21 Things We Did as Kids in the 70s and 80s That Would Horrify Us Now

21 Things Kids Did in the 70s and 80s That Would Horrify Us Now #humor, funny, gen x, listicle, top 10As a Gen Xer, I so enjoy reminiscing about the freedoms we had growing up in the 70s and 80s. Our parents take on safety and acceptable ways to spend one’s time was different from the get go.  Starting with baby-proofing, which in no way resembled what it is today.

In fact, I recall being given green Mr. Yuk stickers (which were basically like yellow happy face stickers that had just thrown up) to put on anything that was toxic: chemicals, cleaning supplies, etc. I remember showing my mom the stickers we’d been given at preschool and her telling me to “go for it” (yes, I was to baby-proof my own house).

So, I actively searched my house for toxins. I checked cabinets that I’d never even thought to open before, climbed on the sinks to get to all the medicines. It was like anti-baby proofing. I slapped the stickers on all my new found poisons and added one to the vegetable crisper, for good measure. Now, as a parent myself, my own parents like to tell me I’m too overprotective.


“Well, you survived,” they say.

“Yep, but it seems like the odds were against me.”

Here are a few things many of us did growing up that make me wonder how our generation survived …

1. Thinking the middle seat in the front was the best seat because you could get crushed into the dashboard … I mean, because you got to control the five radio stations.

2. Being totally inaccessible — from after school or camp until dinner. Now, we would call that being lost.

3. Having an equal intake of air: 50% oxygen, 50% secondhand smoke. 4. Thinking that SPF 4 was responsibly using sunblock.

5. Thinking the haze of Solarcaine we were engulfed in was a healthy way to heal the second-degree burns we inevitably got from using SPF 4.

6. Getting excited when someone had a pick-up truck because that meant the kids got to ride on the flatbed.

7. Sitting on Dad’s lap and manning the steering wheel.

8. Eating salami straight from the log.

9. Playing on a rusted swing set where that one leg always popped out of the ground threatening to propel itself into space and then came back with a thud.

10. Helmets? No one wore them, and if you did, you were super geeky … protecting your nerdy brain and all.

11. Being a latchkey kid. The first couple times I stayed home, I parked a chair right inside the screen door and just sat there staring out so I could see my mom pull up (also, the world could see I was alone with an open door, brilliant).

12. Fearlessly scaling fences, climbing trees, playing in the woods, and jumping streams without a parent in sight to save us (hell, we used to ride our bikes through a cemetery).

13. Running into the store to buy an adult cigarettes.

14. Nerf Shmerf — oh, we had them, but cap guns and BB guns were way more likely to shoot your eye out … we preferred them.

15. Car seats? Bahwawawahaha. My dad drove me around on the back shelf of his convertible in a Moses basket. “Oops, she was here a minute ago, must’ve hit a bump.”

16. And forget seat belts — I barely sat in the seat at all, lying across the back windshield of my mom’s Mercury Marquis, or popping up and down from the floor was way more fun.

17. Jumping on beds until they collapsed. I was once under a bed when that happened (everyone involved got punished, including me).

18. Babysitting at 11 — In my town, once you were able to dial 911, you were considered a candidate for babysitting jobs.

19. Eating unwrapped things people handed you in stores — like pretzel logs from the bank.

20. Being left in the car with the windows cracked to wait for your mom to do the grocery shopping because you didn’t feel like going in or she told you to stay because it was quicker to do it without you.

21. Running around until sundown without a care in the world, a phone in your pocket, or shoes on your feet.

And of course please share these with your Gen X friends and add the things you did back in the day that would most likely land someone in an ER, jail, therapy, or on the no play-date list — nowadays.

42 thoughts on “21 Things We Did as Kids in the 70s and 80s That Would Horrify Us Now

    1. H falise

      We crammed 2 friends into the trunk to Save the $1 ea at the drive thru… illegal, unsafe and cheap all at once!

    2. David

      1…I remember riding in back of my uncle Philip’s pickup truck and if you were lucky you would get the wheel hub to sit on.
      2…. Riding my moped with my friends on the back with no helmets.
      3… We would actually ride a big a blue Ford tractor through a suburban neighborhood.
      4 …Go looking through the neighborhood to see who’s available to play tackle football.
      I can go on……great memories!

