I was grade school aged during the late 1980s. Now that I’m a Mom, I find the 80s free-spirited approach to parenting fascinating.
I’ll start with gratitude. Without the 80s I might never have perfected the Aqua-Netted micro-wave in the front of my hair. I feel at ease asking for my dad’s preferred pack of Benson and Hedges at the local gas station and I remember when MTV played music videos.
Where would the 80s kids be without the signature 80s brand? The brand of staying home sick from school to catch the “Price is Right” followed by four hours of age inappropriate soap operas and little, if any parental supervision. The brand of encouraging sleepovers at homes in which my parents had never set foot. Homes where the liquor cabinet wasn’t locked or monitored. Where the dirty movie channels had no parental controls and therefore became the unfortunate source of 90% of our early sexual education.
I’m still in awe of the 80s ability to endorse a school lunch completely devoid of nutrition. Bologna sandwich on Wonder Bread slathered with mayonnaise in a brown bag adjacent to a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, Fruit by the Foot, and a Hi-C Cooler. Otherwise known as a delicious bag of sodium nitrate, sugar and Red Dye 40.
The 80s made sure kids’ survival skills were on point. We were latchkey kids. We spent 7 hours in school and walked 15 minutes home alone only to enter a house that would be vacant for the next 4 hours. We had to feed ourselves, start our own homework, and try not to get murdered by an intruder 5 days a week.
Weekends packed full of, well, nothing. They were a time when our parents would catch up on household chores and we would find ways to entertain ourselves. More often than not I would lace up my roller skates, pop a fresh mixtape into my Walkman and set out about the neighborhood. I would imagine I was a back-up dancer in a Madonna music video until the streetlights came on and I was expected to be home for dinner.
After dinner we might all take a trip to Blockbuster to rent a VHS tape. My parents didn’t agonize over G versus PG ratings and/or perpetuating gender stereotypes or cultural appropriations. They’d choose something like The Witches of Eastwick, say it was funny, and tell us to cover our eyes during the really weird parts.
On rare occasions when my parents would get a sitter, they weren’t necessarily concerned with CPR certification, references, or background checks. They opted for the teenager in our neighborhood who appeared to be sober most of the time.
Now that we are parents, my friends and I find the freedom we were given in the 80s fascinating. In today’s world where a parent can be shunned for sending a kid to the mailbox unaccompanied, many of the choices made for us in the 80s seem unimaginable. But alas, we turned out just fine. Those of us who lived to tell the tale, that is.