7 Things We Did Growing Up that Our Children Would Never Understand


Remember those conversations you had with your grandparents, back when you were a child, where they told these fantastical tales about things my generation would never experience or see a need for. Like, walking 20 miles to school … in the snow … uphill … shoeless. Or running into gypsy bandits that lived in the woods near their houses or even sitting around the radio to listen to your favorite shows?

As crazy as all of that sounded (exaggeration aside), I’m pretty sure the things I grew up doing as a Gen Xer would sound equally ridiculous to my own children. Yes, I imagine these are the yarns I will spin as my kids grow up and they have kids of their own.

“Well, youngin’s, you think you’ve got it tough with your Facebook and your Google and your iParaphernalia? Why, in my day, we had to …”

1. Work a car with our own two hands. Sure, people in the old old days didn’t have automatic transitions, or steering for that matter, but do you know what my generation had to do? We had to pull up the locks with our fingers!!! And that’s not all, if you wanted a breeze or to let out an odor or some cigarette smoke (oh, everyone smoked in my day, even the kids), you had to turn a crank around and around and around to simply open the window a crack. And don’t get me started on positioning the seat!

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Also, there was no guarantee you would make it out alive as seat belts were merely suggested and you were allowed to sleep along the ledge of the back windsheild or sit in the front middle seat, by the time you were talking. Not that you had a proper car seat leading up to that point anyway. No, the only thing between you and a windshield was your mom’s outstretched arm.Thanks mom.

2. Turn the channel. Oh, kids … you think rolling down the window seems exhausting? Try lumbering over to the television. EVERY TIME you want to change the channel. I kid you not, the channels were located on the set … and there were only 13 of them! And only like four of them had anything worth watching!

And sometimes you had to walk to the TV across a shag carpet that shocked you as you shuffled! That’s right, an actual electric shock!

And you HAD to watch all the commercials!

And if the show you were watching didn’t get good reception, you may have to adjust the bunny ears or just stand there and hold them for the duration of the show, because the TV inevitably worked better when you were touching (or near) the antenna, to ensure you never got to sit back down.

And if you did eventually get cable and a remote, it probably had a wire connected to the TV that everyone tripped on as they entered the room. And it only had like 2 buttons (up and down) so you had to go through each channel to get to the one you wanted orrrrr, your remote had a turn dial that rotated, kind of like a rotary phone except it didn’t rotate back at you. What do you mean, what’s a rotary phone? Sheesh, forget it. Why don’t you just go watch the Disney XD on your iPhone or something?

3. Put a needle on the record. Sooooo, they used to have these big round disc-like things called records. Maybe you’ve seen one in a YouTube video where someone is DJ’ing. They were like super-sized CDs. I’m sorry, you don’t know what that is? Umm DVDs? Sure, we can say Blu-rays if it makes you happy. Anyhoo, you had an arm with a needle that had to be placed on the record to play a song, but you had to be super careful when you put it on because the slightest pressure could scratch the whole thing. You know, like the way you have to use your Sonicare toothbrush — gently and let it do all the work?

Now, if you were really adept at record playing, you could find the right groove for any song you wanted to hear. Oh, and you know how your speakers are the size of a Q-tip? Mine were the size of furniture. In fact, they took up most of my room. Actually, one speaker doubled as my bedside table and the other speaker doubled … as my bed.

4. Answer the phone.  We had to actually answer the phone because we had no idea who the heck was calling us, there were no special rings or caller IDs or screens that pop up on your TV or announce the caller. It was horrible. Imagine always having to pick up the phone and never knowing who would be lurking on the other line. Maybe it was someone for your mom or a video store reminding you that your movies were overdue. You were always hoping it was one of your BFFs or better yet, your crush, who could’ve looked up your number in the Yellow Pages (we’ll get to that).

Plus, when you did answer you were stuck within a 6ft radius of the phone’s location. No, it wasn’t because you got bad reception … the phone was stuck to the wall and you were stuck to the phone by a coiled cord that no matter how far you stretched it, you couldn’t seem to reach the place you wanted to be. I know, it’s the stuff of nightmares. Wait until I tell you about the advent of the answering machine and those tiny cassette tapes!

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5. Handle a 35 mm camera. Listen up kiddos, we didn’t have the luxury of just picking up our phone and snapping a shot to then post to Instagram or Facebook when we wanted to capture a moment and share it with the world. No, it took time and thought … and precision. First, we had to load our cameras by pulling negative film from a roll and getting the teeth to take hold.

No, they weren’t real teeth, Einstein.  Of course that’s assuming we had the right speed of film.

No, the film didn’t actually move, sheesh.

Can I go on?

