  • Mum can’t stand the begging [or the stares] so gives in.
  • Threatens to limit their screen time if they don’t stop complaining the whole way home.

[mc_block_title custom_title=”3.  A Trip to the Beach”]

1982 – How hard could it be?

  • Put on bathers
  • Take a towel
  • Take a bucket and a spade
  • Buy a cup of chips and a can of soft drink from the kiosk
  • Swim in the ocean ALL DAY
  • Fall asleep, laying across the backseat covered in salt in sand, on the way home

NOW – VERY hard, apparently.

  • Pack snacks – water, fruit, chips, sandwiches in an esky. With ice packs.
  • Pack 3 sunblocks, one for the kids, one for the grown-ups and one for the face
  • Apply sunblock every 30 mins
  • Set up sunshade and place everything strategically in the shade
  • Buy slushies, lollies, chips, hotdogs from the kiosk
  • Leave after two hours because everyone is bored, the kids hate the sand, the water is too cold and the kids might get sunburnt.

[mc_block_title custom_title=”4.  School Holidays”]

1982 – The best thing about school holidays in the 80s was that there was no school. So the school holidays were very simple.

  • Get up every day.
  • Don’t go to school

NOW – These days the best thing is all the STUFF Mum organises!

  • Follow a carefully executed plan by Mum involving pre-arranged play dates, babysitting, vacation care and family sleep-overs.
  • Have scheduled screen-time, play-time, snack-time, lunch-time, bed-time.
  • Watch Mum open bottle of wine earlier every day

[mc_block_title custom_title=”5.  Going out for Dinner”]

1982 – Actually, it wasn’t so popular for kids to go out to dinner in the 80s but when we did, it looked like this

  • Choose from Pizza Hut, the pub or the local Chinese restaurant
  • The whole family puts on best clothes – the youngest possibly wears pyjamas
  • The whole family orders from the main menu because that was the only menu
  • The children behave and the adults are unsurprised
  • The children get bored so go to sleep under the table
  • The adults leave whenever they want to

NOW – Going out to dinner is a weekly [at least] occurrence and a much bigger proposition

  • Decide which cuisine/culture everyone feels like
  • Pack an electronic device for every child and/or a colouring in book with crayons
  • The whole family orders from the same menu, except for Mum who’s gluten-free and Uncle Jim who’s dairy-free and the kids who order from the kid’s menu
  • The children are served straight away and then are instantly bored so are face down in the activities
  • The adults finish a bottle of wine in the time that the children have finished their meal. They order another.
  • The kids get bored so start fighting with each other.
  • Everyone leaves early.

[mc_block_title custom_title=”And Furthermore…”]

  • Nobody paid for water. Ever.
  • Coffee at home was International Roast. There was no going out for coffee.
  • If kids were naughty and someone else caught them being naughty, they told them off. And the kids’ parents thanked them for it.
  • No-one had room for the whole neighbourhood to play cricket in their back yards. That was what the road was for.
  • Fat Cat told kids when it was time to go to bed. And THEY WENT TO BED. Because that’s what kids did. And also – there was nothing on tv after 7.30pm.
  • Talking about tv – kids could only watch first thing in the morning, after school until 7.30pm and Saturday mornings. The rest of the time they y’know did other things.
  • You used to get softdrink in 1 litre glass bottles… and you could go straight to the depot with your empties and swap them for full bottles.
  • If you made arrangements to meet someone you were on time or you let them know you would be late BEFORE you both left home. Not by text at the time you were supposed to be meeting them.
  • Kids birthday parties were held in backyards hosted by parents. Mums made the birthday cake and party games had one winner and one prize.
  • The street lights coming on let us know it was time to go home.

Have you got anything further you’d like to add?

Avatar of Tania Pradun

Autobiographical blogger, enthusiastic dancer and karaoke singer Tania Pradun brings her own brand of reality as a mum and entrepreneur to MumCentral. Well and truly in the ‘sandwich generation’ between teenage boys and ageing parents, Tania’s writing style is searingly authentic, making her readers laugh, cry and rage at the universal challenges today’s generation of parents face. Tania runs her booming Adelaide-based catering business Amazing Grazers from home, and in her ‘spare time’ attracts millions of views on TikTok for her grazing platter how-to’s. You can find her on Instagram @amazing_grazers and TikTok @amazinggrazers


  1. Avatar of Deborah Alcock
    Deborah AlcockReply

    To me this seems more like the late 70s and maybe early eighties. My eldest was born late eighties and while not as bad as today not as free as the late seventies either. Everyone sees things differently and I think that in 1982 like posted it was much easier but starting to lose its simplicity.

  2. Avatar of Blossom

    1980s I thought it was illegal to not use seatbelts if they were fitted in the car.. We didn’t tell our parents we were going to a friend’s house, we asked if we could go? Didn’t other parents teach their kids manners? Screen time was limited then too. My Mum was told by an Eye Specialist that little ones should watch for only….and sit away from the TV. If we went to a friend’s place we had to be home by a certain time. Our car was always locked away from home. Our snacks and drinks were taken from home. The only thing bought from kiosk was icecream. It would have been hot sleeping on the back seat of the car during the day. I agree with the baby on the back seat except we used a carry basket or bassinet – with the seatbelt to hold it in position as much as it would. If we lewft our bikes on the front lawn after being warned a few times it was confiscated. We were taught how to look after our toys and other things. OMG were other parents so lazy and irresponsible back then. I’m glad mine were’t. It didn’t help that kids in reception at school were told that “kids have rights” and don’t have to something their parents ask them to do if they don’t want to. Some kids were too smart for their own good. They worked at parents are adults, so are teachers. They decided they didn’t have to do what the teachers said either. And they wondered why!!!You’re not allowed to yell at them. Even if you don’t swear etc. it is verbal abuse. There was some irate parents who asked for a meeting with the Principal. For legal reasons I won’t name the school except to say it was a SA public school. No wonder some of the kids of today don’t use their manners. Some 1980s kids parents gave up because kids took the attitudes they thought they had the right to and parents were scared the kids would go to school and complain to the teacher who would then report it to higher authorities. I’m not kidding, I know of cases that occured.

  3. Avatar of Nicole

    Thank you for this needed article. Today more than ever this change is so concerning. We must help our children have the childhood they deserve, one in which they flourish and feel empowered, not rigid and scheduled. Please keep helping make this known. Regards.

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