Family Life

Telling My Teens About the “Old Days” When I Was a Kid

“Mom, did they have paper plates when you were little?”

I looked at my teen who had just asked this question. He had to be joking, right? But he stared at me with all seriousness.

My teenager thought we didn’t have paper plates when I was little? Yikes!

“Believe it or not, we did,” I replied. Seeing that his history class wasn’t teaching him anything about the reality of life in the 20th century, I took it upon myself to educate him about the past.

“But there are a lot of things you take for granted that were different when I was growing up,” I told him.

And then I shared the 12 following facts about life in the olden days—otherwise known as the 80s:

1. We had to lick the back of stamps before we stuck them on an envelope. There were no self-adhesive stamps for us.

2. We had to carry our luggage onto the plane. In fact, that’s why those small pieces of luggage are called carry-ons. They didn’t have wheels or retractable handles.

3. People didn’t get cash when they won on Wheel of Fortune. They had to use their winnings to go shopping for things like a sofa and a ceramic dog sculpture.

4. Wrapping paper didn’t have lines printed on the inside. We had to wing it and hope that we could cut straight.

5. We found our way to new places by using a map. No, not Google Maps. A folded paper version that you bought at a gas station and kept in the glove box.

6. During most of my childhood, the phone was attached to the wall by a cord.

7. If I wanted to know the weather or what time it was, I had to make a phone call. I also called the movie theater and listened to a recording of movie showtimes.

8. Speaking of the movies, there were no movie theaters with stadium seating. If someone sat directly in front of me, then I got a view of half the screen and the back of someone’s head.

9. My generation also endured the New Coke fiasco. New Coke replaced the original formula. But no one liked New Coke and we went back to old Coke. It was a confusing time.

10. The internet did not exist. If I had a question, I had to ask someone, use an encyclopedia, or visit the library.

11. Texting, Snapchat, and TikTok didn’t exist either. If I wanted to reach people, I wrote them a letter, passed them a note in school, or called them on the phone.

12. When I liked a song on the radio, I had three choices to listen to it again: tape it off the radio with a tape recorder; buy the cassette at the mall without listening to any of the other songs; or buy the single as a 45 and listen to it on my record player.

“What’s a 45 or a cassette?” my teen asked.


“Just Google it,” I told him.

“But we did have paper plates, kid!” I said with passion. “Don’t you ever forget it.”

This article was originally published in July 2024.

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