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Boomer Norms That Millennials Just Wouldn’t Understand

By: Calla Conway | Published: Nov 01, 2022

There are generational difference in every generation, but this is especially true between baby boomers and millennials. There has been great and unprecedented change during the 20 and 21st centuries. Many baby boomers might say that millennials have it easy compared to back in their day.

In fact, for people born between 1946 and 1964, life was quite different than what millennials are experiencing. Here are just some of the things boomers did that may seem odd to children of today. It was a different time.

Saturday Cartoons

Turn on the TV nowadays, and it doesn’t take long to scroll to a station completely dedicated to children’s entertainment.

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Kids in the 60s and 70s couldn’t turn on the TV anytime they wanted and enjoy children’s entertainment, and they surely couldn’t load a media distribution system to pull up their favorite shows or search YouTube for children’s videos. Instead, they waited for Saturdays when all the cartoons came on early in the morning.

Sugary Cereals Were the Thing

We’re not short on sugary cereals nowadays by any means. Parents have options today of healthier brands for cereal as well.

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Even unsugared cornflakes had a tablespoon of sugar. Maybe, there were more smiles in the morning back then, but as you can imagine, cavities were a huge issue at that time.

Lead Paint on Everything

While lead poisoning still happens, it’s not as common in most areas of the US since lead-based paints have been banned since the 1970s.

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During the boomer generation, lead paint was used both inside and out, despite the known risk of lead exposure. In fact, the risks of lead exposure in high quantities to workers and residents of homes with lead-based paint were known as early as 1904, but it didn’t stop people from still using them.

Poisoning and Explosions from Chemistry Sets

Today, chemistry and other science kits are heavily regulated. A child may be using baking soda to make a small, contained volcanic eruption or mix dish soap and other non-invasive substances to create slime.

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In the boomer generation, chemistry sets were known to contain hazardous lead and cause serious explosions like the ones created by the Gilbert Nuclear Physics kit.

Exploding Cars

We won’t even get into the minimal safety devices in cars because even if cars did have those things, it still wouldn’t have saved every child when the cars were exploding.

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In 1970, Ford released the Pinto that had a defect and not just a slight one. Due to an awful fuel tank design, these cars were known to explode. And this wasn’t the only vehicle to have this flaw at the time.

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Parenting Took a Tribe

If you’re a parent, could you imagine someone else spanking or seriously reprimanding your child instead of sending them home to you or informing you of their wrongdoings?

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During the boomer’s time, it was normal for other individuals in the community to parent a child for their naughty behavior. And that didn’t stop the parents from disciplining further once the tot returned home.

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No Crying for Boys

Imagine telling your little boy to suck it up after a serious fall. Today, we console our children and do what we can to help them when they get hurt, like clean it with peroxide and put an adhesive bandage on it. Adult men are even encouraged to express their emotions openly nowadays.

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However, in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, this just wasn’t the case. Boys were told not to cry. The no-tear policy was preparing them to become big, strong men early on.

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Unsupervised Outdoor Playtime

Maybe parents nowadays are a bit overprotected, or maybe it’s just that the world today isn’t nearly as safe. However, parents don’t let their children have much-unsupervised playtime outside, especially if that requires the child to leave the yard.

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For boomers, it was nothing for them to be gone from early morning until the streetlights came on, and the parents did not have any idea where the kids even were. Don’t get us wrong, we believe parents cared; we just think it was a safer time to raise a child.

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Hitch-Hiking Was the Norm

Although you still see people out hitch-hiking, it’s rare in today’s world. We’re not sure what changed, but your child probably knows better than to get in the car with a stranger.

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In the boomer’s time, hippies and other people were known to hitchhike across the country, and children have even been reported to hitchhike when they were running away.

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Smoking Was a Sign of Growing Up

Today, you wouldn’t think of smoking in a vehicle with a child or even in a house. We know the dangers of secondhand smoke, and we certainly wouldn’t smoke with an infant in our arms. Today, we also have stricter laws regarding who can purchase tobacco.

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However, not only was it normal in those days to smoke in the home and car with little kids in close range, but teenagers were encouraged to smoke as a sign they were growing up. Additionally, we should mention that children could walk in the store easily and pick up a pack of cigarettes for their parents without any problem, and nobody would have batted an eye if you smoked with an infant in your arms.

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Kids Running Errands

It was also common for parents to send their young children out to the store with a note of everything they needed to buy. Back then it was a great way to keep the children busy while teaching them a level of responsibility.