  1. Ribena Tina @ ribenamusings

    Love it! I used to sit in the boot of my dad’s beetle for some reason!

    Running around outside with nothing on my feet all of summer. Loving Summer because I always had to go home when it got dark so basically I was left to my own devices until 10.30pm at night at 10!

  2. The Shitastrophy

    I grew up at the beach. My mother would bring us at 9 am and we would leave at 5. She kinda knew where we were during that time, but not really because she rotated her chair with the sun and hello – lifeguards are there to save us…not her.

  3. Allison B

    Yep, I started babysitting at 12 and I was out of the house until the street lights came on. I also rode my bike to the mall so I could do nothing but annoy the employees there. I had so much freedom as a kid, my kids won’t experience.

  4. Joy

    Starting when I was six years old and my brother was eight, my mom would drop us off at the park in the morning in our bathing suits and we’d be first in line when the city pool opened at 11. I’d usually get bored and walk to the library (seven blocks away) around three or four, and read or talk to the nice homeless guy, Michael until my mom came to get us at six when she got off work.

    I started babysitting at nine. I cooked dinner at five. We were latchkey kids. Meanwhile, my daughter is six and isn’t allowed to play in the front yard without an adult present.

  5. LaurieK

    I’m a bit older so it was the 60s for me. At 7 I was allowed to ride my bike 2 miles to the corner store. I found a jackknife outside the store and the shop owner let me keep it. I took it to 2nd grade for weeks and whittled during recess. My teacher taught me how to use soap for whittling. And my mom thought it was wonderful!

  6. Heather

    We live in the country so my kids do 7 9 12 and 14. I dont make them wear helmets or use sunscreen unless they will be out for more than a couple hrs and my 9 and 11 yr old babysit my 5 and 8 yr olds. I guess I’m pretty old school.

  7. Rick Cicciarelli

    I grew up out in the countryside. We had a great time once hopping on the farmers cows and riding them as long as we could. Typically they would start running and then immediately stop causing said rider to fly off over the cows head. Oh..and can you say hay loft?? How much fun were those? Building forts (which would ultimately collapse leaving you buried in several hundred pounds of hay) or the rope swing that hung from the highest point in the barn, allowing you to climb the beams, swing across the barn and then let go, allowing you to sore and then drop like a rock (I sprained my ankle with one of the those jumps when I landed and my legs slipped down between two bails of hay while the rest of me kept moving forward). How about drain pipes…you know, those big ones that allow streams to flow under roads? We would try to find the longest, darkest drain pipes and explore to see where they went to.

  8. Chris

    We used to take the mattresses off our beds and ride them down the stairs! And we loved when our uncle babysat us because he had a big van, we would stand up in the back and he would drive us around looking for railroad tracks and hilly roads – redneck roller coaster 🙂

  9. Justin

    My dad used to tie a rope to a plastic sled, and then tie the other end to a pickup. He would fly down dirt roads that were covered in snow (during the winter) and we would ride in the sleds behind going anywhere from 10 mph to 40 mph

  10. Foxy Wine Pocket

    Yes to all of these. I spent a good portion of my childhood at my best friend’s house. Our favorite hang-outs were the roof and the attic. We used to use the attic rafters as balance beams.

  11. kristin stratos

    yes to all of the above… and we used to take turns in “the way back” of the Mean Green station wagon and tell my parents to “punch it” around corners so we could roll and thud against the opposite side. We also had Mom roll the back window down and we’d sit in the open window (tailgate) and ride around town, holding onto the luggage rack on top…. i have stayed out til dark, drank out of a water hose, pretty sure at one time I ate dirt, and ate anything neighbors or retail places would give us, and I’m still alive! 🙂

