What 1980s Kids Could Teach the Kids of Today

I’m currently writing a novel set in both the 1980s and the present day. Yes, I have finally made a start! My main character features as a girl in the ‘80s, and a woman now.

This has often made me think about how growing up in the ‘80s was in many ways so different to how it is nowadays, good and bad. If Doc was to lend us the Delorean or we can cast back into the recesses of our 1980s little minds, just what could we pass on to the youth of today?

We Have Legs for a Reason

Back in the day we walked just about everywhere. With both parents unable to drive and living on an estate on the outskirts, walking was a necessity for my family. Trips into town felt like marathons.

Taxis and public transport were a treat. Trips in other people’s cars felt like going on holiday. Legs got us around just fine.

Use your legs more, present day kids, and stop using your parents as a taxi service. Your legs won’t fall off.

The Telephone is Sacred

What 1980s kids could teach kids today - 1980s telephoneGrowing up I thought the telephone only accepted incoming calls. I was hardly ever allowed to make calls. I know we weren’t the only house to economise.

Once we got to dating age, many an evening was spent in a cold telephone box, miles up the road, shoving the change in as long as it would last. Now that is true love.

There were no mobile phones. I remember seeing the first one on the news and it being the size of a house brick. ‘It will never take off’, we all said in unison. Idiots the lot of us, and yet…

We didn’t spend all our time on the phone. We tended to chat in person more. We liked to converse face-to-face. You could see our faces rather than the back of a phone.

We probably didn’t spend a lot of time phoning people because dialing on an old rotary dial phone was very hit and miss. If you didn’t take your finger all the way round, you’d have to start again. It was easier and less stressful to just walk six miles to go and see if your nan was okay.

As ‘80s kids we didn’t spend all night texting and using social media. We had to wait until the next day to see our mates. Then it got really exciting because we had so much to say.

Our Version of the Internet

When Oracle and Ceefax were invented we thought we’d hit communications big time. We would play quizzes, read out the duff jokes, check the weather, get our parents to book holidays on it, and look at the Top 40.

We got by with what we had and thought it was a lot. I’d never claim that the internet isn’t the greatest invention ever. I’m grateful that we have it but we did not miss what we didn’t have back then.

We went to the library to look up things for our homework. Not only were we getting off our backsides but we were also supporting the local library. Libraries are shutting down now on a scarily regular basis. Get your arse down there pronto tonto and use it.

We trusted what our doctors had to say instead of Googling our symptoms and declaring ourselves dead, when really we just had a sniffle.

We sat and chatted to each other for hours, rather than messaging strangers. I love social media and how it has opened up the world to us all, but I miss a good old fashioned letter or a phone call, as long as they were phoning, of course. My dad would have had a fit if I had phoned Australia.

The Outside

What 1980s kids could teach kids today - 1980s girls on bikesWe were outside a lot back in the ‘80s. Kids would regularly spend whole days on weekends and holidays playing outside with their friends.

On my estate we knew we lived close enough to be safe to play until the streetlights came on, with only breaks in-between for meals.

We are a lot more wary nowadays about letting children play outside unsupervised because of the horrific stories in the news. Of course any parent is right to keep their child safe but there are secure places children can still play together supervised: gardens, parks, greens…

Playing outside taught 1980s kids that dirt isn’t bad. Everything is antibacterial nowadays. We didn’t even know what that was back then apart from the Dettol you put on an amputation because ‘Buggered if I’m going to A&E at this time of night’ (standard rural parent’s cry), or the TCP you used after you’d had your ears pierced.

We were imaginative. We used wide open spaces as our make-believe worlds. We weren’t confined to bedrooms or lounges.

We could traverse grass, climb trees, balance on plank,s and build forts from scratch with our hands. There was nothing quite like it and I’m sad for some of today’s swaddled children and the empty streets I see around houses.

What’s Health and Safety?

On my estate as long as you ducked your head, watched where you put your feet, never said anything derogatory about someone’s mum, and didn’t get gobby with the rough kids, you were healthy and safe. That’s all the guidelines that we needed.

I know Health and Safety has its place but sometimes when it comes to today’s kids many are wrapped up in cotton wool. We learn about the world by taking risks, learning from them, and trying new things out. I know we have to protect children too but sometimes it goes too far.

I’m not painting an idealised picture of the 1980s. It’s wrong that we didn’t have to wear seatbelts in the back of a car until 1989, and other such idiotic lapses. However, we were freer then to get into scrapes without someone threatening to sue or declaring it as a tragedy.

I fell out of trees. I scraped my knees regularly. I had a kid lob a boulder at my head and a lump the size of a grapefruit bulged out of my head along with my friend’s head being split open. The little bastard was effectively dealt with by my mother. That kid soon learnt what her version of Health and Safety was.

We had a park built on concrete, with a high climbing frame, rusty swings, and a ropey slide. We used to take bets on who would break their arm or need a tetanus injection that particular week. The benches were so worn that an evening having splinters taken out of your arse was a regular occurrence.