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Of course, today this is potentially a dangerous situation for children and would not be advised. In general, allowing one’s young kids to wander about the city or town unsupervised is typically unheard of today.

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Giving or Receiving a Swirly

Kids can be cruel today, don’t get us wrong. We still have bullies, but they weren’t anything like the ones of yesteryear.

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Back then, bullies would place another child’s head in a toilet and flush — also known as a swirly. Not only is this extremely unhygienic, but it’s downright cruel. We’re happy this is one tradition that’s been left in the past.

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Playing in the Streets

You probably tell your child to look both ways when crossing the street and not to play in the road. You strive to keep them safe in your backyard or take them on regular trips to the playground to burn off energy.

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In the 40s, 50s, and 60s, there weren’t neighborhood parks everywhere. And just like today, not everyone has a big enough backyard for children to play freely. This led to girls drawing hopscotch boards on the streets, and boys playing tag and hockey right in the middle of the road.

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Unsafe Toys

The days of playing with only sticks and stones were long over by the 1950s and 60s. During this time, toys like action figures and playdough hit the market and were paving the way for some of the most interesting and amazing creations of today.

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On the other hand, not every toy from these decades was revolutionary. Some of them were flat-out dangerous, and there weren’t regulations on them like there are today. A prime example is Creepy Crawlies. Don’t let its name fool you; nobody was concerned that this involved bugs. It, however, came with a hot plate that kids were instructed to heat up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, more than enough to give them a serious burn. It didn’t help that children often used the hot plate to melt plastic and metal.

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Girls Didn’t Play Rough

Little girls didn’t play in the dirt or roll around and fight with the boys. No little girls were out playing football or climbing trees, either. Today, however, girls get to let loose just like little boys.

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Back in the 50s and 60s, little girls were given play ovens, strollers, and dolls and were expected to stay in line. Obviously, just like today, this wasn’t for every girl.

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Gendered Toys

Back in the day, toys were specifically designed and marketed to either boys or girls. If the toy was capable of fighting, shooting, or moving fast and was red or blue in color, you could safely bet it was considered a boy toy. Toys designed for girls on the other hand featured anything pink, soft, or considered to be a doll.

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Boys were expected to play with toys deemed for boys while girls were expected to play with toys deemed for girls. Any other way was considered improper, but of course, by today’s standards those expectations have changed.

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Girls Ruined Their Hair

Today, many of the products for girls’ hair are safe. The hair dye and curlers have been heavily regulated and held to certain standards.

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If you’re a boomer woman, chances are you may have put some products in your hair that weren’t healthy for your hair and may have even damaged it. For instance, many girls used peroxide that harmed their scalps and rollers that hurt. Didn’t like your curly hair? You may have even used a standard clothing iron to straighten your hair, which ultimately would burn it.

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Catholic School Punishments

Parents today probably couldn’t imagine letting their children’s instructors spank or discipline them physically. Today, even to spank a child, a principal has to have permission from the parents, and it’s only legal in certain states.

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As boomers were growing up, nuns in schools had no problem whipping out a ruler and cracking the naughty child across the knuckles. If a nun had enough with a child, it was common for them to drag the child by the ear to the principal’s office.

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Hanging Out at the Candy Store

Like adults who visit the bar, children growing up in the 50s and 60s would hang out at the candy store. Keep in mind that this was also a time when candy was extremely cheap. Can we say diabetes and tooth decay?

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Today, we walk into the candy store with children, regulate what they get, and leave. We couldn’t imagine letting children spend that much time in a candy store unsupervised, and they’re probably much better off for it.

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Unregulated Cribs

When you purchase a crib nowadays, there are strict regulations related to safety. If a manufacturer produces a model that has any known issues, the manufacturer recalls the crib.

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Boomer babies weren’t so lucky. There were no guidelines to dictate how far apart the slats were, which meant that a child’s head could easily get stuck in between a pair. It’s been reported that children’s little fingers got stuck as well.

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Pouring Blood-Red Liquid on Wounds

A little bit of peroxide and an adhesive bandage make everything better after an injury by today’s standards.

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Children of the 50s and 60s probably dreaded getting a wound. If a kid got a cut or a scrape, a parent poured mercurochrome — a bright red liquid consisting of mercury that burnt upon application. Fortunately, this antiseptic is no longer used.

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Disco Parties Were All The Rage

If you were looking for a cool place to hang out, party, or bring your date on a Friday night, you better believe that the roller rink was the place to be. These roller skating disco parties were all the rage for teens and young adults in their early 20s.

