I know I shouldn’t compare my teen years in the ’80s and ’90s to my kids’ teens years but I can’t help it. It’s too much fun to look back and see how my friends, sisters and I spent our time versus how my kids spend their time.
I know some say kids these days are spoiled and have no idea how good they have it, but we all remember our parents saying the same to us and so on and so forth. Clearly, this will be a thing until the end of time.
When I was a teen in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I went shopping for a prom dress with my friends, or my mother made me a dress for a special dance with fabric she found on sale at the local fabric store after picking out a pattern together. Then I’d pray for the best outcome possible. Occasionally parents would buy a dress in those days, but lots of girls I knew (including myself) had to earn the money themselves if they didn’t want to wear a hand-me-down or a homemade gown. A group of us would get together at someone’s house and do each other’s hair and makeup while listening to Michael Jackson and Madonna in a cloud of hairspray.
These days there are expected prom proposals. It takes months to plan and decide which dress to purchase. The average teenager spends $600 one this one night. Back in my glory days, that was enough to buy a car.
Notes on Paper
We used to write notes to our friends explaining our deepest thoughts. There were words exchanged in these sordid letters we’d never dare say out loud. We put a lot of thought into them. We would erase and rewrite, reach for a new sheet of paper and number the pages. Now teenagers send a quick text full of abbreviations I don’t understand. They speak a shortened version of the language I used to with my friends (I think?). Then, everything must have a hashtag. I remember when we used to play tic-tac-toe on hashtags.
Music on the Radio
They have the luxury of downloading the latest music before anyone has heard it on the radio while we used to all huddle around a big speaker and hope and pray the D.J. would play our favorite song. Then we’d get our blank tape ready and try and hit play record at the perfect moment. Oh, and remember the weekly Top 40? That was the highlight of our week. We were guaranteed to hear all of our favorite songs in one night. What a treat.
Talking on the Phone
Teens of the 80s and 90s would call their best friends (on a rotary phone), and if we got a busy signal we stayed strong and kept dialing over and over until we got through.
Today, this would be a travesty. First of all, teenagers don’t know anyone’s actual number. And if they send a text to their BFF and if they don’t get a reply right away, they Snap them, send them a message on Instagram, then try Facebook messenger.
The ’80s and ’90s were a time we told our friends about our epic adventures by talking to them when we saw them in real life. Now there’s pressure to document and compare everything, teens never get a break from each other. If they want to know what one of their friends did 5 seconds ago, all they have to do is check out their story on SnapChat.
The hottest school supplies in the ’80s and ’90s consisted of a Trapper Keeper. These days all my kids have is a laptop with everything the need, and apparently everything I need. Long gone are the days when parents got reports cards and the occasional call from school if we were naughty. Now, I can look to see how my teens are doing every day. I know exactly what their grades are, if anything is late I can see it. I can check up on them if they tell me there’s no homework. I’m not sure if I love it or hate it. Honestly, I’m leaning towards the hate part, it makes me anxious just thinking about it.
We had patience because we were able to sit through commercials. These days kids can’t handle that kind of waiting. Nobody has two minutes to spare. We must get to the show, get to the music, get to the movie. As far as my kids are concerned, commercials were what people watched in the “old days.”
Now, kids spend lots of their time getting just the right selfie, then they can throw a filter and some script on that bad boy and they have a masterpiece. In my day, you were lucky if your parents took a few pictures of you before you headed out the door for a dance or date with your friends. Then you had to wait a dog year to get the film developed and hope everyone’s eyes were open. Then you’d pin or tape them to your wall or back of your door. Now everyone has exactly 74 albums in their phone with hundreds of pictures documenting every moment of their life.
On Friday or Saturday night we’d get together and browse in the movie rental shop after having some frozen yogurt. If what we wanted wasn’t there, we were out of luck and would settle on something mediocre. There wasn’t anything to download. And don’t forget how we had to rewind the movie when we were done lest we get a fine and be banned from the store.
TV and AC
I know my parents thought we had it really good, especially the years my dad put a tiny black and white television in my bedroom, “Boy, do you have it good,” he said as I snuggled in bed and watched Mary Lou Retton do gymnastics one summer night while eating a salami sandwich in my bed as I blasted my fan because it was 95 degrees outside. It’s one of my favorite memories, but if my kids had to experience it, they would certainly wonder why they were looking at a tiny gray box that was fuzzy and wonder where the hell the air-conditioning was.
I wonder what they will be telling their kids about their childhood. Every generation thinks the one after them has it much better and I hope I’m around to listen to my kids tell their kids about the time the WiFi was down and they had to “rough it.”