May 13, 2024 | Peter Kinney

44 Things Kids Used To Do That Would Outrage Today’s Parents


The Times Are Changing

Things are a lot different now than when we were growing up—and it shows in the way that kids behave. There are some things that kids used to do that would completely horrify today’s parents.

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No Adult Supervision

Especially during the baby boomer generation, it wasn’t uncommon to see unsupervised groups of kids playing in the streets and parks for hours and hours—even after dark. Now, there’s usually at least one parents if not more monitoring every kid’s move.

A Group of Kids Playing outsideRDNE Stock project, Pexels

No Bicycle Helmets

When it was time to get on your bike and go somewhere, you didn’t need locks, lights, or helmets—you just got on and used your own two feet and nothing else. In 1987, US states began to enact laws to make helmet-wearing mandatory for adults and children.

And it’s no wonder—in most cyclist deaths, the cause is head injury.

Greyscale Photo of Two Boys Riding BicyclesNecati Anil Cakirman, Pexels

After School Jobs

It was common in the baby boomer generation and a few others that followed to have a job outside of school hours, either for personal gain or to help out the family. From paper routes to being a bag boy at the grocery store, kids worked—whereas today, parents are more concerned with schoolwork and extracurriculars.

Teenage Boy Holding GroceriesRon Lach, Pexels

No Internet Safety

When home computers and internet first became common, many kids went “surfing the internet” completely unfettered and unsupervised. As a result, many of them were exposed to some pretty dicey content. In 1995, the first version of “Net Nanny” came about, and scary news stories about creeps got parents to start monitoring what their kids were doing on them.

Kids learning computers at school.Fredericknoronha., CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Not Wearing Sunscreen

The risks surrounding unprotected skin in the sun weren’t well-known, and high SPF sunscreens have really only become a thing in the past couple of decades. Who else remembers wiggling out of their parents grip when they tried to apply sunscreen—if they tried—as a kid?

A Man Applying a Sunscreen on His Son's FaceKampus Production, Pexels

Clothing As SPF

Instead of applying sticky, stinky sunscreen, many parents would instead just throw a white t-shirt on a kid before they went to the beach or went swimming in a lake—resulting in one heck of a farmer’s tan.

Boy wearing wet t-shirt is playing and having fun on beach.Matrix Reloaded, Shutterstock

Peanut Butter Sandwiches For Lunch

Peanut butter sandwiches were a lunchtime staple at school—so easy that a kid could handily make them his or herself. However, thanks to the prevalence of peanut allergies, kids today aren’t allowed to bring nut products to school anymore.

Person Holding Peanut butter sandwich.Polina Tankilevitch, Pexels

Playing Outside After Dark

Usually, the only rules when playing outside were “don’t get into trouble” and “be back for dinner.” But on long summer nights, it was normal to go back outside after dinner and continue playing until dusk, or even after it was dark.

Small children are playing outside (B&W Image)www.SamAntonioPhotography.com, Flickr

No Participation Trophies

In decades before, awards were given for achievements in academic subjects or sports—but at some point in the 1990s, awards started to be given out for nearly everything, including participation. While it’s a positive nod toward inclusivity, it’s also created a major cultural shift.

Girl And Her Ear Piercing CertificateJoe Shlabotnik, Pexels

No TV Parental Controls

Back when TVs just had a couple dials and one or two buttons, there was no way for parents to limit what their kids watched on TV—but luckily, there weren’t that many networks or shows, so there wasn’t so much explicit content to avoid.

Young girl watching TVRon Lach, Pexels

Drinking From The Garden Hose

On a long, sunny day playing outside, it wasn’t uncommon to drink from the garden hose. Now, bottled water or filtered water are far more common choices for health-conscious parents.

Boy in White T-Shirt Standing with Hose in GardenJonathan Borba, Pexels

Pools Without Fences

Big blue swimming pools were the jewel of the suburban backyard—but now, they all kind of look like they’re in jail. Beginning in the 1990s, many states, towns, or HOAs required that pools be surrounded by a safety fence, in an effort to stem accidental drownings.

Small public pool in green parkWendy Wei, Pexels

Blood Oaths

We’ve all seen it in movies and on TV shows—best friends pricking their fingers with a pin and pledging to be blood brothers or sisters. But thanks to health concerns, this practice has been discouraged.