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Imagine taking your dancing skills to the next level as you attempt to socialize and impress your friends with your epic roller moves all while jamming out to Donna Summer or the Bee Gees. Today, you’ll have to go out of your way to find a roller rink around.

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Gas Shortages

While we had a brief period when we were fearful of a gas shortage in 2021, we’ve never actually had a gas shortage in recent years. We’re used to being able to get gas, go to work, and go anywhere we want without worrying that there won’t be gas.

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Children in boomer times didn’t quite know when they would be able to venture out of their homes at times. During two years in the 70s, the US was dealing with a gas shortage. Gas stations began to display signs as to whether they had gas or not.

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Scars from Vaccines

Today, vaccines are either oral or injectable. A child receives the injection from a syringe with a single needle. We no longer give the smallpox vaccine as a routine vaccination because smallpox is no longer a threat, and the vaccine had some dangers.

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Boomers received the smallpox vaccine, though. You’ll notice that most boomers have the scar to show for it — a round circle from the smallpox vaccine gun.

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Toxins in the Womb

Today, an OB-GYN will give an expecting mom a list of dos and don’ts at her first prenatal visit. It’s not shocking to most that the list states that an expected mother shouldn’t drink or smoke because of the risk it poses to the unborn baby, including low birth weight, fetal alcohol syndrome, facial abnormalities, and behavioral problems.

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When boomers were being born, this wasn’t known, and it wasn’t uncommon to see a pregnant woman holding a glass of wine, smoking a cigarette, or both at the same time.

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Fighting Over the Phone

In 2021, we walk around and see kids between the young ages of eight and ten with phones in their hands, never knowing what it’s like to fight over the phone.

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For most boomers, there was only one landline in the house connected to the wall. It was a common occurrence for children to fight with other children for phone usage privileges. Not to mention, there was no such thing as caller-ID or call waiting at that time, and only wealthy people had more than one line.

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Fire Hydrant Showers

As of now, most firefighters won’t fill up pools or will only do it for a fee. Perhaps you may not have ever witnessed a fire hydrant being turned on. Back in the day, this wasn’t the case.

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The fire hydrants were turned on by city officials during the summer to cool off hot children. When city officials didn’t do it, parents or siblings would turn it on. Now, that’s something considered highly illegal to do.

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Walking to School

The kids who live right near the school are the ones who still walk nowadays, often accompanied by a parent holding their hand.

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Although school buses were around for boomers, not all areas had them, and children, even younger elementary-aged kids were encouraged to walk further distances. It seems like something that’s a shame not to do anymore, but it’s not nearly as safe out there as it once was.

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Water Hose Fountains

Typically, when a child wants a drink nowadays, they come in the house and grab a water bottle and go back outside. Some of them wouldn’t even think of picking up the garden hose and drinking from the water they’re playing in.

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Imagine a time in the 50s and 60s where children were playing outside and drinking right from the hose. Whether you know it or not, bacteria and mold can grow inside of a hose. That’s not taking into consideration that some hoses are made from toxic materials.

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Latchkey Kids Were Common

A survey published by the Pew Research Center indicated that forty-six percent of two-parent households consist of two parents working. With it being so common, daycares, babysitters, day camps, and more are set up to help busy parents have supervision for their children.

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Mothers were entering the workforce in the 1960s, which left a lot of children fending for themselves more than ever before. Keep in mind that by 1970, about 31 percent of two-parent households had both parents working. During these years, children were given a key to enter their otherwise empty house and told not to let anybody in. Many of us couldn’t imagine doing that to our children in today’s world.

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Spanking and Discipline

This is a bit of a controversial subject. Some people believe we need to bring back spanking, while other parents shudder at the thought of someone disciplining their children like that.

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However, what can’t be debated is that boomers grew up getting spanked, or even getting hit with a belt, as a form of discipline. Today, some of these punishments could have resulted in a call to children’s services.

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Chasing Toxic Fumes

Today, we stress the dangers of car exhaust fumes for both the planet and our lungs. We also realize the dangers of pesticides and other similar chemicals. Back in the day, this wasn’t the case. Global warming wasn’t a pressing concern, and we didn’t understand the dangers of car exhaust and pesticides.

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Back in those times, children would chase the trucks that emitted insecticides and other toxic chemicals to kill mosquitoes and other pests. Little did we know then that children were inhaling toxic fumes, as they ran after the trucks as a game.

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Bike Riding With No Helmet

Most parents make sure their children wear a bicycle helmet anytime they’re on their bikes. Some parents even go as far as to require their children to wear a helmet on a scooter or skateboard. This may seem strange to many of the boomer parents.

