Strange Things Our Parents’ Generation Used to Think Were Normal

Strange Things Our Parents’ Generation Used to Think Were Normal April 28, 2022Leave a comment

As time moves forward, so do cultural norms. Something that's commonplace and widely accepted to one generation sounds absolutely ridiculous just a few decades later. Our parents' childhoods were far different from our own, and looking at what they experienced really shows how much the world has changed.

Leaving Kids Unsupervised


Let's start with a big one. Nowadays, parents are incredibly (and understandably) protective of their children's safety, making sure they're looked after at all hours of the day in case anything goes wrong. Not so for older generations— it wasn't uncommon to be left alone all day while their parents were working, or ushered out in the street to play around the neighborhood without anyone to keep an eye on them.



Another big one— attitudes towards smoking have understandably changed as we've learned more of the science behind cigarettes. It used to be completely ordinary not only to smoke around children, but also let them try one occasionally. After all, what doesn't kill you only makes you cooler, right?

Seatbelts? What Seatbelts?!


The rules of the road are very carefully maintained these days. One big rule is that each passenger in a car or vehicle gets their own seat and must be wearing a seatbelt. This strict rule, though, is only relatively new; it used to be incredibly common for families to cram half a dozen kids in the back seat, even on each other's laps when necessary.

Picking Up Hitchhikers


A related car trend that fell out of fashion: hitchhiking! People used to wander alongside freeways, hoping to be picked up by a stranger and given a free ride. This was a cheap way of seeing more of the world, and you got to meet some interesting people. This trend fell out of fashion when people became less comfortable sharing a car with a complete stranger.

Sending Kids to the Store

Flickr/Kin Mun Lee

Today it would be unthinkable to send a child on an errand, such as dropping in at the local store unaccompanied to pick up groceries. This, though, was incredibly common parenting in the past. Kids would even be tasked with buying cigarettes and alcohol, with store owners trusting that they had been sent by their parents.

Dangerous Toys


Fake guns that fired real ammo. Knives and swords and all manner of weapons. Toys made from lead. Toys that were choking hazards. Toys containing actual radioactive materials. Before the introduction of safety standards for children’s products, the toy industry was a real Wild West, and this wasn’t exactly great for children's health.

Telephone Calls


Imagine waiting for the phone to ring so you could talk to a friend. Or needing to call home to explain to your parents that you were going to be out late. Imagine not being able to use the internet because your mom was on the phone, or speaking to an operator rather than dialing a number. The role of the telephone has changed a lot over the past century, and each generation has had a special relationship with this weird technology that nowadays we take for granted.

Saturday Morning Cartoons


Once upon a time, kids had to get up early on a Saturday morning to watch cartoons. In these precious few hours, adults got to lie in bed, safe in their knowledge that their children were being babysat by the tube. If you missed your show, too bad, it was gone forever, and you would never see it again. Life before Netflix was weird.

Satanic Panic


Is your child playing Dungeons & Dragons, reading comic books, listening to heavy metal or rap music, or trading Pokémon cards? If so, there’s a good chance that your kid is being ensnared by a demonic ideology. Or, at least, that’s what the moral panic of the '80s and '90s claimed. Turns out these kids weren’t being turned into demons, they were just being turned into nerds. Perhaps that was worse.

Toys ‘R’ Us


At the time of writing, there are plans for a return for the popular children’s store chain Toys ‘R’ Us, but it’s unlikely to live up to its former glory. Perhaps the idea of an enormous store filled with every possible toy all in the same place was too glorious to last. It seemed perfectly normal at the time, but in the era of online shopping, it’s hard to imagine this model actually making financial sense.

Getting Film Developed


So you’ve got a camera? Great! You’ve got twenty four chances to capture the perfect photo. You can’t see what the camera sees before you take the picture (your viewing window is slightly misaligned), and you can’t review the photo once you’ve taken it. You need to take all twenty four pictures, then take the film cannister to a store, and wait a week for the pictures to be developed. Life before digital cameras was rough.

