Things We Did in the ’80’s That Are Completely Unacceptable Today

Life in America has changed in the past 30-40 years.  It always does.  As kids in the 80’s we remember, like kids today, that things are never going to change and they’ll always be the same, no matter what happens. Except for the Rubix Cube, there are few remnants of the 80’s that are still with us today.  Gone are the parachute pants, neon leg warmers, big hair, mullets (in most areas) and Cabbage Patch Kids.  While those things are gone, they just things.  Also gone with the 80’s are some things we did that were completely acceptable then, but would turn social media into a firestorm today.

Here are things we did in the 80’s that can’t be done today:


Photo by Mike Meyers

7 Digit Phone Numbers

Unless you were calling somebody out of your area code, you used to just be able to pick up a phone and dial 7 digits.  You also had to memorize all of your friends’ numbers or carry around a “little black book“.   Little black books came with some inherent problems.  Now, you have to dial the area code for all phone calls, but the good thing is you just have to press one button to do it unless you’re still one of those 80’s kids holding on to their flip phone.  Here’s another 80’s phone tidbit.  When you moved homes, you lost your phone number and had to get a new one.  Oh, the horror!  In the 80’s there was no caller ID of course and when the phone rang, you had absolutely no idea who it was…and everyone used to rush to the phone to be the first to answer it.


Photo by Domiflicks

Riding in the Back of a Pickup Truck

Sure, it’s done today in casual environments, in parks, at the beach, etc, but back in the 80’s it was done on the highway, the neighborhood roads and pretty much everywhere you need to fit a bunch of people into the back of a pickup truck.   Now, riding in the back of a pickup truck can result in a rather large fine and points on your license.  Unless you live in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.  Those states have no laws against riding in the back of a pickup truck.

Photo by Martijn Baudoin

Supermarket Black Lists

This next one is right out of how to trigger the politically correct.  It wasn’t uncommon to go to a supermarket checkout in the 80’s and see a large sign at the cash register that read “Do Not Accept Checks From These People”, with a long list of local deadbeats who habitually bounced checks at the store.  On top of that, there was also a credit card book in many stores that had a list of people who passed bad credit cards since it was all done manually back then.  Today, this public shaming would not sit with with the modern liberal left.

Knocking on a Stranger’s Door and Asking to Use Their Phone

In a time before cell phones and in areas without pay phones, if you had an emergency and needed to make a phone call, your only option was to just knock on a random door and ask to use their phone.  This was a much more acceptable thing to do in the 60’s and 70’s but by the 80’s it was still happening, you just had to be more selective in predetermining which house was the one without the mass murderer or pedophile before knocking.  That can be done by looking at the vehicle in their driveway, how well manicured the front garden was and of course, a quick sneak peak into the family room window before knocking.


Having Your Kids Buy Your Cigarettes

It was totally acceptable to send your child, even those under 10 to the corner store to grab you a few packs of smokes, a gallon of milk, and a few lottery tickets.  No questions were asked and it was not frowned upon by anyone.  Now, regardless of how old you are, you’re usually asked for ID to buy cigarettes.  In the 80’s there were also cigarette vending machines and it was nothing at the bowling alley to send your kids with a couple dollars to get  you a fresh pack of smokes while you bowl yourself into mediocrity every Friday and Saturday night.

Smoking and Drinking in School and Work

The hallway near the teacher’s lounge was the one most students dreaded walking by.  If luck wasn’t on your side, as you passed, the door would open and the stench of air saturated with a thick cloud of Camels, Marlboros and Chesterfields would ooze out of the lounge like mustard gas through the trenches of a World War I battlefield.  It was also known that booze often flowed freely in the teacher’s lounge.  Some teachers even kept a flask in their top drawers for a between class swig.  On the work front, smoking in your office was not just normal, there was absolutely nothing at all wrong with it.  Even into the 90’s many businesses permitted smoking in the office and at your desk.  Today, smoking is not only frowned upon inside schools and office buildings, it’s often relegated to one small spot far removed from humanity in the form of the “designated smoking area”.

It was also common to smoke on airplanes and in hospitals in the early 80’s.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema

Just Showing Up at a Friend’s House

If you were sitting at home bored with nothing to do, it was an acceptable social practice to just get up and go to your friends house, knock on the door and see what happens.  Whether you ended up going inside and hanging out for the day watching tv, playing games or ended up going on some outdoor journey that ended in a few scrapes, bumps and bruises, it was how things got done as a kid in the 80’s.    There were no playdates or organized activities by parents and their kids.  In the ’80s, it all just happened on the fly, with no pre-planning and no real purpose.

Photo by Eduardo Soares

Let Your Kids Freely Roam the Neighborhood the Yelling Their Names At Dusk

So in some areas, sure, kids still play outside, but let’s face it. If it was under 100 degrees, it wasn’t a torrential downpour or less than six inches of snow were on the ground, your parents definitely weren’t letting you sit on the couch and do nothing.  They would force their kids outside and in many cases, hope they didn’t come home until the street lights came on…and for your sake, if you weren’t home within a few minutes of the street lights coming on, you better be prepared (see spanking your children below).   The evening cattle call was commonplace in most neighborhoods in the 80’s as kids forgot mom was home cooking dinner.  The neighborhood screams started each night around 5 or 6 p.m.  “Jooooooeey!”  “Richhhaaard!”   Names rang through the neighborhood as children ran from the woods or front lawn they were playing in to get home before their mother crossed the threshold of a friendly reminder to a blatant disregard for her authority (again, see spanking your kids below).  Coming home as a kid in the 80’s was a fine line.  If you came home too early, your mother would give you the inquisition about why you’re home so soon…too late and, well, we all know what happened in that scenario.


Politically Incorrect Halloween Costumes

In the 80’s pushing the limits on Halloween costumes was nothing out of the ordinary. That’s why so many middle-aged 80’s kids today are getting themselves in trouble with their 80’s costume.  Blackface wasn’t frowned upon in the 80’s. Neither was pushing racial, sexual and provocative themes in Halloween costumes.  Many Halloween costumes in the 80’s, if work today could get you into a bit of trouble, maybe losing your job, or worse, ending with your arrest for a hate crime.


By the time the 80’s ended and we became more aware that every other driver on a highway was seeking their next victim to rape or cannibalize, hitchhiking started going out of style.  At the start of the decade, for many hitchhiking was your primary source of travel, especially in rural communities with no public transportation.  As the decade rolled on, hitchhikers started becoming more suspicious of motorists and motorists started becoming more suspicious of hitchhikers.  You can probably blame Hollywood for that for movies like The Hitcher and the HBO series The Hitchhiker.  Both aired in the mid-80’s and most likely contributed to the downfall of hitchhiking in America.


Spanking your children in public

Many would argue that the moratorium on spanking your children imposed in the late 1990’s has brought upon the downfall of American civilization, but in the 80’s a public display of parental ass-whooping was commonplace.   Nobody stared and gawked.  Nobody called child services. Nobody judged. In fact, sometimes parents would give each other tips on how to better discipline their unruly kids.    As a child, you never wanted to be on the wrong side of a public spanking, especially if your friends were around at the time.  In America, disciplining children is something you do behind closed doors and with caution to make sure word doesn’t get out that you’re trying to raise respectful kids who know the difference between right and wrong.  Today, some of the spankings we received could land parents in jail and lead to lengthy investigations by state child services.

Title Photo by Eric Nopanen on Unsplash