Why Kids In the '80s Were Never 'Bored'

by Lisa Sadikman
Originally Published: 
kids in the '80s
Kim Faires / Flickr / Creative Commons

Besides, “That’s not fair!” “In a minute,” and “The dog barfed,” there are only three other phrases my kids say that send my eyes rolling heavenward and set my teeth on edge:

“Mom, I’m bored.”

Somehow I’ve parented my kids in such a way that they think their boredom is my problem. Maybe it was the insane 24/7 parenting philosophy I adopted with them for the first five years of their lives (and have since given up). Maybe it’s because my kids are so busy with homework, youth group, sports practices, and other after school activities, that filling time on their own feels like an insurmountable challenge.

They stand expectantly in front of me waiting for exciting suggestions as to how to alleviate their agony. I oblige: Did you walk the dog? (Yes) Practice piano? (Yes) How about reading a book? (Groan). What about an art project? (Groan) Why don’t you try cooking dinner? (No way!) Go shoot some hoops (I’m too tired). Go play with your sister (ugh, no!). Call your friend (that is so lame!). Clean your room (Moooommm!).

I give up.

I cannot ever recall saying, “I’m bored,” to my mom, and if I did, I’m pretty sure her catchall response was something along the lines of “I’m sure you can find something to do.” It was the ’80s and entertaining your children was not part of the parenthood job description. Our parents dismissed us without malice or guilt, and often without a suggestion. They were busy talking on the phone, working out to Jane Fonda, reading about the Falklands or Charles and Di in the newspaper or pushing the lawnmower. We kids understood that we had to amuse ourselves—and we did.

Patrick Riviere / Getty Images

Getty Images

When I was a tween, the hours between the end of school and dinnertime usually started with chasing down a few Keebler Magic Middle cookies with a Tropical Punch Capri Sun while watching a rerun of Gilligan’s Island. A quick 30-minute break usually took care of my mimeographed homework worksheets.

Done with homework, I’d flip on MTV and air guitar to Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘N Roll,” sing along to the Go-Gos “We Got The Beat,” and stare dreamily at Rick Springfield sneaking around dark alleys in “Don’t Talk to Strangers.” I’d run upstairs and pour out my 12-year-old heart in a fan letter to Rick using my extra special rainbow stationary and blue Erasermate pen. Even though the eraser didn’t really erase the ink all the way, it was still way cooler than using Wite-Out. Because it was a special occasion, I’d seal the envelope with one of my coveted “I Love Noah” stickers.

I’d arrange and rearrange my collection of scratch-n-sniff, Boynton, puffy, and googly-eye stickers, along with the regular Mrs. Grossman’s ones. My most wanted were anything with a unicorn-rainbow-heart trifecta, bonus points if it was glittery. If I had a few extra mini teddy bears, purple hearts, or calico cats, I’d set them aside to trade at the sleepover party that coming weekend.

I’d work on the friendship pins I started in Girl Scouts because we were trading them at school the next day. I couldn’t wait to add a few new ones to my Pumas with the heart-patterned shoelaces.

Lisa Sadikman

I’d use the push-button wall phone in the Marimekko wallpapered kitchen to call my friends, pulling the long, coiled cord out the swinging doors and into the relative privacy of the dining room. If Kim didn’t answer after 12 rings, I’d try Juliette and then Ellen-Marie. We’d plan to meet up in front of Jimmy’s house (we all had a crush on Jimmy).

I’d re-peg my Guess jeans, hop on my red Schwinn, the one with a white plastic basket decorated with neon-colored flowers, and bike to meet them. While we giggled and waited for Jimmy to come out (he rarely did), we took turns listening to Thriller on my dad’s Walkman that I’d secretly swiped. We all agreed to make mixtapes for Jessica’s party. Even with my new portable Sony dual-cassette tape boombox, that would take hours.

Thomas Mathie / Flickr / Creative Commons

A quick glance at my Swatch watch told me when it was time to head home for dinner. My belly full of Sloppy Joes, I’d write down the day’s events in my Little Twin Stars diary, read a few pages in the battered copy of Flowers in the Attic that my friends and I passed around, then fall asleep under my rainbow sheets, another totally rad ’80s afternoon come and gone.

Notice how, nowhere in my story is any mention of my parents? I found my fun all on my own, as all kids in the ’80s tended to do.

So, next time my kids tell me they’re bored, I’m not giving them any suggestions. Instead, I’ll glance up from my Facebook feed, smile sweetly, and say, “I’m sure you can find something to do.”

Maybe I’ll even leave my vintage Rubik’s Cube out where they can find it.

This article was originally published on