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My Teens Have It Better Than I Did Growing Up in the 80s

By Cheryl Maguire

“I’m so jealous of you!”

That was me speaking, not my teen. We signed up for a music subscription service, and within minutes she had all the latest hits on her iPhone playlist. I was in awe but also jealous of her easy access to music. When i was a teenager growing up in the 80s, I would have loved to have the ability to listen to a song of my choosing within seconds. Even though technology can have its downfalls, I’m envious of all the ways my teen will have it better than I did growing up in the 80s.

WHen I Was A Teenager in the 80s

Let’s take music, for example.

Me in the 80s: I loved all types of music. One of my favorite things to do was create a mixtape. Using my dual cassette Boombox, I recorded a mix of songs onto a cassette tape to later play on my yellow waterproof Sony Walkman player. Sometimes it would take over a week just to make one mixtape.

If I didn’t own the album, I waited for the song to come on the radio and recorded it onto the cassette tape, which often had a little bit of the DJ introducing the song or the song cut off in the end. If I wanted to change a song, I would have to rewind the tape and record over it, which really only worked for the last song since you would end up recording over other songs. Mostly you were stuck with whatever was on the tape.

It was a cumbersome, elaborate process that by the time you were done making a mixtape you were sick of most of the songs and ready to make another one.

My Teen Now: Within seconds she downloads twenty songs onto a playlist to her phone which she can bring with her anywhere. If she becomes tired of a song, clicking delete will eliminate it instantly, or with the click of a button, she can forward to the next song without waiting for the tape to move along or without trying to figure out how long to fast forward until the song is over.

Research Reports

Writing research reports is also so much better for my teens.

Me in the 80s: Thumbing endlessly through the library card catalog, I found a book related to my research paper. I then searched through the library for it, and check it out. Usually, I needed at least three or four books which meant repeating the process. I then had to hand write the paper (we didn’t have a typewriter or word processor until college) and used my mother as spell check.

My Teen Now: A quick Google search reveals over a hundred different links related to her research topic. She then types up her paper in a Google Doc using spell check and then can immediately share it with her teacher without ever leaving her desk.

What—Your Own Phone?

And how lucky are they not to have to use pay phones?

Me in the 80s: After I finished shopping at the mall with my friends I needed to find a pay phone (along with a quarter) to ask my mom to pick us up. She gabbed away for over three minutes which required me to feed another quarter since she went over the time limit. I thought to myself I should have used the collect call trick—when the operator asked for my name I would say, “Pickup Mall.”

My Teen Now: She sends a quick text from her phone, “Please pick me up now.” No quarters. No phone booths. No collect call tricks.

Phones, phones, everywhere phones!

Me in the 80s: One phone in the house and me, my two sisters, and my mom. Of course, we always wanted to use it at the same time.  If you wanted to make a phone call outside of our town, you were charged per minute, so of course, you tried to call after 8 p.m. for the better rates.

My Teen Now: Everyone in the house has their own phone line and can easily make unlimited phone calls (or Facetime) anywhere in the USA without paying additional fees. Although she hardly ever makes “real” phone calls—she mostly uses text messages or social media. I doubt she has ever heard a “busy single” or understands how great it was when “call waiting” was introduced (she probably doesn’t even know what that is either).

Photos Anywhere, Anytime

And phones changed photography forever.

Me in the 80s: I loved taking pictures, but similar to the mixtapes it involved many steps. You had to buy film, use it up by snapping 24 photos and develop it by bringing it to the store which could sometimes take a week. It also could add up costing a lot of money buying the film and processing it.

My Teen Now: She snaps pictures of her friends, her sister or the wall without costing anything and gets to see it instantly.

The next time your teen says, “I’m bored,” you can wow them with your stories about how you created mixtapes, needed a payphone to call home or used a library card catalog. I recently did this with my niece who said, “I know, and you didn’t even have electricity!” which made me laugh since she really thought that was true.

If nothing else, it will ensure you don’t hear the phrase “I’m bored,” ever again.

Cheryl Maguire

Cheryl Maguire holds a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology. She is the mother of twins and a daughter. She has written for Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings, Parent Co., Signature Moms, Mothers Always Write and Twins Magazine. You can find her on Twitter.