We were very specific about the pictures we would take because frankly, we had a finite amount, usually like 18 or 24.  Well, 36 if you were really rich. Plus, you had to simply cross your fingers that you looked good because you may not get to see your pic for a month … or ever!


Because they had to be developed by creepy people who worked in little free standing booths in parking lots and played Dungeons and Dragons. Of course sometimes they got exposed and basically you could then kiss your memories of your Disney vacation or your birthday goodbye.

6. Use a map. Maps were how we pretty much got anywhere far or got lost trying to get there. You see, we didn’t have those fancy shmancy GPS systems that log traffic, offer alternate routes, and have a lovely chipper voice command. No, we had massive papers that seemed to keep unfolding and unfolding and unfolding with tons of tiny lines on them, that remind me of the backs of my once sexy legs. We had to use our fingers to plot a course that would get us to our destination and you could lose your place in the blink of an eye, which is why the voice of the person giving directions wasn’t lovely or chipper at all. It was the snappy, yelly, frustrated voice of one of your parents, who would have no problem turning around and slapping you half way through the trip if you interrupted them, gave your opinion, or sang along with your Sony Walkman with too much fervor.

Oh, and there was no alert you when you went off-course. That’s what one toothed gas attendants in the middle of nowhere were for!

7. Look things up manually. See my adorable little imps, we didn’t have a massive database like the Internet at our fingertips. No, we read things that were made from trees. They called those things books and there was a whole section of them that were considered references. They included books like dictionaries, encyclopedias and thesauruses … thesauri? Damn it, I’ll have to Google the plural of thesaurus later, but you get the point.

We found these reference sections in places called libraries where a man named Dewey Decimal was king.

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There we didn’t buy books, we simply shared them with other people and got their book cooties. We even got information for reports and school papers from those reference books I mentioned earlier and none of them started with Wiki. In fact, I once got an encyclopedia set for a birthday present (yeah, we didn’t get fun things back then like X-Boxes because knowledge was expensive).

Anyhoo, Nana (my mom) bought it in two installments – the first half and second half of the alphabet. But we couldn’t afford the second half, because like I said, encyclopedias were like a million dollars and do you know what happened? In sixth grade, I had to do a report on Switzerland and I failed because I only had A through M. And no one wanted to drive me to the library because it was so annoying to put the key in the door or manually open the locks.

Damn you Jane Lewis for getting Madagascar!

So, children: Don’t come crying to me when you forget to charge your iPad or a lightning storm affects the satellite TV because, now you see how tough my generation had it growing up.

Related post: 10 Ways Our Parents Had It Way Easier Than We Do

About the writer


Jenny Isenman AKA Jenny From the Blog is the humorist behind The Suburban Jungle. A card carrying Gen Xer and columnist at Huff Po and The Stir, her goal is to you keep herself sane and to teach dolphins to read. She is failing at both. Join the insanity on Facebook and Twitter.

From Around the Web


Brenna 1 month ago

Ah man im 29 and this makes me feel old…..i remeber busting off the dial to the tv in our family room. It went up to 35, but there were only 7 channels. Only 4 came through. We would use anything to change it….chopstick, pencil, fork…that last one gave a shock once in a while but we were dead set on saturday morning cartoons, lol! Technology has come a long way in my lifetime!

angel phelps 7 months ago

i knew when i had a little black and white tv that was really small

Jennifer 9 months ago

How about full service gas stations! Driving over “dinger” to kept them know you’re there. Oh, and when EVERYTHING was closed on Sundays and holidays! It is sad that I’m 43 and now I am saying “the good ol days “!!

Emily Reynolds 9 months ago

What about those early gigantic computers with the orange and black or green and black screens? Our first computer was a “Texas Instruments” where you could write your own code to make a Pong-type game. The external hard drive was actually a machine that played specially sized cassette tapes. My kids have tablets with vast amounts of space for everything from music to apps to what have you…

August 9 months ago

Maps are way better than GPS. My husband solely uses his GPS and gets lost ALL THE TIME. I never use it, I rely on good old-fashioned maps which I study before hand and then I know where I am going.

Carolyn 9 months ago

even after 50 years, I still remember the channel numbers, 3,6,10. Eventually 69 which was public tv. I don’t even live near that town, but you never forget those things.

Also, if the tv was on, most of the family came to the living room to watch it.

Sheila 9 months ago

There use to be trucks that came through in the summer to spray for mosquitoes. They were spraying DDT. We rode our bikes in the foggy spray inhaling that good smelling poison.

JS 10 months ago

(automatic transmissions) 😉 :)

Gene in L.A. 10 months ago

There weren’t “only 13 channels.” There were only 7 channels, because they started at 2 and then skipped, 2-4-5-7-9-11-13, and that was it, no public television, only networks and local channels.