We survived.

Yes, things have improved but some kids seem to be a lot more fearful and closeted nowadays. Not all, but many. I say this as an ex-teacher and observer.

If the Shops Are Shut the World Doesn’t End

What 1980s kids could teach kids today - closed on sundaysI remember how every Sunday we accepted that the shops weren’t open. If we hadn’t got our penny sweets stash in on Saturday then that was tough.

Any smart kid would make sure they’d got their comics, snacks, and stickers for their albums so that they could spend a lazy Sunday in bliss.

Parents learnt to make sure that the ingredients for the Sunday roast were all there. Woe betide us all if there was no gravy. No one made that mistake twice.

We accepted that the shops shut for a few days over Easter and Christmas. We didn’t fall to pieces. We were just thankful to that God person for giving us some time off school and work. The least we could do was not moan at Him for shutting the shops for a bit.

We survived Sundays and holidays. We didn’t do Armageddon style shopping that you see happen in supermarkets at Christmas time nowadays. If we ran out of something, we asked a neighbour or went without.

As kids we used our goods as a bartering system for the losers who forgot to stock up. We became mathematical, cunning geniuses.

Photographs as Surprises

Back then we were crap with cameras. How many photos have you seen from the ‘80s where heads have been lopped off or someone’s finger takes up all the image?

Because we couldn’t instantly see what we had taken a picture of – even Polaroids didn’t show us the set-up – getting photos developed was always a surprise.

We’d spend our hard-earned pocket money on developing services only to find that half of them didn’t print out, a few of them were from when your sister borrowed your camera and took them of herself in the mirror wearing her new dress, and most have your mates sticking up a finger or two. David Bailey had nothing to fear from us in the ‘80s.

We did, however, have one up on today’s kids. We didn’t know what a selfie was or even attempt to do one. We really didn’t think we were that special that we needed to have a camera in our face all day.

We often hid from our family’s cameras at Christmas or got our mates to take a picture of us on their camera. We’d then laugh as we saw that we were making obscene gestures. ‘80s kids were definitely not posers.

We also didn’t feel the need to take pictures of every meal we ate. If we had done that our mums would have given us a slap across the head for not eating our dinner.

Also because the most exotic thing we ever ate was Findus Crispy Pancakes or Arctic Roll, it was hardly worth the effort of taking a photo.

Music Was Gold

Back in the 1980s if a song reached number one it would have sold a heck of a lot of to get there. We committed ourselves to our favourite artists in our millions.

What 1980s kids could teach kids today - Into the GrooveNowadays you don’t need to sell many or accrue much by the way of downloads, in comparison to the ‘80s, to reach the number one spot.

I love that music can now be accessed with one swipe. I wouldn’t change that for anything. I love having music with me at all times. However, I wonder if we valued our music a little more back then. Hear me out…

We were committed in that if we wanted a copy of our favourite single we’d have to go to a record store and buy it. No downloading for us.

If you lived in a town like mine this meant going to the local newsagent. They often wouldn’t have the top five because they’d sold out. A bus trip to a larger town or city would have to be planned and executed to get that coveted record.

We taped the Top 40 every Sunday evening. We would hide under a blanket and hope that what our gitty brothers told us about there being a van outside with radar that can detect our illegal recording wasn’t true.

We would have to perfect the art of stopping the recording just before the DJ spoke and recording just as he announced the record. This wasn’t easy. Many ‘80s kids still have sore fingers from the repetitive strain of pressing down hard simultaneously on the ‘play’ and ‘record’ buttons.


Music was like gold dust to us back then. I don’t think today’s kids love their music or adore their bands any less than we did. I think they could learn from ‘80s kids what passion we had for getting our hands on it though.

Talking ‘Bout My Generation

We all have rose-tinted specs when we start yapping on about when we were nippers. I loved the 1980s but some of it was pretty crap as well.

What 1980s kids could teach kids today - bad '80s haircutEvery generation has to make the most of the one they’re in right now. That doesn’t mean that they cannot learn from the kids that went before them though.

If it feels like a lecture just let them laugh at our fashions, haircuts, and that one school photo we wish we could all burn. You know the one I mean? The picture your mum always showed any potential spouses from the moment you start dating.

I’m happy to be the old git I am now but some days I’d love to be that kid again, playing ‘Bulldog’, learning fruity language, getting excited when the ice cream van rocked up, and just feeling free.

Thank goodness I’m a writer and I can.

Do You Want to Join a Group to Get Nostalgic About the 1980s?

I have a Facebook group for those born before or during the 1980s, in the UK, to share your memories, photos, mishaps and laughs. It’s called Living on a UK Estate in the 1980s but you DO NOT have to have lived on a council estate to join. Come join us!


About Lisa Sell

Lisa Sell is a fiction writer. When she's not wrestling with words she can be found showing the love for chocolate, cheese, coffee, books, the cats, and the husband. Perhaps not in that order.