Taping the Radio


In the era of music streaming services, the idea of music itself having any kind of value seems weird. Sure, a vinyl has value, but the song itself? Why would you pay for that? The truth is, your parents didn’t want to pay either, which is why they used a cassette tape to record music that was played on the radio instead.

Riding Without a Helmet


In the past few decades, a large public health campaign has encouraged most people, especially children, that it’s just not a good idea to ride a bicycle without a helmet. It’s strange, then, to imagine a time not too long ago when helmets were not only optional, they were practically non-existent.

Everyone Watching the Same TV


Here’s hoping you caught the latest episode of "The Muppet Show" on TV last night, because if you missed it, you were going to have a rough day at school. Back when there were less than a handful of television stations, everyone watched the same thing every night, and that meant that everyone was talking about it the next day. These kinds of widespread cultural moments are far less powerful now that we have more viewing choices.

The Yellow Pages

Wikimedia Commons / Andrew Sullivan / CC 3.0

Want to check the showtimes for the local movie theater? Or find out if a store has something in stock? You can’t Google it, because it’s 1972 – instead, you pull out the Yellow Pages, a giant book with all the local business phone numbers inside. It also makes an excellent step if you need to reach the top shelves in the kitchen.

The Phone Book

Wikimedia Commons / Tomasz Sienicki / CC 3.0

The much loved sister to the Yellow Pages was the phone book, sometimes called the White Pages. This had a list of every home phone number in town, complete with the names and addresses for everyone you knew. This kind of thing feels like a breach of privacy in the modern era, but Facebook knows far more juicy details from your life even if you don’t have an account.

The Milkman Came Every Morning


The concept of a milkman sounds like the kind of eco-friendly crowdfundable startup that Millennials would lap up: a subscription service for an everyday good, delivered fresh to your door every day in completely recyclable containers. Milk deliveries are far superior to buying plastic bottles from a store, so why did we let this incredible service die out?

Cursive Writing


Cursive, or “writing joined up,” has never fully gone away, but it’s not quite as widespread as it once was. Modern children aren’t forced to copy a very specific handwriting style, and aren’t typically taught cursive as a priority. This is their loss, as cursive writing is actually faster once you hit your stride, saving crucial minutes during lengthy exams.

Giving Children Alcohol to Manage Pain


Is your baby teething? Why not put some bourbon or whiskey on their gums to help soothe the pain? While this was a very common practice a few decades ago, it has thankfully died out – it turned out that giving babies alcohol didn’t actually make the pain go away, it just got them too drunk to cry any more.

Drinking Fountains


Bottled water is a part of everyday life now, but it’s such a weird concept if you think about it. Decades ago it was common for public places to have free water, available to anyone who got thirsty, because why would you make someone pay for a bottle of water?! Thanks PepsiCo, you’re doing a great job at ruining the environment.

Questionable Playground Equipment


Jungle gym and playground equipment of the modern era is very different to what came before. There are a lot more rounded walls and carefully padded floors. In the time before child safety was really a concern, play equipment was made of rusted metal with sharp edges that could do you a real injury if you weren’t careful. That didn’t mean it wasn’t fun, of course.

The End of TV for the Day

Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Did you want to watch television after dark? Too bad! TV was done for the day. The idea of television companies ending broadcast sounds bizarre now, but only a few decades ago, if you turned on the TV after a certain time, all you’d get was a weird picture telling you that you’d have to wait until the morning to watch any programming.

Not Talking About Feelings


Call it being manly or tough if you like. Call it a “stiff upper lip” or just being brave. Whatever its name, people of our parents’ generation were never really taught to express their feelings – especially if their feelings were negative. The movement to embrace honest and open expression of sentiment is still relatively new, and based on how some people bottle up their emotions, we could all do with leaving this harmful attitude in the past.

