I feel fortunate to have spent my summers as a barefoot child of the ’80s. We’d bust out the sprinkler on a super hot day, and if we were lucky, my mom would let us have two freeze pops instead of one. But alas, summers of yesteryear are long gone, and there is quite a big difference in how the children of the ’80s spent their summers compared to how our kids spend them today.
Here are a few differences between the summers of my youth and the summers of kids today:
First of all, summer didn’t start with a party every other year. No one threw you a bash on your last day of elementary school or your last day of middle school. No one congratulated you until you were done with your final year of high school, and even then you were happy to have a cookout with family and a few friends. There were no limos or fancy dinners commemorating any type of degree like there are today. And our parents would have laughed their asses off had anyone suggested it.
If we were bored, our parents couldn’t have cared less. I don’t even remember telling my parents I was bored because I knew what would happen if I did — they’d pile on a bunch of chores. No, thank you. So we busied ourselves, made our own fun, and used our imaginations without any screens (except afternoon soaps and Saturday morning cartoons, of course).
My mom would tell us to go away when she’d had enough, and as long as we stayed in the neighborhood, she was cool with it. She didn’t have a way to keep track of us, nor did she have any desire to do so. She wanted quiet time to sip on a Tab and give herself a home perm without kids asking for shit every second.
My parents went to work and left us alone all day. My sisters and I would spend a lot of time watching soap operas like All My Children and Another World even though we weren’t supposed to. Then we’d drink some Pepsi Free out of the bottle that was sitting in our avocado green refrigerator and make some prank calls.
There was no history to check when they arrived home and my parents would be tired from working all day. We were told to play outside before and after dinner, and our cue to come in was when it got dark. Every day was different and we were never running around trying to get to the next activity. We actually had time to breathe, and parents of the ’80s never felt an ounce of guilt about this.
My mom put sunscreen on us before going to the beach, but after that, forget it. We didn’t reapply every hour, SPF 70 didn’t exist, and I never saw kids wearing swim shirts. My baby sister would wade around in her diaper and we’d pack a shovel to play with. Just one. If it wasn’t your turn with the shovel, you’d grab a shell or stick and make the best of it. My mom would pack sandwiches, a bag of chips, and a container of Kool-Aid and we were good for the day. My mom read her book and kind of ignored us.
These days we slather our kids with the safest sunscreen and they all look like they’ve been dipped in glue as they run around in the sand also sporting a protective shirt and hat. (Okay, so that’s actually a good improvement.) We pack loads of organic snacks in case anyone gets hungry as well as a cooler full of healthy lunch foods. A mountain of toys is always in tow. Parents are sweaty, exhausted, and pissed by the time they hit the sand.
And hours and hours. It was magical and fun and we’d lie in bed exhausted and excited to get up and do it again the next day. There were times we’d ride for miles just to get an ice cream or meet up with a friend and it was worth all the work.
I drove by our local skate park the other day and instead of seeing kids skateboarding and biking on the jumps on their high-end wheels, they were all sitting there with their head in their phones not speaking to each other.
I loved writing letters to my best friends even though they only lived a few miles down the road. Summer seemed long, and it was hard not to see them every day. Sure, we would have talked on the phone more, but call waiting didn’t yet exist. My parents would limits my calls to about 10 minutes a pop. We communicated and knew how to write full words with fun sentences.
These days our kids communicate every second through their phone without talking at all. Their messages are full of abbreviations. They send pictures of random shit through SnapChat. Just the other day, I watched my daughter take a quick picture of her foot and send it to someone. When I asked her what she was doing, she explained you can’t keep a chat “open” or it means you are blowing them off. In other words, if they send you a picture and you see it, but don’t send something back as soon as possible, you are blowing them off. Apparently a picture of your big toe lets them know you still dig them — go figure.
If you grew up in the ’80s, chances are you loved your childhood summers, which consisted of figuring shit out without Google. Your parents did what they thought was best and they owned it. They didn’t look to a Facebook group to see what everyone else was doing. Mommy Wars didn’t exist, and I think this is the reason why I kind of envy my mom and her friends. They knew who they were and how they wanted to parent.
There are some things that are better (and much safer) these days, of course. And maybe I’m biased, but I’m going to say it anyway: summers back then were better and I’m grateful for all those memories — even if I was a little bored.