Search the site

Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Six Big Differences for Kids Today

If you’re like me, you never appreciated hearing your dad reminisce about how he walked to school, fourteen miles, in the snow, without shoes, uphill…both ways.

Would you allow me, however, to reflect on some of the biggest ways our world is different for students today—and how it may affect future adults? Journalist Amber Dusick inspired me to do this when she wrote about being a mom in a world very different than the one she grew up in thirty years ago. Here goes.

1. Seat Belts

In my early years as a kid, cars didn’t even have seat belts. I remember riding in the back of my grandpa’s pickup on trips to Dairy Queen in Danville, IN. He’d purposely hit bumps so we’d experience the thrill and laughter of bouncing around back there. I don’t remember ever sitting up straight in a car or truck, just being in every other imaginable position! Up until 1984, when the “Buckle Up, It’s the Law” signs emerged, that is. It’s obviously a good law, but boy are we safety-obsessed now. My kids have never jumped, laid down or stood in a back seat…or ridden in the bed of a pickup truck.

2. Childproofing

Oh my gosh. Hazardous, dangerous cleaning products were all over the house, often left open. They had those scary skull stickers slapped onto them, so it was fine. That was childproofing in the 1960s and 1970s. Moms would tell us not to go into certain rooms or touch certain bottles; she might even place a chair in front of something. My children? Any such product is stored very, very, very high and protected by a force field, lasers, electric eyes, locks, secret codes and stun guns.

3. Helmets

I didn’t even know what a bike helmet was when I was young. The only kind of person who wore one would be a grownup, football player or soldier. And we did crazy things. We’d climb huge trees, ride our bikes over a ravine, or even use our bikes to pull skateboards or wagons at full speed down a hill. (I had a huge accident where I fell over the top of my handle bars. It was ugly, and it was awesome). The only good way to stop was to pull off into a ditch and wipe out. Incredible. But…my kids today? No way. In the words of some parents, “Our kids wear helmets at the dinner table.”

4. Screens

I liked screens when I was a kid. Except, the only screen I had was a black-and-white TV—at least until I was ten; then we finally got a color TV. It was amazing. But this screen was an auxiliary form of entertainment. Most of my time was spent making up stuff to do—games, sports competitions, imaginary school classrooms, you name it. And most of my friends were thin and in good health. It would be hard not to be fairly healthy with all the running around and such. We were creative because we had to be; we had to make our own fun. Today—hmm, not so much.

5. Cell Phones

As a kid, I saw these in science-fiction movies. Portable, wireless devices. Are you kidding? Those were gadgets for the distant future. But in the 1980s, we all began to hear about them and see them. In cars, at first. They were like large bricks. But they had no wires or other confinements by the end of the decade. Now, everyone has them—most certainly every teen. Why? Worrying and wandering. Parents worry over where their kids are and what they are doing, so the cell phone is a sort of tether to keep them “on the line.” Not a bad idea, except that we’ve gotten paranoid. The average college student is on her cell phone with Mom eleven times a day.

6. Inside

This one’s big. All my life until I was seventeen or eighteen, we did stuff outside of the house. We drove somewhere or walked, and we messed around—outside. I lived much of my younger years in Ohio; it was cold in the winter and fall. But that was okay. Outside meant freedom. Risk. The unknown. Autonomy. The most striking contrast with kids today that I remember is the freedom I would have when school was out for the summer. I’d eat breakfast and then leave; I’d be gone until Mom finally called us in for dinner at dark. My kids growing up? Yeah, right. At least not until they are older. Like thirty-five.

Just for fun—talk to me. How does your childhood compare? Are there things you did that your kids won’t?



  1. Lisa Collette03 on April 26, 2012 at 7:50 am

    I am 36 and I remember in the early 80s we had one of those metal swing sets. Gasp…it was not anchored in the ground. Our fun…seeing how high we could swing and as a result, how far we could make the swingset posts come out of the ground. It was an art to have the posts come out of the ground without flipping the whole swing over! Today…I never would knowingly let my daughter play on a swingset that wasn’t properly installed. We had many other “adventures” when we were growing up that today would be highly frowned upon! 🙂

    • Tim Elmore on April 26, 2012 at 9:24 pm

      Ha! Great example! It’s amazing to think about the things we did as kids that we would never consider letting our own kids do!

  2. Joyful Homeschooler on April 26, 2012 at 9:59 am

    I had a more “grounded” mother than most.  Even in the 60’s we were tethered.  We had seatbelts in 1961 (dad paid extra).  Of course, I grew up right outside of Washington DC and a stranger tried to abduct me when I was 6…so that could explain it.

    It is sad though, that we don’t even feel safe having our kids in the front yard unless we’re watching them and we had run of the neighborhood.  Although I remember that the windows had eyes in my neighborhood…

    • Tim Elmore on April 26, 2012 at 9:25 pm

      I guess being “grounded” is nothing new. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  3. Homegrown in FL on April 26, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    Air conditioning has changed a lot of what goes on here in Florida.  When I was growing up we had barely functional air every once in a while.  That means it was probably cooler outside under a tree, so outside was where I usually could be found.  BOy what a difference that makes.  When you need to move to stay cool, you will find all kinds of things to do!

    • Tim Elmore on April 26, 2012 at 9:26 pm

      Great point! AC definitely makes it easier to stay inside now – especially in Florida!

  4. Babes7mar on April 27, 2012 at 9:39 am

    I use to take the bus and train to school(Elementary) it took me 45 minutes to an hour to get there. My kids(college) fuss about taking the bus to class 15 minutes from home. 

    • Tim Elmore on May 7, 2012 at 9:30 am

      Great example. It’s all a matter of perspective, right!

  5. Tim Carpenter on April 27, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    Love this! Here are some things I remember:
    Outside play – Take off your school clothes and put on your play clothes.  “When the street light comes on, you best be home.” Mom
    Three channels ..Always had to watch what dad wanted to watch…news. – Remote? ha, our Zenith TV was broken so you had to change the channel with a pliers.
    Sunday school in the old church basement watching filmstrips and flannel graph stories….that “church smell” Kid’s Church? Fun? Are you kidding me? We sat through the whole adult service and we didn’t move or peep.

    • Tim Elmore on May 7, 2012 at 9:32 am

      Great memories! I bet very few kids these days have these great experiences.

  6. Tim Carpenter on April 27, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    Two more things….smoking indoors and on airplanes. Ordering a salad at McDonalds? We would of never believed it.

    • Tim Elmore on May 7, 2012 at 9:33 am

      Haha! My how times have changed – for the better in both of these cases!

  7. Ksimons on April 30, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    Outside…oh the memories of wandering the neighborhood till dark. We knew all of the neighbors too, so if we even tried to do something we shouldn’t be, Mrs. Smith would come out and tell us to cut it out or she would tell our moms. We knew she would too!…and we knew our moms would appreciate the tattle…not get offended like many parents do today!

    We could be blocks away, but we always knew when it was time to be home (forget the cell phones!). I remember hearing my little sister call out “time to come eat dinner!”, but usually our stomachs told us…of course, that was when dinner was at the same time every day, with all of the family around the table.

    • Tim Elmore on May 7, 2012 at 9:34 am

      Thanks for sharing these great examples!

Leave a Comment

Six Big Differences for Kids Today