The Best of Times: Growing Up in the 1980s

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Holding a photo from 1980s.The television show “The Goldbergs” played in the background one night while cleaning up from dinner. I can’t say that I was really listening, until the end of one of the episodes when I caught the main character saying, “When it comes to my childhood, I may not always remember exactly when something happened or exactly who was there, but I do know that it was 1980-something….and it was awesome.”

You got that right, Adam Goldberg. That right there was growing up in the 1980s. Thanks for tying up my childhood in one pretty quote!

I loved growing up in the 1980s. All of it. The music, the clothes, the style, the movies. Some cheesiness, lots of bright colors, and hairspray clouds followed by a lingering smell of Love’s Baby Soft. All with a sense of freedom and innocence that our children don’t have today.

I Will Survive, Even if…

  • Menus had no calories listed.
  • WebMD was not around to convince us that we were dying, as minimal as our symptoms may be.
  • A landline telephone (cord and all) was answered without caller ID. We heard busy signals, there was no call waiting, and all of this was pre-answering machines. We may have even had to memorize a phone number or refer to a phone book.   
  • Speaking of phones – being out and about and searching for a telephone booth. Mom always told me to take a quarter with me, just in case.
  • Taking trips to the library to do research. Remember the card catalogs and the bookcases of encyclopedias?
  • Headed to college without a full FBI surveillance report on your new roommate. PS – I did not take the SAT seven times.

She Works Hard for the Money

  • Song lyrics. Man, those were hard to come by! Hoping and praying that the song lyrics were in the cassette or record you purchased. Otherwise, you may be singing hilariously incorrect lyrics until the end of time.
  • Battling boomboxes. The music was fun and engaging. Making mixtapes was a hobby.  This would involve sitting by the radio waiting for a song to come on to tape it. And as soon as you walked away, you know that song was played.
  • Pick a mall, any mall. We had to work for our purchases! Ordering “online” was not an option. If a store didn’t have your size, you’d either run around to all the Thom McAns or Fayvas in town – or you were often out of luck.
  • No cell phones meant that a camera was not readily available at every whim. If we remembered, we’d drag a camera around to parties and get-togethers. We did not take 100 pictures of one pose trying to get it “just right” because we’d use up all the film. In addition, we had no clue how the picture turned out because you couldn’t see it. And lastly, zero immediate gratification since we had to drop off the film to be developed and wait a few days until they were ready.   
  • There were phone numbers to call to hear the weather, movie times, sports scores, and even the exact accurate time of day. 

Glory Days

  • How lovely was the simplicity of no promposals, no gender reveal parties, and best of all, no sanctimommies!? We were raised without documented perfection of the “shoulds” and competition was not thrown in your face at every turn.
  • MTV had videos – as it should because the acronym literally stands for “Music Television.” And who didn’t love Friday Night Videos? And catching a random video on HBO in between movies was priceless!
  • We were able to meet family and friends at the airport when they landed and/or walk them to the gate for departure? We used to meet my grandparents at the terminal all the time. The running joke was that they would always be the last one off the plane.  They never disappointed us!
  • The term “play date” was not really a thing. This could be indicative of growing up in an apartment complex in NYC, but in our day we went out for hours and hours and simply played with the kids who were around. Thinking back, I believe this promoted less exclusion and more inclusion.
  • Relaxing, hanging out with friends, watching television, listening to music, etc. was what we did after school. An occasional sport or religious school, but little of it became life-consuming.

This is the Time to Remember

  • Adults felt more present – physically and emotionally. Many did the 9 to 5 thing and then they were done. No email, no texting, not too many home PCs, and minimal opportunity to work at home after hours (excluding certain professions, like doctors, of course).
  • No 24/7 mentality and less multi-tasking. And it was perfectly acceptable not having to get back to someone in 10 minutes. “No” was a true answer. It was not a “maybe.”
  • The ability to take a break from the drama – whatever it was. Whether it be work, school, or peer pressure, we were able to go home and shut it all down.
  • Let’s hear it for channels 2, 4, and 7! Basic television had three main channels to choose from. Television programming turned off at 2 a.m. or so – and then nothing but fuzz!  And if you stared at the fuzz too long, a poltergeist may or may not appear. Just me?   
  • Movies were not an all-day commitment, and we didn’t need a second mortgage to go to a baseball game with a family of four!
  • No LOLs, no IMO, no ILYs. Just a little Pig Latin or Valley Girl talk if we didn’t want our parents to understand what we were saying!

The End of the Innocence 

The 1980s are known as the decade of decadence. Much truth to that statement, and as entertaining as it was, it could have led to some of the struggles across the world today. That said though, growing up in the 1980s felt like a simpler and lighter time to grow up compared to today’s world. I believe in my heart that the 24/7 approach to life, enabled in large by technology, plays a part in this.

Now, I’m fully aware of how much we’ve benefitted from major advances in technology. My first experience with a computer was in sixth grade in 1982. I played Pacman sideways because the game did not fit on the screen. And I’m not complaining about DVR – that thing is brilliant! I mean, imagine the Rubik’s Cube today; we’d have the solution in a hot minute!

Technology corrected inefficiencies, yet produced other societal ones. Social Media can truly bring people together. However, it brings about other worries and pressures, which our kids are living with day in and day out.  

Growing Up in the 1980s

So yes, I’ll simplify my theory by saying Adam Goldberg was spot on and I did have an awesome childhood. Family and friends were the best of the best. On the tippy top of that list is my parents, who were always there when my sister and I needed them.

We were also surrounded by extended family and friends who were like family.  There was a true togetherness that our current world does not fully allow for. 

As much as we try, I’m not confident that my husband and I have been able to give our children that level of community and unity. Hopefully, we have been able to squeeze in some of the feels that I experienced in my upbringing. And if so, maybe they’ll look back 2010s/2020s as fondly as I do about growing up in the 1980s (pandemic aside). I can only hope so. If nothing else, I have seen two-tone jeans in the store – could be a sign that there are more 1980s comebacks on the way. 

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Melissa is a Bronx native who moved to Westchester County after she and her high school sweetheart got hitched in 1997. She and her husband live in Mount Kisco with their son Corey (2004) and daughter Mia (2007). Melissa spent many years working in Human Resources and currently works in enrollment and marketing for a child care organization. Melissa is a two-time survivor of Postpartum OCD. She initially became interested in writing to raise awareness for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders but has discovered that writing is a newfound aspect of her life that she thoroughly enjoys. Melissa is excited to write with the Westchester County Mom team and hopes you’ll enjoy her stories of the trials and tribulations of a born-n-raised city girl raising teenagers growing up here in Westchester.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Oh, things are coming back – scrunchies, stirrup pants, jelly shoes… but you’re right about that innocence being stolen by technology/social media. I lived in a development of townhomes and condos, and like you, just ran outside to play with whomever was out there. Can’t do that where I live now, on a busy road with no sidewalks or other kids. Guess I’m glad I was an 80s kid, too.

  2. I am a bit older than you. I graduated high school in 1980. I turned 18 in November 1979. I was surprised at how similiar the 1970s and 1980s were.
    1. We used phone books.
    2. We used camera with film and had to wait for them to be developed.
    3. Of course, there were no cell phones
    4. We played outside with whoever was around
    5. We knew our neighbors.
    6. Public schools were not in the mess that they are now.
    7. There was no list of school supplies to buy.
    8. We went to the neighborhood school and homeschool was thought to be really “out there”.

    Sometimes, I wish I was younger and then I look at what the parents of young children and teens have to deal with and then I am truly thankful that I was born when I was. Even the 1980s was ok.

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