10 Things Kids in the 80s Did That Would Shock Kids Today

Kids in the 80s had quite the time just surviving, and their day-to-day exploits are sure to shock most kids today.

Published January 2, 2024
Child speaking on the phone

Phone books, library index cards, Saturday morning cartoons, rotary dials — the list of unique 80s touchstones goes on and on. Kids in the 80s had quite the time of just surviving, and the tales of their exploits might shock most kids today.

Every generation is a little starry-eyed nostalgic for their own childhood, and 80s kids are no different. These are some of the things kids in the 80s breezed through that you won't find kids today doing. 

1. Memorize Your Family & Friend's Phone Numbers

If you pop on down to the thrift store, you're bound to find a half-filled Rolodex just waiting for someone to take pity on it. That's because you only had so much space open in your memory banks for new phone numbers. In the 1980s, one of the first things kids did was memorize their family's phone number. If there was ever an emergency, you needed to be able to rattle it off like it was your SSN.

Kids today — with their 1TB contact storage on their phones — might not be able to imagine such a thing. 

2. Walk or Bike to School By Yourself

Of course, we can't talk about unique 80s kids' things without mentioning the age-old favorite of walking and/or biking to school by yourself. While crossing guards were a thing, there weren't a plethora of them. So, you’d see a ton of teeny elementary schoolers riding down highways to get to school on time.

With how strict bus and car rider travel is for kids now, they'd probably marvel at the idea of being able to tear up the road on their own.

3. Wait Until Saturday Morning to Watch Cartoons

Kid watching cartoons on TV

Streaming means that — if you're willing to pay for it — there's practically nothing you can't watch at the drop of a hat. But in the 80s, the prime time for cartoons was on Saturday mornings. You'd spend your entire week looking forward to whatever new cartoon was on cable. You, and all the other kids in your class, were at the mercy of whatever lineup the network wanted to put on.

The fact that not only did you have to wait for something to air on TV to see it, but also that you couldn't pick from more than a handful of channels would blow some kids' minds.

4. Find an Index Card to Check Out a Library Book

Checking out books at the library has gone so high-tech, that you can do it yourself! All you need is a library card. But in the 1980s, you hoped that you could find the index card for whatever resource book you needed for an upcoming project.

Flipping through card catalogs, finding the index card that matched, and getting it stamped with the date by your librarian is such a thing of the past. Let Gen Alpha loose in an old-school library, and they might not know where to start.

5. Get Locked Out of Your House in the Summertime

Now, millennial parents are notorious for having rebounded in the opposite direction as Boomer parents by taking a more attached parenting style. You know, location-tracking phones and apps are just the tip of the helicopter parenting iceberg.

But there's a reason the infamous "It's 10 p.m. Do you know where your children are?" PSA was even a thing. It's because many kids in the 80s were literally locked out of their house in the summertime until dinner (or later). It's a wonder any of them survived to have kids of their own.

6. Have to Read a Physical Map to Go Somewhere New

Couple sitting on road, looking at road map

Okay, now this one could be considered cruel and unusual punishment. Learning to read a physical map to navigate anywhere new is a skill we're glad to forget. But kids in the 80s could play navigator better than most truck drivers.

Considering reading road maps isn't taught in school anymore, Gen Alpha would throw in the towel if you asked them to use a road map from '83. And honestly, so would we.

7. Pile Into a Car Without Buckling in

When you're a toddler today, one of the first things you learn about car safety is how important putting your seatbelt on is. And though seatbelts were included in most cars by the 1980s, not every state had primary enforcement seat belt laws. This meant that there were gaggles of people, kids included, piling into metal death traps without even thinking about buckling in.

Kids today might not be as confused about this one as they would be horrified.

8. Skim the TV Listings to See What Was Coming On

The TV listings in your local paper or TV Guide were absolutely vital if you wanted to have any clue about what shows were coming on in the next few weeks. Without them, 80s kids were flying blind clicking through the handful of stations on their TV in the evening and hoping they managed to find a show they actually liked.

Since hardly anyone uses cable anymore, kids today would probably be frustrated at having to flip through pages and pages of listings to find something they wanted to see. Only to have their little hearts crushed when they realize it’s not coming on for another four days.

9. Have to Look Up Businesses in the Phone Book

Using Telephone Book

Want to call in a pizza for pickup or check with a video game store about what they have in stock, you can find their phone numbers in nanoseconds thanks to the internet. It wasn't that long ago that we kicked good ole Yellow Pages to the curb.

But if you were a kid in the 80s then you probably read the phone book for fun while you were sitting on the toilet. Phone books were filled to the brim with local phone numbers, organized by address or business, and your lifeline to anything outside of your mental Rolodex.

10. Call in DJ Requests So You Could Tape Your Favorite Songs

Before downloadable ringtones or Limewire, 80s kids were blowing up radio station call lines just to put in a specific song request. If you were making a mixtape for that special someone and needed a specific song, you had to wait with your boombox at the ready for it to play on the radio. Then you could record it and hope that the DJ didn’t talk over the intro.

The kind of effort kids in the 80s put into something as simple as recording a song they liked is unreal, and likely unimaginable to the tech whiz kids of today.

Quick 80s Trivia to Stump Your Kids

See how well your kids or grandkids have been listening to you go on and on about your childhood with these quick 80s trivia questions.

What was the name of the type of phone that was in everyone’s home in the 1980s?


What kind of radio signal did people usually listen to in the 1980s?

FM (Frequency Modulation)

What's the name of the organizational system used to keep library books in order?

The Dewey Decimal System

What does the DJ in radio DJ stand for?

Disc Jockey

Before you could look up phone numbers online you had to look them up in what item?

The phone book

What were the three major tv networks in the 1980s?


Before button telephones, what dial was used to punch in the numbers to call someone?

A rotary dial

Kids in the 80s Had It Rough

Ask a kid from the 80s about their childhood and they'll probably wax poetic about all sorts of highly questionable activities. Thanks to automation (and some common sense) many of these things are just relics of the past. But that doesn’t mean we can dust them off to shock modern kids every once in a while.

10 Things Kids in the 80s Did That Would Shock Kids Today