I Loved Being A Teen In The '90s

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Brandon Colbert Photography: Getty

Everyone thinks the time when they grew up trumps all the other generations, but I’ll just leave this here: The ’90s were actually the best.

I often remember my dad talking about how he and his friends used to play Kick The Can in the backyard in the ’50s, and how he remembers when McDonald’s first opened its doors — what a huge deal it was. Back then, hamburgers were a dime so if you stumbled upon some loose change in your dad’s pocket, or found a quarter on the street, you could basically afford a feast.

That sounds really exciting and all, but I happen to be someone who had the pleasure of blossoming into a teen in the ’90s, and if you were along for that ride of tall hair, the sound of alternative music playing at parties, and saving for combat boots, I’m sure you would agree with the sentiment that kids of the ’90s were pretty damn awesome.

We seemed to develop a kind of grit that’s becoming extinct because we had to work hard to earn certain things, and that shit meant something to us.

1. We had to read 100 books in order to get a free pan pizza at Pizza Hut.

100 books for a tiny pizza was no small feat, but holy shit it was exciting when you got to go in there with your certificate and claim your prize.

2. We couldn’t Google the lyrics to any song we wanted.

If we wanted to learn the words to a song (Hello! Who didn’t?), we bought the cassette tape or single (OMFG do you remember singles?), ripped that shit open and put our study skills to good use. It was as if our life depended on what Nirvana or The Spice Girls were actually saying.

And the shame that came when you knew you’d been singing it wrong for months wasn’t easy to swallow. We all got really good at hitting rewind while clutching the tape jacket to get it down so the next time we were with our friends we could show off.


3. We were so much more creative with clothing.

You couldn’t simply Google a specific clothing item and have it appear on your screen, then your doorstep in a few days. And we didn’t have the means to look at all the options out there because we were kids with no money who didn’t drive. If we wanted something specific, we had to make it ourselves. Iron-on patches were a thing and it took finesse to get your favorite band logo to stick to that distressed Levis denim jacket.

Flannels, baggy sweaters, and white t-shirts were in. We didn’t have to look much further than our father’s or brother’s closet or the thrift store down the street. Knee-socks with skirts replaced tights, and after throwing on a velvet choker, our look was complete.


4. It was work to show off all our collections.

In the ’90s, things were mini– the accessories and the toys. You didn’t wear one butterfly clip in your hair; you had to strategically place 8 along the crown of your head just so. It wasn’t about having one Polly Pocket; you built that collection and displayed it proudly under your *NSYNC poster. And Baby-G watches came in an array of colors, so you needed all those, too.


5. And even more work to get ready in the morning.

If you didn’t have a perm, you probably crimped, then sprayed, then crimped again. It was hard as fuck to get banana clips to stay in your hair, and a lot of the jeans in those days had to be buttoned, then folded over. Pegging your pants so they’d stay all day was a skill a few of us mastered, but when we did, we were very pleased with ourselves.


6. We had to more weight to carry.

We had backpacks, books, and huge Trapper Keepers that were overflowing with papers. There were Gelly Roll pens tucked away in the pockets so we could write notes to our friends as well as write on them. Also, we all wore hoop earrings the size of our ass, so there’s that.


7. We had to write actual words.

There wasn’t much typing in those days. We not only had to use a pencil or pen and paper for every subject in school, but texting in the ’90s meant you wrote pages and pages of words to your friends or boyfriends and folded the papers just so before passing them out.

The ’90s was also a time we perfected bubble letters, block letters, and three dimensional letters instead of paying attention to the teacher in Geometry class.

8. You had to sneak your dose of MTV.

Let’s be honest, kids these days can hide their tiny screens away from their parents a lot easier than we could hide sneaking in some good quality MTV (that most of our parents hated because most of the videos reeked of sex and recklessness). But nonetheless, we craved it and felt a hunger for that kind of excitement in our lives. I specifically remember hearing my parents come home and changing the channel before turning off the television so I wouldn’t get caught.


9. Call waiting was like a group text, only much harder.

Not having to deal with busy signals so you could actually talk to two friends at a time by going back and forth (once you figured out how to do it without dropping a call) was glorious. How convenient to make plans with your two besties at the same time while you had them both on the line.

Not only that, you didn’t have to get off the phone with your friend to keep the line free in hopes your crush would call you. She could talk you through your anxiety and you had someone to share your excitement with when you heard that beep come through your baby blue rotary phone cord.

10. We had to wait for televisions shows and pictures to be developed.

We were die-hard fans of 90210, Melrose Place, My So-Called Life — not to mention Friday night television was amazeballs. We had to wait for it though — there was no streaming, or no binge-watching. Because of this, if you grew up in the ’90s, your patience game is strong.


There were also things about the ’90s that made life feel simpler too, of course: All of our childhood crushes had the same hair style, there weren’t so many choices of Oreo or Dorito flavors, freestyle machines didn’t exist, and everyone smelled like a Bath and Body Works store or Obsession.

Our parents never got into a “Mommy War” with anyone else because there wasn’t the Internet and they were all too busy minding their own business to pay attention to the fact their neighbors’ kids were slurping back Ramen Noodles and Hot Pockets after school.


I feel lucky to have been a child of the ’90s — it was a time when we had just enough available to us to keep us entertained, but we also knew if we wanted something, we had to work for it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I suddenly feel the urge to binge-watch Saved By The Bell with my kids and teach them how to play MASH over a few trays of Dunkaroos.

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