“Boys Will be Boys”


Is a boy teasing you or pulling your hair or making inappropriate jokes or threatening you or otherwise making you uncomfortable? It’s not his fault. Boys will be boys. While this attitude persists to the modern day, it is, thankfully, a lot less widely accepted, and people are far better at calling out an obviously terrible excuse for crummy behavior.

Asbestos Was Everywhere


Do you know what’s a great fireproof material with no downsides? Asbestos! Fill every public building with the stuff, make clothes out of it if you can! Wait, it causes cancer? Oops. Thankfully we figured that out sooner rather than later.

Gendered Toys


Here’s something that never made any sense: toy marketers of the 1980s decided that, rather than make things like LEGO accessible to boys and girls, they would only target half their potential audience. Why? Because it was the 80s, of course! Now, toy companies are a little better at not ignoring an entire gender.

Walking to School


Letting kids walk to school by themselves is a risky business. While teenagers are certainly capable of getting there safely, most modern parents don’t love the idea of sending six-year-olds to school unaccompanied. This is a recent trend, however, as most parents even a few decades ago wouldn’t think twice about tossing their kids out the door to walk to school by themselves.



Do you need to phone home to let your parents know you’re okay? Better find a payphone; a large metal box that’s the only convenient way of making a call when you’re in public. Life has been tough for Superman ever since these went out of style.



Modern trampolines are carefully wrapped up in large nets to prevent injuries, but Way Back When, they were open to the elements. It was possible – and not at all uncommon – for someone to bounce right off the trampoline and come crashing down hard on the grass or (if you were unlucky) sidewalk nearby.

Playing at a Friend’s House


Playdates between children are now very carefully scheduled events. Parents will want to vet a household in advance, may wish to attend the playdate with their kids, and will keep a close eye on whatever the children are getting up to. A generation ago, this seemed like unnecessary hassle. You’re going to Timmy’s house after school? Okay, have fun, see you when we see you.

Forbidden Dating


There were, of course, some times when older parents could be incredibly protective of their kids – such as when dating was involved. Teenage boys would need to ask permission from a girl’s father before taking them out on a date, and if the dad said no (or worse, tried to scare the boy off), then no dice. Except, of course, that forbidden romance makes the whole thing even more appealing…

Sugar In Every Form


Modern health experts warn against consuming too much sugar in any form. While we’re all still pretty hooked on the white stuff, it’s nowhere near as bad now as it was just a few years ago. Sugar was added to absolutely every food stuff to improve the flavor (and, coincidentally, make the food more addictive). While this wasn’t great for anyone’s health, it was a golden age for weird candy that we’ll never see again.

Outhouses Were Some People's Norm


Indoor plumbing comes as standard these days, but if you’re a Millennial, there’s a good chance that your parents remember a time before pooping indoors was a given. Outhouses were in common use long into the second half of the twentieth century, and a quick nighttime jog to the bottom of the yard for a bathroom break was all too common.

Fireplaces For Warmth, Not Luxury


Sure, plenty of modern houses still have fireplaces, but they don’t serve the same purpose they used to. Modern fireplaces are considered luxuries – they’re warming, but they’re also decorative. Not too long ago, though, having a fireplace was the only sensible way of heating a home, and it was an absolute chore to keep the fire well stocked with wood.

“A Woman’s Place”

Reddit/ salty_catfish22

The original box for the game Battleship is a perfect display of how men and women saw their roles in society when the game was first released. A father and son are playing the casual board game, while a mother and daughter watch from the kitchen, smiling as they wash the dishes. Thankfully, most women no longer feel quite so shackled to the house as they used to – even if studies show that women still do the main bulk of the housework for most families.

The Sabbath


It’s a weird idea now, but stores used to entirely shut down on a Sunday. Just imagine – an entire city empty of people for a whole day every week, as everyone was either in church or at home with their families. Today, the idea of not being able to quickly dash to the store seems impossible.

