High School in the 80s was Different and We Were Just Fine

According to my kids, I sound “old-fashioned” when I tell them certain things about my school days. My reminiscing about high school in the 80s and 90s has been coming up lately since we are preparing for the first day of 6th, 8th, and 10th grade.

Please pass the Advil.

The other day while we were discussing needs versus wants for back-to-school shopping, I kept trying to cement the point about what they needed and when they should try and stay in that realm since there are three of them, they grow like dandelions and can be somewhat finicky.

While I was spewing facts about how I did without so much over 25 years ago when I went to high school, I could practically hear their eyes rolling. I can’t help myself, though, sometimes, I get the feeling they don’t think they are going to make it if they don’t have certain things that, frankly, I don’t think teenagers should have.

Like a damn phone that costs as much as last month’s grocery bill.

This is how we looked during high school in the 80s

I know I sounded like my mother did back in 1991 when I was begging her for an extra pair of back-to-school shoes despite already having five pairs in my closet; she used to tell me how they got one pair that had to last the whole school year, then a dressy pair for church.

“You are very lucky,” she’d say. But I didn’t feel lucky, I felt deprived and wanted more.

The truth is I did just fine. And although I wasn’t able to admit that to my mother until a few years after college, I now stand on my soap box and preach it to my kids all the time.

I told them during my days in high school, we didn’t have technology at our fingertips. The latest and greatest came in the form of a skateboard, a new Laura Ashley dress for the dance, or a pair of Guess? jeans. One thousand-dollar phones didn’t exist, but somehow, we were still pretty cool.

They aren’t buying it, though.

When they need to reach for their phones every time it beeps, it drives me bonkers, and I get into a bit of a lecture about how we got to call our friends after our homework was done if we were lucky. Even then, we’d cross our fingers hoping we didn’t have a busy signal — call waiting was a huge treat if your family had it, but it wasn’t standard in every home.

This 24/7 communication is exhausting to me, our kids have zero patience.

In 2018 if someone doesn’t get back to you right away, you can go on all their social media platforms and see when they were last active, which is creepy yet tempting.

Perhaps there were times when I tried calling my friends or boyfriend and got a busy signal, and they’d taken the phone off the hook on purpose. Who knows, the point I try and make with them (unsuccessfully) is I didn’t have constant contact with my friends and — sometimes we went the whole weekend without talking, but I still had strong friendships. We somehow made it work.

One of my favorite pastimes during high school in the 80s was to write my friends’ notes. Remember when we used to take the time to get out our favorite pen and write complete sentences, use punctuation and the correct spelling, and not use abbreviations or smiley faces instead of words?

“Didn’t it take forever?” they ask.

I tell them with all the extra time on my hands because of all the things I was deprived of, I was happy to take the time to write a full letter with periods and question marks, and sometimes I’d even take up two pages — front and back!

Also, if you were to walk down the hallways of any high school in the ’80s and ’90s, people walked while looking straight ahead and paid attention to where they were going instead of trying to type and walk their way to French class.

When I mentioned we didn’t have a sleek-looking laptop where all our schoolwork was kept with a parent/student portal to remind us of the work that needed to be handed in, they didn’t understand.

I showed them a picture of Trapper Keeper to give them a visual, and I could feel the excitement rush through me as I remembered all its compartments and told them every time I heard the sound of Velcro, it took me right back to the 10th grade.

I’m pretty sure they felt sorry for me.

Maybe to them, it sounds sad, the same way it made me sad to hear my mom only had homemade dresses and two pairs of shoes and brought a sack lunch to school every day.

But the simpler times make me feel happy. I want my kids to know they can make do with less, and just because I don’t buy them the latest and the greatest doesn’t mean they aren’t going to make it through despite what they believe with all of their souls.

I’ve no idea what their kids will feel they need when they go to high school, but I’ve no doubt they will be telling their children all the things they went without, and the will sound “old-fashioned,” too.

And honestly, I kind of can’t wait for those moments.


When My Teen Asks For Help, He’s Really Asking For Love

My Favorite Books To Fill Your Empty Nest

About Katie BinghamSmith

Katie Bingham-Smith lives in Maine with her three kids. She is a Staff Writer at Scary Mommy, shoe addict and pays her kids to rub her feet. You can see more of her on Facebook and Instagram .

Read more posts by Katie

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates about parenting teens and young adults straight to your inbox.