Adrienne 10 months ago

And don’t forget all the fancy ways to fold those”text messages”!!! Ha!

Beth 10 months ago

Haha! Encyclopedias! My grandparents bought us a set in the 80’s as a gift. Sucked for us that were younger and had to do book reports with encyclopedias that were outdated by the early 90’s. We used those things so much! My dad even wanted us to take them when we all had moved out. Since no one would he still has them in the living room and offers them to the grandkids. Sorry, but my 9yr old has no use for that outdated info in large heavy books.

Jerry Meade 10 months ago

8-Track tapes.
Tokens for the NY Subway ($0.35).
Coin operated pay phones, in phone booths, with doors and a light, and separate coin slots for nickel, dime, and quarter.
Real Erector Sets.
Plugs and points = Tuneup.
“In Living Color” was not a band or a TV show. It was TV.
Screw in electrical fuses
Leaded gasoline
AFX slot car tracks

That’s just off the top of my head…

Shannon Christopher Watson 10 months ago

When I tell my girls about these things, they look at me in utter disbelief!

Kelly Langreck Moore 10 months ago

I’m only 35, and reading this makes me think I grew up while dinosaurs still roamed the Earth! LOL!!

Megan Antara Scheuermann 10 months ago

Ima be a mom and I’m 19 so this doesn’t really apply for me

Rachel Heck 10 months ago

We had a black & white TV til I was almost a teen, and yes, it was my job to get up and change the channel. :) After that, I remember renting not just movies, but the VCR as well… it was enclosed in some sort of giant hard plastic briefcase, so that you could plug it in and put the tapes in, but that was about it. I saw SO many movies that way…

Greg Nicolson 10 months ago

I remember all of those except having 13 TV channels. What part of the world do you come from? We used to have 3 TV channels, or 4 if the UHF channel(SBS) reception was watchable, and that was it. Sure now I have over 30 free to air channels but not in the times you’re talking about. Also in those days there was no VHS or DVD so if you wanted to watch a TV show you had to be in front of the TV when it was being screened……..and don’t even think about anything even close to a computer being in a school classroom.

Anne Harris 10 months ago

This other device is a radio. You can still listen to people talking and playing music from the other side of our planet, witbout the intent. And surprise, your cell phone is also a radio receiver and transmitter. Maybe the most magical electric device still in use after 80 years might be the toaster.

Helen Russo 10 months ago

ROFL, she must be about my age, or nearly…BUT she forgot a few: typing on a, gasp, typewriter! ANDY to add insult to injury, if you made a mistake on said typewriter, you had to use shit like White-Out before kids found out they could huff it and get high, THEN you had to meticulously attempt to get the paper EXACTLY where it was before you made that mistake so your lines wouldn’t come out crooked and f up your entire paper.

Yes, yes my children, you think you have it rough now? You ain’t seen nothin’!!!

P.S. I love my 35mm film camera still…keeps the art in photography 😉

Kylena Clevenger 10 months ago

Is it sad that I’m 18 have no kids. but I’ve done at least half the things on that list? Also I know what a floppy disk is and how a type writer works and how to use a walkman?

Mandy 10 months ago

Not to be super picky but your friend looked you up in the white pages. The yellow pages was how you found where you wanted to eat, get your car serviced, or find a church in an unfamiliar town.

Veronica Byrd Porter 10 months ago


Patricia Kay Morgan 10 months ago

Card catalogs in the library.

Patricia Kay Morgan 10 months ago

Party line telephones. Dialing the operator and asking for an ambulance or police. As recently as 1986. Eight track tapes. 45 rpm records.

Tonya Storm Mercer 10 months ago

In 92 I did work study for Technical Information Services at Purdue. Companies like Lilly would fax article requests. I would walk or run to whatever library the article was in find it, copy it then run back to the office to fax it. We thought we were cutting edge lol!

Jenn 10 months ago

LOL, forget getting up to change channels, my kids would be surprised to know that you had to watch whatever was on. They are so used to Netflix they wouldn’t know what to think of not having a choice/

Rezaie Afi 10 months ago

I need stop before i give away my age

Rezaie Afi 10 months ago

central heat? what a laugh…little heaters that had flames that were dangerous if something got too close…like my little pink robe that caught on fire.

Rezaie Afi 10 months ago

forget the microwave….you had to either heat it up by stove top or the oven itself

Rezaie Afi 10 months ago

tip of the ice berg…like boiling water yourself to pour in the top of the coffee pot…then waited for it to drip the coffee through

Sara Freund 10 months ago

Typing a research paper on a typewriter-with freaking footnotes!! Aaargh!!