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The first helmet wasn’t even created until 1975, so boomer kids definitely weren’t wearing helmets growing up. Even as they started gaining popularity, you were made fun of for wearing one because it wasn’t deemed as cool or fashionable. Parents in the 50s, 60s and 70s were always encouraging their kids to shake off skinned knees or bumped heads.

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Beach Babysitters

Beach time is usually a family event in today’s world. We all spend time playing in the sand and may watch the kids go out for a swim as they mingle with other children.

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Beach time for boomers was so much different. They were left at the beach while their parents went back home to accomplish chores and other tasks. Sounds like a serious drowning risk, doesn’t it? Back then, lifeguards would watch the children and make sure they stayed safe. They probably deserved a raise!

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Safety Nets on Trampolines Were Non-Existent

Take a look at any trampoline you buy online or in a store. They all come with a net. If you’re a parent, you probably would never let your child bounce on a trampoline that didn’t have a safety net. Although trampolines came out in the late 1930s, they had no nets. It actually wasn’t until 1997 that the first net was approved and sold.

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Back in the day, children would jump on trampolines for hours without any enclosure around them. As you can picture, children were limping, bruised, and suffering from broken bones from flying off of trampolines.

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Traveling to a Friend's House Unescorted

For any parents reading this, could you imagine letting your child just walk to a friend’s house without contacting the other parent first, arranging for the playdate, and taking them there, either by foot or car?

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In the 50s, 60s, and 70s, the Internet didn’t exist, so parents didn’t have that luxury of setting up playdates by contacting the other parent through Facebook. Children didn’t have cell phones, so they weren’t expected to check in like they do today. Parents would go for hours and hours and have no idea where their children were.

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Spinning Round and Round

As you look around at playgrounds nowadays, you may notice the equipment has changed. Seesaws and merry-go-rounds are getting more and more scarce. You’ll also notice a gaggle of parents around the equipment to help kids stay safe. Most parents will only spin the merry-go-round slightly fast to reduce the risk of injury.

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For children growing up in the boomer days, it was a common occurrence to see parents spinning children as fast as they can. You can just imagine the number of kids who vomited or flew off the equipment and had serious injuries.

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Sunbathing Without Sunscreen

Global warming wasn’t a concern when boomers were growing up. They played for hours and hours on end in the sun without any protection for their skin.

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With global warming being such a concern, most parents raising this generation would cringe to think that a parent would let their child be at risk for skin cancer as well as serious and painful sunburns like that.

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Daughters Couldn't Date

You still hear people joke about getting a rifle and waiting for their daughter’s first date. And don’t get us wrong, there are still protective fathers nowadays.

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However, the 1960s were when protective fathers were chasing their daughter’s beau out of the yards, possibly even with a shotgun in hand. Today, girls would be traumatized.

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Unsupervised Stove and Oven Time

In this day and age, we typically cook or bake with our children and teach them how to use the stove properly. With parents working in the past, children were often left to cook for themselves.

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Fortunately, TV dinners were microwaveable and came out in the 50s as a convenient meal option. Yet, not all families had TV dinners available at all times and children were often left cooking unsupervised.

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Talking to Strangers

Presently, parents lecture their children on the importance of staying away from strangers due to the risks. In schools, they even teach stranger danger.

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If you were growing up several decades ago, it was common to talk to a stranger without ever thinking anything of it. It was a much safer, more innocent time, and parents didn’t have the worries they do now when it comes to suspicious strangers.

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Blood Exchanges as a Sign of Comradery

With all we know about AIDS, hepatitis, and other blood-borne illnesses, you wouldn’t even imagine swamping blood with another human being or letting your child do it, either. However, back in the day, we knew nothing about viral, bacterial, and parasitic blood-transmitted infections.

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Source: Getty Images Photo by Dr. Paul Wolff & Tritschler

Back in that time, a child would exchange blood with their closest friend and call each other blood brother or blood sister. Friendship bracelets and handshakes are so much safer and less painful!

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Sleeping in the Rearview Window

Children of the 90s and into the new millennium are used to car seats and safety belts. They are not only a suggestion but required by law.

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For boomer babies, the rearview window had a cushy spot where you could sleep. Not only were they at risk of getting seriously injured during an accident, especially during a rear-end collision, but how could parents see what’s behind them when driving? We’re curious as to how this became a good idea.

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Shaking Photos to Develop Them Faster

Kids in the present time can take a picture with their parent’s phones, their own phones, or a digital camera. It instantly pops up on the screen to show you exactly what was captured.