Stranger Danger


There was a time when parents were happy to let their kids wander the streets all by themselves. Then came Stranger Danger, the fear that weird, unknown people might kidnap kids, and suddenly society shifted. However, while fear of strangers is still very real, most children’s charities now caution that kids are more likely to be in danger from someone they do know – a relative or family friend – than someone they’ve never met. Stranger Danger was never actually the problem.

Sitting on Grown-Ups’ Laps


It’s a lot less common than it used to be for a kid meeting Santa to be lifted up to sit on his lap. Back in the day, not only did Santa have to bear the weight of every kid that visited him, but it wasn’t uncommon for a kid to sit on any adult’s lap. There was not yet a concern that this might be inappropriate.

Ouija Boards


The Ouija Board was once an incredibly popular board game that was considered fun for all the family. Rather than being a focus for restless spirits, it was supposed to bring out the players’ unconscious thoughts. All this changed following the movie The Exorcist, and parents quickly decided that these previously harmless board games were terribly dangerous.

Tuning Antenna

Flickr/ Steven Martin

In the days before digital signals, the internet, and cable, televisions and radios needed to be tuned using long metal wires that poked out of the top. If someone walked through the room at the wrong time, they could interrupt the signal and the television screen or radio output might start to crackle or display static. Some people kept the window open while listening to the radio, in a mistaken effort to help the signal reach the antenna.

Photo Booths


Are you at the mall with friends and wanting to make a permanent record of your fun day together? You might want to visit the photo booth, where in exchange for a few coins, you can take a bunch of silly pictures together. In the era of the selfie, photo booths seem like a completely unnecessary blast from the past.

Drive-In Movie Theaters

Wikimedia Commons / Mehr News Agency / CC 4.0

There are, of course, still drive-in movie theaters. These theaters, though, are not the cultural mainstay that they were in the twentieth century. Friends or, more commonly, lovers, would park their car near a huge screen, and enjoy a movie together (or ignore the movie and just have some cuddles in the back seat).

Fur Coats For the Winter


Nowadays, wearing animal fur is considered more than a little gross. Last century, though, it was the height of fashion, and proof that you were a very stylish person. While wearing some animal products – most notably cow skin – is still commonplace, we’re not so comfortable about wrapping ourselves in the remains from a rabbit or mink or fox, or a dozen other fluffy animals.

Anonymity on the Internet


When the Internet was relatively new, parents were absolutely terrified that their kids might be found by strangers. Chat rooms were considered seedy and suspicious, and kids were warned to never, ever give out their personal information. The last thing you wanted was for someone online to know who you were. These very same parents later embraced Facebook so enthusiastically that they started broadcasting everything from their lunch choices to their problematic opinions for anyone to read.

The Divorce Rate Was Much Higher


People complaining about modern society will often claim that divorce rates are on the rise, but it’s simply not true. Divorce rates peaked in the 1980s and have since dropped significantly. Divorce rates now are approximately the same as in the 1970s, because it turns out that they were only really fashionable among Boomers.

Teenage Pregnancy Was More Common


Correct someone about divorce rates, and they’ll probably wave this away by claiming that kids today just have intimacy outside marriage instead. This, again, is actually not true – sexual activity among Zoomers is far lower than previous generations. Add to this a better understanding of sexual health in general, and there are far fewer teenage pregnancies than any time in the past few decades.

Alcohol Consumption Was Way Up


Do you know what else Zoomers are way better at than their parents? Not getting drunk! Alcohol consumption among teenagers is far lower than it has been for several decades. To modern teenagers, the idea of someone going to a stranger’s party, binge drinking to the point of vomiting, and then passing out in the back yard, all feels ridiculously old-fashioned.

Overhead Projectors

Wikimedia Commons / mailer_diablo / CC 3.0

In the time before smart boards and big computer displays in every classroom, teachers got by instead with the overhead projector. This was a weird metal box with a big lightbulb inside, which was then projected onto a wall using a lens and a mirror. Teachers would then either write or print onto transparent plastic paper so that they could display things for the whole class to see.