15 Things That Gen-X Kids Experienced and Somehow Survived Childhood

1980s kids

Every generation likes to reminisce about their childhood and the ridiculous and often dangerous things they experienced. As members of the forgotten generation, Gen-X, we especially like to reflect on how tough we were because we were the first of the latch-key kids.

The 1970s through the 1990s were like the Wild West, and we fancied ourselves Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, ruling the land—or at least the neighborhood streets. The only laws were the ones we made up on the fly as we asserted our dominance over the younger kids.

Weekends and summer months were ours to do as we saw fit, regardless of how dangerous they might have been, either of our own making or our parents’ negligence or lack of concern.

1. Lack of Car Seats

happy family car
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Nowadays, children under the age of four must be safely secured in a rear-facing car seat and then graduate to a booster seat until they are eight or a certain weight.

However, car seats weren’t a requirement and were rarely used by parents before the 1990s. Restraining Gen-X kids wasn’t always about safety and protecting them from injuries if a crash occurred, but more for the parent’s sanity of not having their kids bouncing around in the back, annoying them while on long trips.

2. Riding in the “Way Back”

vintage station wagon
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How many of your parents had a station wagon while growing up? If you did, there is an almost 100% chance that you and your siblings or friends would ride in the “way back” of the wagon, sitting backward, facing out the back window.

It was totally safe, right? At least, that’s what the adults lead you to believe.

3. Drinking From a Water Hose

kid water hose drinking
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As Gen-X kids spent every day outside in the blistering summer heat, the water hose was our only form of hydration. I can still taste the rubbery, somewhat mildewy water that was never quite refreshing. However, the trick was always letting it run for a minute to remove the bugs and dirt and hope it would cool off enough not to be downright disgusting.

Naturally, the older kids would often spray the younger kids with the warmer water just for good measure and exert our dominance in the hierarchy of kid-dom.

4. Playing Until the Street Lights Came On

kids playing outside
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One of the fondest memories Gen-Xers like to share is how we always played outside until the street lights came on. Of course, that could only happen once our chores were all done. But once those street lights came on, we only had a few minutes to get home before getting into trouble.

There was always a gang of sweaty and dirty street urchins riding their bikes through the neighborhood, stopping to play random baseball games on deserted school fields, or hanging upside down from the local park’s monkey bars.

5. Metal Playground Equipment

old fashioned merry go round
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Ahh, yes, RIP to the skin on the backside of our thighs as we slid down the burning hot metal slides that every school playground and local park had. How we all didn’t receive skin grafts by age ten is beyond me.

We’re lucky to have survived between the slides and holding on for dear life on the merry-go-rounds as our friends spun us around at a velocity that would make NASA proud.

6. Red Rover, Red Rover

red rover
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The playground game of Red Rover was one of the highlights of my childhood. There was nothing like gathering a large group of friends, lining up into two sets, linking hands, and attempting to clothesline whoever we called over.

Oh, was that not the point of the game? You could’ve fooled me because it was inevitable that at least one, if not multiple, kids would fall from being clotheslined when we got too overzealous in our play.

7. No Bike Helmets

boy riding bike no helmet
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It’s rare to see kids riding their bikes without helmets these days; however, that was not the norm in the era of the Huffy. Did helmets even exist for kids back then? If they did, parents couldn’t be bothered buying them for us, much less make us wear them. We were always one wipeout away from cracking our skulls and a trip to the emergency room.

8. The Lack of Sunscreen

mom applying sunscreen
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I honestly can’t recall any time during my childhood when my parents applied sunscreen on my sisters and me or even reminded us to wear it. However, I can remember having many sunburns after spending all day in the sun or on the lake over the 4th of July holiday.

If you had parents who did apply “suntan lotion,” it probably wasn’t much stronger than an SPF 4. There was none of this SPF 40 back then and your older sister was most assuredly lathering herself up with baby oil.