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Children back in the day would take a picture on a camera and shake the picture that printed out profusely until it developed and dried fully. This was actually just a waste of time because it didn’t help them develop any faster, as noted on Polaroid’s website.

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Not Knowing About Childproofing

The children of today have it pretty easy compared to last century. There are numerous things set up just for them, including all sorts of childproof locks and accessories that prevent kids from getting sick or injured.

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In the past, if a child wanted to play around the house, it was an obstacle course of potential deathtraps. Electrical cords, outlets, sharp edges, and choking hazards were all in reach. Even medicine bottles didn’t have childproof seals. We can only imagine their curiosity and amazement with these dangerous things!

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Family Conversations

Back then, children ate at the children’s table while the grown-ups sat with the other grown-ups. Parents absolutely focused on and nurtured their kids, but they were not welcomed into dinnertime discussions.

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Today, the culture has changed. Parents interact with their children at the dinner table. In fact, in the era of smartphones, some kids feel that they get too much conversation from their parents at the dinner table! Nevertheless, family talks are essential to strengthen bonds and to facilitate understanding and unity.

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The Military Draft

Back in the ‘60s, the military draft was a common thing. Unbelievable, right? Men as young as 18 years of age could be drafted into the military to fight in conflicts they didn’t start.

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At present, Americans who are 19-26 years old cannot be drafted into the military. Instead, they must apply if they wish to follow this as a career. Indeed, nowadays the military can be quite selective, with many people not making it in.

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Bubblegum Was Everything

Blowing bubblegum bubbles was extremely popular among boomer kids. In fact, there were even bubble-blowing contests! This activity was fun but tricky as bubblegum was not permitted in class back then. Only the most confident children were brave enough to sneak some in.

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Obviously, with all that sugar twirling around in their mouths, cavities were a massive issue. Teachers and parents became more and more strict about the sweet treats as the dentist bills grew.

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Skateboards Were Dismal

Skateboards have advanced by leaps and bounds over the last couple of decades. Back in the ’60s, the skateboard was little more than a plank of wood with wheels slapped on.

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The photo above is clear evidence of what a dull, unattractive skateboard looked like in the past. This obviously didn’t make for the best skateboard stunts since all you could really do was go forward. No wonder some boomers get mad at skateboarders today – they’re probably just jealous!

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Car Safety Was Ignored

Strapping in is a habit nowadays. Our hands instinctively go for the safety belt, and we lock in without a thought. This hasn’t always been the case. Back when boomers were kids, safety belts weren’t a thing, so kids could jump around in the car and sit wherever they liked. 

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If you were a baby, you may have gotten to ride on your mother’s lap while she (or your dad) was driving. Though all that freedom sounds fun, as you can probably imagine, it put people in more danger of being hurt. Thankfully, cars back then didn’t travel at the same speeds they can reach today. 

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Plastic Was All the Rage

Aside from not childproofing their homes back then, dangerous toys were also common devices for kids. Among all the horrors that were normal back then, nothing can beat this 1960s nightmare called “the Creepy Crawler.” If this taught kids anything, it was that hot plastic can give you third-degree burns!

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This toy involved liquefying plastic and metal with extreme heat. How could this be considered safe for kids? We wonder how their parents allowed them to play with such dangerous toys.

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Irritating Your Sibling on Road Trips

Nowadays, when the family stacks into the vehicle for their yearly cross-country excursion, everybody has enough gadgets to keep them entertained. In the ‘60s, however, you only had your siblings to keep you occupied. The best way to get past the boredom of the road was to irritate your sister or brother as much as you could.

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If you weren’t the perpetrator, you were the victim of annoyance. Sibling bonds surely got toughened up in the ‘60s with all the fighting and screaming. What do you think?

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The Watergate Scandal

Even those who weren’t updated on governmental issues were glued to their TVs and radios over the infamous Watergate Hearings. Many felt that they were seeing the end of the era of democracy.

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When Americans saw President Richard Nixon resign from the White House and get into that helicopter instead of being impeached, the country was enthralled, making that incident the most extraordinary one to go down during the ‘70s.

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The Rise of Star Wars

Imagine living in the years before Star Wars existed. People went about life with no idea of the insanity that was about to arise. By the late ‘70s, it would be all lightsabers and Darth Vader impersonations. However, in the early ‘70s, no one knew what was coming.

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Star Wars is a space opera, and the infamous franchise was created by George Lucas. The original 1977 film instantly became a worldwide pop-culture phenomenon. The rest, as they say, is history.

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