  12. Fred

    Pfft! All I’m reading is childs play here. I can remember in the mid to late sixties, playing in the Platte river at my Grandmothers place just downstream from Orchard Colorado. Although the river usually looked fine, I can remember warnings for phosphate levels that used to be in soaps and detergents that we had at the time. On occasion, there would actually be masses of suds traversing down river all the way from the Denver area.
    Now I can’t even imagine what we may have been swimming in. I’m sure water treatment at that time is nothing like it is today!
    Another activity we used to partake in was to head out to Lindgrens farm a few miles northwest of Yuma Colorado where there was a hill…..and an old larger tractor tire. We’d roll it up the hill, two of us would get inside of it, and the others would point it and give it a good shove. It was just over a quarter mile to the fence line, and that usually was sufficient to stop the ride if it went that far. The worst part of it was if when the tire stopped if you were unfortunate enough to be in the “top”. It would fall over, and I can remember it having a sound jolt when it hit the ground. Two or three trips were adequate to reveal the contents of what was recently consumed. We did it for years with the only real change being once someone with a license and pickup, pushing the tire back up the hill ended. And once one found the virtues of alcohol, one trip would forever end the days of “tire riding”!!!

  13. Brandi

    We used to have an old barrel that we would get in and push each other down the hills, or in the stairway. Also, once my brothers and I where swinging from the metal closet rod in the spare bedroom and got a small cut. I wouldn’t let him tell mom so it got infected. Another time we took the tether ball pole out of the ground and with the tether ball attached we played helicopter, helicopter please come down. I hit my brother in the head and he had to have stitches. How about the games we played at school? We used to play baseball with no equipment but a bat, ball and gloves. Floor mats where the bases. Jump rope games like Helicopter as earlier stated, or how about Red Rover? I mean would they encourage kids now to go running full speed into the clasped hands of other little kids now? lol how many people broke an arm on that one. But hey we may have scars but we survived!

  14. Natilo Paennim

    Good old Mr. Yuk! I remember him well.

    We lived a little less than a mile from a city lake. Starting when I was around 6, we’d get together a group of 4 to 6 kids and walk down there — with an 8 year old in charge, at first, then go swimming at the closer “beach” — a very small spit of sand with no lifeguard. Usually be gone for about 3 hours or so. And we’d frequently walk a mile or so to the library or the $.99 movie theater from the age of 7 or 8 on. I was always home for dinner, but certainly in the summertime it was considered salubrious to go back outside after eating and play for another few hours until it was really dark and/or the mosquitoes got bad. This all took place in a mixed working class/lower middle class neighborhood in the city. I don’t remember a single serious injury among any of the dozen or so kids I ran with. Halloween was a 3 hour slog through every accessible neighborhood, not ending until your pillowcase was almost too heavy to lift.

    And that was just the stuff we were approved to do! No telling how many fires I set or hazardous fumes I breathed in over the years.

  15. Will

    I grew up in a family with 6 kids and we had 1 car. A ’79 Toyota celica hatchback. My 2 brothers and I rode in the hatchback… everywhere!

  16. Christy

    Riding a big wheel down flight of stairs. Riding double on a bike that had a banana seat, while pulling someone on skates behind you with a rope tied to the seat downhill.

    Going to the beach in a car that was meant only for 5 people but had 10 of us it.

    Being able to stay at the beach all night. Now the beach closes at 10pm.

  17. Wendy

    I remember growing up like that…loved the hay loft!! In the winter I would spend the day ice exploring…which meant walking on the frozen river behind my grandparents house for hours. Completely safe, lol. My question though is what have we gained as a society with all of this hyper vigilance? Once my boys reached a certain age and maturity level, I gave them some freedom and my oldest (now 18) has definitely benefited from it.

  18. George Davis

    I grew up BEFORE Mr. Yuck but, we did all the things mentioned and more. I KNOW things are different today but, why? I have a lot of friends raising their kids today and they all worry themselves to death if their child gets dirty or if they can’t see them from where they sit. “Feed them dirt.”, I tell them. “It’s good for them”. We weaken their immune systems by protecting them from common germs. We squelch their sense of adventure when we don’t let them “explore” the world around them. They don’t develop survival skills because they are so “safe” they can’t have any fun. Just an old man who STILL likes to wander the woods and can find his way home.

  19. jaclyn schoknecht

    The most fun I had as a kid was at my cousins’ house on the farm. We’d shoot at cans with BB guns or whatever gun happened to be laying about. We’d run around in a wild pack of kids breaking into and exploring abandoned houses, throwing rocks at windows, catching stray animals and getting lost in the corn fields. I also had my first driving lesson at about 9 years old. It’s a miracle any of us survived childhood!

