I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s. On weekends and in summers, I listened to NKOTB and Boys II Men via a cassette tape while crimping my hair. Then I’d pull it up into a ponytail and secure it with a neon scrunchie, apply strawberry Lipsmaker, and pop another watermelon Jolly Rancher into my mouth. Next up was plopping onto my twin bed to browse the latest issue of Teen Beat. I yearned to catch a glimpse of the love of my life, Jonathan Taylor-Thomas.
On Friday nights, it was TGIF. Two solid hours of sitcoms. Saturday evenings were reserved for our VHS rotation of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Beethoven, and Back to the Future while we snacked on Pop Qwiz or Pizzareias chips.
During the school year, we’d head to our K-5 school where my friends and I would play endless games of four square and tetherball. When we were bored with those, we’d zoom down the 1000 degree, steep metal slide — with non-existent sides. Or we would hang upside down from the hexagon-bar contraption. Yes, the one that resulted in multiple broken arms from stunts-gone-wrong.
Those were the days.
I’m a mom of four now, and summer is in full swing. The 1980s nostalgia is not only back, but on trend. Fanny packs, scrunchies, and Caboodles are back in circulation, after all. But some of my childhood summer faves are big no-nos today, and for good reason.
1. Drinking from the hose.
When I was a child, my mom would kick us out of the house for the entire summer morning. See you at lunch, kids. If we were thirsty, we had an easy option. We’d turn on the spigot and drink well water straight from the grass-green hose.
During today’s summer, I carry around four 64-ounce BPA-free water bottles, one color per kid, filled to the brim with filtered water. And no, I’m not being extra, because hoses can pose significant risks. They can release phthalates, flame retardant, lead, and BPA, all of which are toxic. Hoses also house bugs, bacteria, and dirt, all of which flow right into your child’s mouth. Gross? You bet.
The other issue is that hoses left in the summer sun may contain dangerously hot water, posing a burn risk to users. A nine-month-old in Las Vegas suffered second degree burns over 30% of his body last year when he was sprayed with hose water. Stagnant water, which sits within a hose in direct sunlight, can heat to a terrifying 130-140 degrees.
2. Skipping the sunscreen.
My mom insisted my siblings and I wear sunscreen, re-applying every few hours as directed. Her brother, my uncle, died of malignant melanoma when I was a child. She wasn’t playing when it came to sun protection. But none of my friends’ parents bothered to buy sunscreen — instead, allowing their teen daughters to go to tanning beds to get golden brown before prom.
The reality is, even just one blistering sunburn during childhood doubles a person’s melanoma risk. Scary? You bet. Sun protection is that important.
Thankfully, there are hundreds of sunscreen and sun-protection options for families. Just please, don’t use DIY your sunscreen. Research shows that online sunblock recipes are unreliable.
3. Eating artificially-dyed foods.
Red, white, and blue popsicles and cherry push-up icy pops were all the rage during my childhood. Apparently the cheaper and more brightly colored they were, the better.
But today we know better, because the proof is in the pudding. One of my kiddos has all-out-rages about 20 minutes after consuming anything with artificial red dye in it. He’s not alone. Many kids struggle when they consume foods containing artificial dyes such as Red #40, Yellow #6, and Blue #2. Artificial coloring isn’t just in sugary treats like birthday cake, candy, and slushies. They can be found in condiments such as ketchup and salad dressing, cereals, sports drinks, and baked goods. Some kids might react to dye consumption by vomiting, complaining of a headache, or becoming agitated or hyperactive.
Artificial dyes are generally found in unhealthy foods, but buyer beware. There are artificial dyes in some “healthy” foods such as whole grain granola bars and even vitamins. Parents should learn to read ingredient lists, and swap their kid’s favorite orange chips for a healthier, dye-free brand.
4. Hiring a too-young babysitter.
I started babysitting, without adult supervision, when I was 12 years old. I spent my first summer as a teen caring for two elementary-age children full-time, making a whopping $20 a day.
Hiring a young sitter can save parents big bucks, but the risks are significant. Is the sitter experienced, mature, and CPR certified? How trustworthy is the the sitter? With teen cell phone addiction, parents may justifiably worry that the sitter is too busy interacting on Snapchat to keep their eyes on the kids. And in some states, such as Maryland and Illinois, there are laws stating how old a child must be to stay home alone — which would also apply to being the caregiver to children.
Selecting a sitter to keep your kids safe and entertained is no easy task. It’s a good idea to consider finding a sitter via a professional child care service and conduct extensive interviews. Ask for references and conduct a few trial runs before officially hiring.
5. Applying toxic bug spray.
Many kids in my generation skipped the sunscreen, but their parents sure didn’t skimp on bug spray. We all walked around summer camp reeking of a cross between gasoline and eucalyptus. Sprays promised we wouldn’t be bitten by a single pesky mosquito.
DEET, the main chemical in many bug sprays, was found in one study to cause symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, rashes, and issues concentrating in 25% of participants. Over the years, DEET has been vehemently debated due to claims of toxicity.
Of course, protection from mosquitoes and ticks can be very important. In fact, Alpha-gal syndrome, a condition in which a person becomes allergic — sometimes deadly allergic — to red meat, is believed to be initiated by a Lone Star tick bite. And Lyme disease is no joke. Luckily, there are many more natural repellents available than “back in the day.” Citronella, anyone?
6. Play on merry-go-rounds.
The puke-your-guts-up wheel was by far the playground favorite during my elementary years. Even better, much to our teacher’s dismay, was the day after it rained when the path around the merry-go-round was sheer mud. The mess wasn’t the biggest issue, though. The hot metal burn factor and inevitable peer-trampling were downright dangerous, both leading to several ER visits every year.
Good luck finding an old-school merry-go-round on a playground today. There’s only one in our entire town, located in a neighborhood park, and of course my kids and other park-goers adore the simple and thrilling game of spin-and-ride. I haven’t banished my kids from enjoying it, but I do watch them like a hawk. And I admit, I’m thankful I don’t have to worry about them on school playgrounds.
The reality is, almost anything our kids do can turn dangerous in the blink of an eye. However, there’s no reason to tempt fate. Now that you’re armed with updated information, you know better.
Now it’s time to do better and clink our glasses to a fun and safe summer.