Two Person Holding HandsPixabay, Pexels

Childproofing

Instead of locking up their cleaning products and boxing up outlets, kids in previous generations were exposed to a lot more danger on the regular. Now there’s all kinds of devices to help keep kids out of trouble.

Curious little boy playing with electric plug.Natthawon Chaosakun, Shutterstock

Free Play

If you were a kid growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, you split your time between school and chores. Every other moment was dedicated to doing basically whatever you wanted to do. Kids today have so many extracurricular activities that there’s not a lot of time left for free play.

Boys hanging out - 1975Anthony Catalano, Pexels

Homemade Halloween Costumes

While there are plenty of parents out there still loading up Pinterest boards with ideas for homemade costumes, it’s far more common to hit up a Spirit Halloween and get a readymade costume. Decades ago, though, there were few options for store-bought costumes—most were homemade.

Kids In halloween CostumesDaisy Anderson, Pexels

Toy Guns

Even up to the 1990s, toy guns that looked realistic were still pretty common. In 1992, the US introduced a law stating that all toy guns should be brightly-colored or have an orange blaze on them to signify that they’re fake.

Boy with toy wooden gun.woodleywonderworks, Flickr

No Screen Time

This one goes without saying—in previous generations, there was only one screen, the TV, and most of the time, there wasn’t much on for kids. Kids of the 80s became the TV generation, as programming expanded, then kids of the 90s started to grow up on the internet. And ever since then, screen time has been a part of every kid’s daily life.

A family watching television in 1960.CommScope, Flickr

Splashing In The Fire Hydrant

On a hot day in the city in the summer, it was always a celebration when someone would wrench open the fire hydrant, spraying water in the air and letting kids cool off and splash around.

While many block associations in New York City, for example, still have the tools to do this, many more homes have access to air conditioning than they did before—so it’s less common.

Children escape the heat by using fire hydrant as a shower bath.Library of Congress, Picryl

Hitchhiking

Back in the 1960s, before stranger danger, hitchhiking was pretty common among adults—and it wasn’t unheard of for a kid to stick out a thumb and take a short ride to their destination with a stranger.

Young man is Hitchhiking - 1940sU.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Picryl

Unregulated Cribs

Safety regulations for baby cribs, seats, and strollers are now incredibly strict—but for previous generations, many kids just slept in homemade cribs, or ones that weren’t quite built to today’s standards.

A baby crib collects dust in a little room.The U.S. National Archives, Picryl

Trampolines Without Nets

There’s nothing more thrilling to a kid than jumping on a trampoline—and what made it even more thrilling was the sense of danger that you’d either end up in the springs (ouch) or bouncing off and hitting dirt. Now, safety nets around trampolines are far more common.

Kid is Jumping on Trampoline outside.pixabay.com, Picryl

Lawn Darts

While lawn darts are still popular today—more among adults than kids—old sets of lawn darts were heavy and had super-sharp tips, making them a pretty dangerous choice of game for kids.

Women playing lawn darts outside - 1979Library of Congress, Picryl

Walking To School Alone

Most kids walked to school alone or with siblings—without adult supervision. Now it seems like every school has a line of cars for drop-off that stretches all the way back home.

A group of children walking down a street.pixabay.com, Picryl

Second-Hand Smoke

There used to be smoking sections in restaurants and malls—and parents had no qualms about hanging out in a smoke-filled car or home with their kids.

People seating in restaurantBill Barber, Flickr

No Seatbelts

In 1968, the federal government began to require that all new cars come with seatbelts—but that didn’t mean that everyone used them. Even in the 80s and 90s, it felt like only 50% to 60% of people buckled up in the car—and even if the kids did, it didn’t necessarily mean the parents did too.

Man seating in car with open door - 1965Digital museum, Picryl

No Rides To School

As mentioned earlier, most kids walked to school—but a lot also took the school bus if they lived further, or biked. Now, it seems like every kid gets a ride to school from mom or dad every day, which in previous generations, really only happened if you missed the bus.

Public domain image of a school children Beside School Bus.Library of Congress, Picryl

No Carseat? No Problem

If there were too many kids and not enough carseats? No problem. Some kids would sit on other’s laps. Someone had a cargo van? Kids would sit on the floor in the back, or on a backless bench. Pick-up truck? Why not ride in the truck bed. All went unquestioned back then.