  20. MotherDuck

    I LOVE this. On the farm, we picked and ate blackberries and persimmons without thinking about washing them, played with (and kissed) the animals, waded in creeks, and climbed on the hay. Once I built a raft that promptly sank. Boys brought their rifles to school on the headache racks of their trucks, and thought nothing of pulling out a pocket knife during class. I get so aggravated sometimes with the current mindset. There really is a fine line between protecting children and coddling them.

  21. Cassandra

    Oh my goodness. Yes to about 19 of these. And I was just telling one of my kids about #20 last week. I HATED to go into the grocery store, and usually my mom did let me wait in the car.

  22. The_Animal

    Hell, it was a choice between…
    “But mommy, I don’t want to play outside today!”;
    “Well kid, I’ve got a whole bunch of chores for you to do then, kiddo.”
    “OK…see ya mom…be back at lunch!!!”
    Yeah…chores or play with your friends… it was an easy choice.

    Back during the 70s and 80s we’d go traipsing up into the woods and play there for hours on end. Nowadays MCFD (CPS for you American folks) would have a stinking cow because “OH MY GOD…COUGARS, BEARS…and FERAL DEER OH MY!!!” God forbid we kids were eaten by a lynx. ~cue Russell Peters East Indian accent~ “Well, if a cougar eats my offspring, I’ll just have another one…”

    I remember during the ’80s I used to have a 10-speed touring bike. It wasn’t meant for jumping it. It was the 80s…we jumped those bikes anyways but damn if it wasn’t hard on our asses and the wipeouts from the high up frame of the 10-speed were spectacular. Road rash extraordinaire. BUT DAMN…it was fun.

  23. Albert

    Believe it or not, you’ve brought back suck sweet and fond memories. I loved growing up in the 70s! Thank you!

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  25. Kim

    I remember playing at the park when I was 5 or 6 with my friend who was a year younger than me. We were alone and his dad was a cop. Nowadays that could never happen. Also it was so common for kids to go home and be alone until their parents got home from work. Were our parents stupid? Nobody thought anything of it at the time.

  26. 70s Survivor

    Great list! We did a lot of that. So fun! But I will add some:

    Running around in the white DDT fog of the mosquito truck because we could get lost from each other in it and yell each other’s names.

    Making 10 foot high bike ramps out of plywood and cinder blocks–that collapsed while our wheels were mid-plywood.

    Thinking we were impervious to death while our friends chunked sharp steel throwing stars at us as we knelt in the grass.

    Diving onto slip-n-slides at breakneck speed–while there were still kids on it.

    Jumping off of the pool house into the pool–while clearing 10 feet of concrete walkway.

    Playing hide-n-seek until midnight–with no lights, and usually barefoot.

    Getting rides home with new acquaintances of our parents–when we had walked too far away from home to walk back and make it that day.

    Eating unwrapped Halloween candy, like cookies and things.

    Playing toss-the-sock with 30 other Boy Scouts–in total darkness. Yep. Nosebleeds.

    Jumping on the back of moving vehicles to see if they would catch us doing it. Scraped craniums and visible ribs were a couple of results.

    But we survived somehow. We only had 3 TV channels, and when the President wanted to say something… well, what’ll we do now? Make up a new game, of course. The scarier the better. Go get the steak knives. Daddy left the new refrigerator box in the garage.

    1. Eliot

      I was going to say riding bike behind the DDT mosquito spraying truck! I can’t believe I am still alive.

  27. H falise

    Did anyone have one of those pocket dial alarm clocks (think kitchen timer except 12 hrs rather than 1)… the intent being you’d call from your friends place at the appointed time… when in reality you were miles away (thank God for pay phones!)

  28. Morgan

    There wasn’t a care for sugar content, fat, etc. Things were made with sugar not substances that caused cancer. Kids weren’t fat either – we were too busy running around playing kick the can.

  29. Barbara

    To be fair, SPF 15 back then was equivalent to wearing a tshirt. You couldn’t tan with that if your life depended on it. Now I can burn with 30. SPF meant something different then than it does now.

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