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A Walk Down Memory Lane: Things Our Kids Don’t Understand

I’ll just put it out there that I don’t know how to use our television. Even turning it on involves two remote controls and a fair amount of button pushing. Once one of my kids sets me up, I’m usually good to go—unless the dog sits on the wrong remote and somehow changes the channel. I see my teens shake their heads and wonder how I actually manage to make it through a day.

Recently, Your Teen asked parents on Facebook to share something from their teen years that their teen wouldn’t understand. The responses poured in, and each one filled me with nostalgia and provided me with a much needed reminder that I knew a thing or two in my day.

The Generation Gap: The Same but Different

It’s kind of comforting to know that there are a few treasures of our youth that our teens can relate to even if our version is now obsolete. The first is the mixtape—in our case, compilations of the best of Soul Train, Casey Kasem’s Top 100, American Bandstand, or MTV. Often listened to using our Walkman or maybe even our Boom Box, these creations were the result of time and effort, and much like our teen’s playlists, expressed our tastes and personalities.

The second everything-old-is-new-again item speaks to teenagers’ universal need for privacy: a long phone cord. While smart phones and texting make privacy almost too easy for our own teenagers, a long enough cord (that didn’t get too tangled) allowed us to avoid having to conduct our business in the kitchen where one of our parents was within earshot. Instead, we could take the phone down the basement steps and partake in our confidential conversations. Of course, if you were lucky enough to have a phone installed in your room, you had it made. And then, how about those truly lucky ones who had a party line?!

Different, and Mind-Blowing

Perhaps more importantly, these memories reminded me that I know a thing or two that my teens who seem to have the world at their fingertips cannot comprehend.

Our teens may be the masters of their phones, but they have no idea how we used ours, starting with using the device to actually talk to people. We answered the phone even if we didn’t know who was calling, and we left messages too. Remember taking the change out of your penny loafer to make a collect call home from a pay phone that signified that your parents should come and pick you up? How about dialing 411 to get information? Or the short-term satisfaction that came from slamming a rotary phone in someone’s ear when you were frustrated? And how about those prank calls that seemed so hilarious at the time?

Teens know how to press buttons, but do they know the most important thing you can do with a pencil: Fixing a cassette tape so that our precious mixtape can live to see another day? Because who didn’t have to “operate” on their cassette in order to be able to hear their favorite song, which they had waited hours for the radio station to play (perhaps even calling to make a request for it) so they could record it and play it over and over to their heart’s content—until the cassette tape got too loose?

We also spent our time doing these other things that our teens can’t wrap their minds around:
  • Going skating at the roller rink that had a disco light
  • Spending half of the evening at Blockbuster choosing what movie we’d watch (and being reminded: “be kind, please rewind”)
  • Watching television at home in the family room and having to get up to change the channel
  • Looking at a map before we went somewhere to figure out how to get there

Even the way we did our schoolwork makes no sense to them. Doing research for school required us to use a card catalog, scroll through microfiche, and pull out our Encyclopedia Britannicas. We had to be careful as we typed our assignments on our typewriters, with the white out at the ready in case we made a mistake.

What struck me most, however, upon looking back, is what may be a lost art: patience. We waited years for the next book in a series we loved. We waited a whole week for the next episode of our favorite tv show. We waited until our roll of film was developed before we knew whether our pictures turned out. We waited when we heard a busy signal when we called our friends. We waited for the newspaper to get the news, or more importantly, the movie listings.

So next time you have to ask your teen to help you turn on the TV, and they roll their eyes with you and mumble about how you don’t know anything, take a deep breath and smile. You learned the words to your favorite songs without ever being able to Google the lyrics.

Jody has spent her life around teens, as a teacher and as a parent of three.

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