Amy Paschal Keister 10 months ago

My fifth grade teacher made us write up a whole presentation on a state (whichever one we drew out of a hat). I remember my mom sitting down to help me write a letter to the chamber of commerce in Columbia, SC asking them to send me all the information they could on SC. I was SO excited when that packet came. Kids today would never understand.

Pam Faulkner Brown 10 months ago

This is awesome!!!

Rosemary Faber 10 months ago

Most of this was too advanced for me…

genie 10 months ago

how about a world where stores were not open 24 \7

Bill Reynolds 10 months ago

4. Answer the phone.

sheila 10 months ago

And microwaves we didn’t have them until I was a teenager it would take 45min for a frozen dinner aka microwaves dinner these days 45min just blows my mind and pagers how ever did we survive

Anna Wilson 10 months ago

I actually remember my Dad carrying in the first COLOR TV into our living room and turning it on. And my best Christmas present in college was s Sony Walkman casette player.

Adrianne Ward Burney 10 months ago

Who remembers having to BE the remote control? Oh–and don’t forget, when the picture went fuzzy, you had to move the antenna!

Patrick Reinhard 10 months ago

I STILL love a stick shift! Better control and better mileage. (Carol)

Joanne Wiggins de Puentes 10 months ago


Christy Wu 10 months ago

So glad for progress

Tracy Deming 10 months ago

You forgot about heating up food- the old fashioned way, via the stove. And let’s not forget recording TV shows-we couldn’t. No such thing as DVR or VHS.

Silmara X Henrikson 10 months ago

That’s why they won big time in November. Yeah libs, deal with that’!!! Haha!!!

Jo Skidmore 10 months ago

Every time I try to read this article….which I find interesting….a commercial pops up for diabetes and I have to keep jumping black and starting all over again and just when I get to the paragraph I left off on….poof….right back to the ad….looks like I’m never going to get to finish it because my patience is at an end

Bonnee Tipton 10 months ago

I remember walking house-to-house to trick-or-treat and my parents were not following behind in their SUV because it was cold out.

Kristen Ridley-Shelton 10 months ago

I just don’t know how we survived it all.

Marge Hetz 10 months ago

So sad that children don’t experience these things. There are little to no attempts to call someone on the phone (esp for children and teens). They are connected but are they really????

Deborah Hanley 10 months ago

I miss all this stuff but ya know what I think will be hilarious? ? When our kids grow up and write similar articles. .. God only knows what they will be complaining about. ..how traumatic their lives were with the stuff we have today :)

Rebecca Wright Hover 10 months ago


C Lynn Oldham 10 months ago

Oh this made me laugh out loud!!

Brian Schwerdt 10 months ago

I never did 2 or 3, now I don’t feel so old. Thanks!

Jennifer Carrier 10 months ago

“The only thing saving you from going through the windshield was your mothers outstretched arm!”
So true! I was saved many times this way!
Also, my Uncle had a station wagon and my cousins and I would lay in the back with our feet hanging out the back window! Or we were hanging half our bodies out of it and getting yelled at! How did we survive!?!

Kim Gamm 10 months ago

I actually miss it :( This technology thing is way out of control…as I type this using technology..yes, I understand the irony.

Megan Crick Posey 10 months ago

We didn’t have a phone for a long time, so when something important came up, my mom would go to the gas station and use the pay phone. When we did get one, I remember the #69 and three way calling. I remember playing outside all the time, and the library was a awesome place where i did my research and read paper books!!

Teresa Howick Wilson 10 months ago

Haha I read this to my 10 year old. It’s so true lol

Rachel Post 10 months ago

We had encyclopedias in my house from the early 70’s I used for school in the 80’s. My research was NOT accurate.

    Eliza 9 months ago

    My dad had his set of encyclopedias that were given to him as a high school graduation present (such a fun gift for an 18 year old boy, right?!) and they were from 1964…that is what I had to use in the mid-80s if I didn’t make it to the library to do my research. Because, you know, it would be the night before the assignment was due, and I’d have “forgotten” to do the assignment. I always fudged the dates in the bibliography because I was too embarrassed to put the actual date!

Mandy Barrett Gabbard 10 months ago

My 15 year old sister asked for a record player for Christmas! Sooo retro lol!

CindyO 10 months ago

IF you were a Gen X’er, as you like to say, you did NOT have a TV with 13 channels and no remote. You’d have to be at least 50 years old. Remotes came with your sets just like at least 23 channels, lol. I think your memory is confusing what your parents had, mingled with your own. I know, cos I’m an end boomer baby so…

Russell Ash 10 months ago

Love it. Did it all!

Jeff Bohy 10 months ago



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