12 comments on “What 1980s Kids Could Teach the Kids of Today

  1. Awesome post! Brings back some great memories 🙂

    I was sorting through some old sheet music yesterday and found some song lyrics that my friend and I had copied out on paper because back then you couldn’t Google the words and print them off!

    Somewhere I still have some old mix tapes. Some of them are off Atlantic 252 and they are terrible quality! That was probably early 90s, I think, but before CDs came in.

    And the joys of the Beano, my little pony sticker albums and penny sweets 🙂

    And I would regularly walk to my friends house 15 mins away to get her out of bed at the weekend because it was more effective than a phone call haha.

    1. Some great memories here!

      I remember buying ‘Smash Hits’ for the lyrics and learning them religiously.

      I found some mix tapes when I last moved house. I cannot believe how poor quality they were and that I made do with crappy recording from the radio. I guess we had nothing to compare it to so it seemed like a great idea at the time.

      I love that this post had brought back some great memories for you. That was my intention. Thanks for sharing them with me.

    2. As I said on my tweet, no beano but I do remember subscribing to and reading the Lisa Frank newsletter.

      Back when to join a group you had to do it snail-mail, with postage included. Expensive.

      Having a phone in my bedroom as a teen was a privilege I had to beg, borrow, and connive my parents into letting me have. And I was one of the lucky few who got their parents to say “yes”.

  2. What a great idea Lisa and I agree with everything you say. I hope this book of yours materialized because it could really teach kids (and parents) a thing or two.
    It’s hard writing a book though. If you’re like me, you start off full of enthusiasm but as time goes by … well, I wake up every morning with the intention to write, but when the sun goes down I haven’t written one word. You wouldn’t have some advice on that, would you?

    1. Good to hear from you Conny. My book is fiction so I’m not sure how much it will educate but I certainly hope it entertains.

      Writing is a tough gig. I’m not a guru and I don’t like to enforce writing ‘rules’. I’ve had times when I can’t write due to illness and bad life things. I have had to pick it back up slowly but surely. All I can advise is the smallest bit of writing is writing. Don’t listen to guilt. It paralyses the mind.

      Thanks so much for commenting and I wish you well.

  3. I grew up in the sixties, so you can take what you have written and multiply it by, say, ten. I have to confess I have a built in aversion to the ‘rose tinted spectacles’ view of the world as my parents said the same thing about us and my grandparents said the same thing about them. Not that what you have written didn’t make me smile, it did, but the world moves on, some things better, some things get worse. Was it ever so.

    My own kids grew up in the 2000’s and it freaks me out when I hear people my age complaining about the ‘millennials’ as being ‘entitled’ and all sorts of terrible things because they’re all not, although I know some are, the same as goes for any generation.

    My kids all played soccer to a high level, go camping and hiking, play instruments and are fully formed young adults making their way in the world. Just like we did.

    My youngest, Heather, is about to fly off to volunteer in a house building project in Sri Lanka, so God alone knows when I’ll see her again. But this is the kind of things these ‘useless’ kids do. They care about the planet, they care about prejudice, they care about injustice and they don’t mind telling you.

    Do I look back on my childhood with fondness? Not really. It was a world where the grown-ups ruled because they said so. I hated Sundays because of the boredom. I hated having to visit decrepit old relatives who wanted to kiss you. I hated just about everything about being a kid in the sixties.

    When the seventies came along, I found the world and came alive.

    Good blog though Lisa. You at least got me thinking (or should that be feeling?)

    1. I certainly don’t have rose-tinted specs about the 1980s, have no fear Ian! This post is nostalgic in its tone but I could certainly write an opposite one as to how I wish I’d been born now as well. That said, I have great memories of the ’80s and I’m grateful for the decade that shaped me, not least because it’s giving me lots of writing material!

      I hope you understand that my intention was never to ‘do down’ young people today. I taught a lot of them and I know their potential. Every generation has its issues. That never changes.

      I just wanted to step back to a time that was so very different from now, have a few laughs and poke fun at us oldies who tell kids how hard we had it.

      I’m glad it got you thinking and feeling though. Thanks for sharing your perspective with me. It got me thinking too.

  4. Love this. Pretty much all of this has come up in my conversations with my kids. Just an eighties girl talking at two millennials who just don’t get it!
    Daughter: ‘Oh God, she’s going to start telling us about how they only had three TV channels…’
    Son: ‘Until Channel 4 came. Channel 4 was so exciting. It was a whole new channel! With Countdown!’
    (They only know about Countdown because of ‘8 out of 10 Cats does Countdown’)

    1. I know what you mean! When I was teaching and making ’80s references, my pupils would often look at me like I was 100 years old and waiting for the tumbleweed to billow across the room.

      I love that your kids get the Countdown thing although I feel somewhat ashamed that it’s one of our greatest TV series created in the 1980s. No offence intended if you’re a fan!

      Do join the group I’ve listed at the bottom of this post if you’re interested in talking to others who will understand your 1980s references!

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