People seating in the car - 1969Nationaal Archief, Picryl

No Parental Advisories

If you bought an album from your favorite band, it’s likely your parents had no idea what the lyrics were or what the band was singing about. But in 1985, the Recording Industry Association of America made an agreement with various parent groups to add “Parental Advisory” stickers to records, tapes, and CDs, so that parents were more aware of what their kids were listening to.

Woman Choosing Vinyl RecordTima Miroshnichenko, Pexels

No Rating Systems

The MPA rating system has been around since 1968, meaning that seeing an “R-rated” movie was always a losing battle for a kid—but it took until the mid 1990s for TV shows to start having ratings for age.

Person inserting a videotape into the video playerRon Lach, Pexels

Farm Work

Generally, if you lived on a farm, you were expected to contribute—and that meant operating heavy machinery, getting into the pen with massive animals, and even driving trucks, all before the age of 10.

Child taking care of chicken at farm.ArtHouse Studio, Pexels

Playing “IN” The Street

While it’s not uncommon to see a group of kids playing street hockey in the middle of the block, with the way people drive today, it’s far more uncomfortable to watch than it ever was before.

Street hockey played on Pennsylvania Avenue - 2010Victoria Pickering, Flickr

No Keys

Kids in previous generation never needed a housekey, because the door was always unlocked—even late at night. Often, people just had their door fully open all today to let the air circulate.

Open Front Door from a house.Infrogmation of New Orleans, CC-BY-SA-3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Trick Or Treating Alone

Another essential part of Halloween was taking off with a friend and collecting as much candy as possible. There were no parents waiting at the end of the walkway, and they certainly weren’t checking over the candy.

Children in skeleton costumes knocking on white door on Halloween.Charles Parker, Pexels

Not Tracking Food

If it was in the house, you could eat it—and if you had a few coins, you could buy it for yourself. Except for a few granola parents, no one really tracked what their kids were eating or worried about nutritional value.

Kids eating cookies outside.Charles Parker, Pexels

Playing Sports Without Protection

Like bike helmets, there was a time when kids played tackle football and hockey without helmets, cups, pads and mouthguards—or went rollerblading without knee and elbow pads.

Kids playing football.Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, Picryl

Sleepovers

While it’s not like they’re totally out of fashion, if you go on Twitter you might see a large contingent of parents who say they’re never going to let their kids go to a sleepover or slumber party, because they don’t want them unsupervised with the other kid’s parent. Seems overprotective!

Female Friends Enjoying Sleepover.Ron Lach, Pexels

Smoking And Drinking In Utero

Okay, this one, the kids don’t really opt in to doing—but back before the risks were known, many pregnant women smoked and drank their way through their pregnancies.

Pregnant woman drinking water in kitchenMałgorzata Sulej, Flickr

Unannounced Visits

Parents today will send an email chain to plan out a simple play date—but in previous generations, many kids would simply show up unannounced to their friends’ houses, and spend the whole day playing without a prior plan.

Little girl is knocking at the wooden door.Pav-Pro Photography Ltd, Shutterstock

Sugary Gum

If there’s one thing kids love, it’s gum—and there used to be a lot more fun flavors, and they were all sweetened with sugar, not more teeth-friendly substitutes like aspartame.

Brown hair woman with blue bubblegum in her mouth.Natalia Ventura, Pexels

Sugary Cereal

Speaking of sugar, breakfast cereals were packed full of sugar and bright, artificial dyes. Even if they weren’t sweetened, there was normally a bowl of sugar on the table so you could do the job yourself.

Boy Eating Cereals on the table.Pavel Danilyuk, Pexels

Corporal Punishment

If you went to school and got out of line, it wasn’t uncommon for a teacher to raise a hand—or a paddle—to you. Then, between 1974 and 1995, many states began to enact laws banning corporal punishment in schools. Surprisingly, some states still allow it.

Teacher is yelling at kid outside.Matt Hollingsworth, Flickr

Sitting At Counters Alone

In the heyday of candy stores and malt shops, you’d see kids saunter up to the counter alone, order something, consume it, and pay for it. Though there’s certainly no shortage of kids today hitting up Starbucks, it just isn’t quite the same experience.

A man serves ice cream to children at a market.Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, Picryl

Swimming In The Deep End

Sure, there were always lifeguards around, but kids would jump in the deep end willy-nilly without a second glance. Now, many public pools ask that kids under a certain age perform a swim test before they allow them to hit the deep end.

Kid id jumping in to pool.Jean Vaillancourt, Flickr


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