9. Breathing Second-Hand Smoke

candy cigarettes
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Not only were we being exposed to second-hand smoke anywhere from movie theaters, restaurants, malls, and cars, but our parents would also send us to the store to pick up a pack of smokes with nothing but a handwritten note for the clerk.

While we were at the store getting our parent’s nicotine fix, why not pick up your own all too realistic-looking candy cigarettes that came with a puff of powdery sugar to represent the smoke?

10. Junk Food Access

junk food cereal
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Junk food still exists today, but in the 80s, it was constantly advertised to kids, specifically during our Saturday Morning cartoon marathons. From sugary cereals like Trix and Fruit Loops to Little Debbie cakes, there was no shortage of junk food ads we were exposed to and subsequently begged for while at the grocery store with Mom.

11. Toilet Papering Houses

toilet paper house
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Raise your hand if you and your friends ever TP’d a friend, enemy, or teacher’s house. It was good, clean fun that rarely happens anymore these days, but was an every weekend occurrence for Gen-X kids.

For my 13th birthday, my mom loaded my friends and me up in our van and took us around to wrap a few homes on our list. Do kids even know the amount of fun they can have doing this?

12. Ice Blocking

ice sledding
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Ice blocking was a new concept to me until I met my husband, who grew up in California. This was a common activity that West Coast kids participated in. We didn’t do it in Texas, but I wish we had!

Kids would take large blocks of thick ice, place a towel or blanket over them, and race each other to the bottom of a hill. Ice blocking worked exceptionally well on hot summer days, as the ice melted much faster, making the race that much more thrilling.

13. BB Gun Fights

red ryder bb gun
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West Coast kids might have been participating in ice blocking, but kids in Texas and other Southern states were having BB gun fights. How this was ever allowed is beyond me, but it was.

Typically, the BB gun adventures would begin with just shooting cans, bottles, and random trees; however, it would often turn into a duel, especially if an older kid in the mix wanted to cause problems. In the famous words of the adults in A Christmas Story, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

14. Holding onto Car Bumpers

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I blame the scene in the 1985 film Back to the Future, where Marty McFly, played by Michael J. Fox, grabs the bumper of a van while riding his skateboard as the catalyst for Gen-X kids doing this regularly.

Of course, no helmet was worn while teenagers held onto the back of a car bumper while on rollerskates or skateboards. What could possibly go wrong?

15. Exploring Abandoned Locations

abandoned house
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Gen-X kids often explored abandoned locations, such as old warehouses, dilapidated and scary houses, or local quarries. Many of these shenanigans resulted from being double-dog-dared, and once the gauntlet was thrown, there was no way to back down. If you did, you were forever labeled a coward, which was never acceptable.

True Or False: 14 Old Wives Tales That Might Withstand The Test Of Time

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What is it about ancient folklore that is so intriguing? We’ve all heard the old stories passed down from generation to generation. Some of them hold water, while many are just too silly to be considered true for a minute.

There’s no way that itchy palms can make you rich or that eating yams will result in having twins. That’s just nonsense.

However, there are some old wives’ tales that are shockingly true.

The Origins Of 15 Everyday Expressions We Still Use Today

historical scene death doctor
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Have you ever wondered where certain sayings come from and why they’re ingrained in our culture and vocabulary? Sometimes they make sense, but often they don’t. That doesn’t stop us from using them, though.

These sayings often have intriguing, even morbid, origins. Some are rooted in a darker history, while others stem from military jargon that has seeped into everyday speech.

Regardless of their origins, these sayings have remarkable longevity, often spanning hundreds of years. They have become an integral part of our language and culture that we still use today.

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With a passion for travel, great food, and beautiful art, Julie put aside her 15-year career in the tech industry and dove head-first into a more creative sphere. Utilizing her degree in Communications, she is pursuing freelance writing. An avid traveler, Julie has experience writing and documenting the amazing spots she has visited and explored, the delicious food she has tasted, and the incredible art she has admired and purchased! When she’s not writing, she can be spotted around Austin, TX, at various art gallery openings, having a delicious meal with her husband and friends, and playing with her two dogs.

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