Compared to what parenting looks like now, 1990s moms and dads had it pretty good. Just 20 years ago, there were no cyberbullies, and the world was still a relatively safe place where kids could hang out at the park without supervision.
Though a lot has changed in the decades since, one thing that smartphones and increased safety precautions can never take away from 1990s parents is their memories. And to help you relive your glory days, we’ve rounded up some of the surprising, hilarious, and shocking things only parents of the ’90s will remember. And for more throwback memories, check out the 100 Photos That Kids Born After 2000 Will Never Understand.
Disconnecting kids from the internet was as easy as picking up the phone.
Getting online in the 1990s required a dial-up connection, which was infamously slow and clunky and could be interrupted at any moment if somebody accidentally used the phone. Let’s just say that ’90s parents had a lot of these “accidents,” especially if they felt like their kids were spending too much time on that World Wide Web. And for more on the last decade before the turn of the century, we’re Ranking Every ’90s Teen Movie, From Worst Reviewed to Best.
You could leave your kids unattended in a car—for a second.
Not indefinitely, of course. But if you had to grab something in the grocery store or run into the dry cleaner’s, you could just crack the window and leave your kids safely in the car for a few minutes. It wasn’t considered negligent parenting then; it was just time efficiency. And for more former behaviors that are big no-no’s today, here are 23 Things Our Parents Did That We Could Never Do Today.
You could also leave them in the park unattended.
In the 1990s, kids could play in the park without a responsible adult in sight. Even less fathomable in today’s society, they could walk to the park without giving mom and dad any information beyond, “Be home later.” Wild, huh?
You knew who the bullies were.
If your kid was being bullied in the 1990s, it wasn’t all that difficult to track down the culprit. Bullies during this time period were easy to pick out on the playground and therefore had nowhere to run or hide. It was nothing like today, where harassers lurk in the shadows online, completely anonymous unless they’re willing to be exposed. And for more up-to-date information, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Sending a kid to their room was a real punishment.
In the ’90s, the whole point of sending a kid to their room was to deprive them of the things they enjoy. Back then, the average kid had little more than posters on their wall to stare at as they waited for their parents to finally have mercy on them. Today’s kids, however, have smartphones, laptops, and televisions all within the confines of their bedroom. Limit a modern-day misbehaving teen to their room and they’ll laugh, because that’s where they spend most of their time anyway.
Being the embarrassing mom meant you had a “Rachel” haircut and knew all the words to “MMMBop.”
Or at least, you tried your best to recreate Jennifer Aniston’s iconic hairstyle from Friends. Even Aniston herself has admitted that she could never duplicate the same style in her private life, so don’t feel too bad about botching the legendary cut. And for more entertainment from this decade, check out these 20 Beloved TV Shows from the 1990s You’ve Totally Forgotten About.
Being the embarrassing dad meant you had a soul patch and weren’t shy about rapping along to hip hop songs.
It still baffles quite a few ’90s dads how their rapping of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” didn’t make them the coolest parent on the block. But that didn’t stop them from trying again… and again… and again.
Barney haunted your dreams.
Oh, Barney. That purple dinosaur made most moms and dads want to leap through the nearest open window and run in the opposite direction. Even just the sound of the Barney&Friends theme song is enough to trigger most 1990s parents’ PTSD.
You could sing every lyric to The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King.
If you were a ’90s parent, you could be completely alone, not a child in sight, and you’d still catch yourself mindlessly humming the melody to “Hakuna Matata.” Yes, all of those super catchy songs from ’90s Disney musicals truly crawled deep into your subconscious and refused to leave. We might forget our own names as we grow older, but we’ll never forget the lyrics to “Be Our Guest” or “Under the Sea.” And for more on Disney, check out these Ranking Every Disney Animated Movie, From Worst Reviewed to Best.
Finding a Tickle Me Elmo toy was impossible.
Tickle Me Elmo was the hottest Christmas toy in 1996—so beloved, in fact, that parents literally stampeded through stores just to get their hands on one. Many 1990s parents can still remember the pit of anxiety that came with walking into yet another toy store and hoping against hope that there’d still be one Tickle Me Elmo left on the shelves.
Beverly Hills 90210 felt simultaneously like personal nostalgia and parental research.
Sure, there was plenty in this teen drama to make fun of. But still, there’s a reason Beverly Hills 90210 was hugely popular during the ’90s: It managed to make parents nostalgic for their own teen years while still offering them a window into the real challenges their kids were facing. 90210 could be silly, but it also dealt with serious topics like sex, peer pressure, alcoholism, and eating disorders.
You filled your pantry with what you thought were low-fat “healthy” snacks.
When SnackWell’s cookies were first introduced in 1992, they were marketed as “healthy” because, despite being loaded with sugar, they had zero fat. And while we realize now that’s terrible logic, parents at the time were so caught up in the “low-fat” craze that they totally bought up boxes and boxes of devil’s food cookie cakes and vanilla creme sandwich cookies.
High-fructose corn syrup was no big deal.
Who’s afraid of synthetic sweeteners? Not a ’90s parent! If they even bothered to look at the ingredients on a bottle of Pepsi, it didn’t really even concern them that high-fructose corn syrup was pretty high on the list.
You had to give your kid actual lunch money.
Thanks to online lunch accounts, making sure your kid has the funds for a hot meal at school has never been easier. But in the ’90s, every transaction your kid made was with cold, hard cash. As a parent during this decade, your options were to either A) pack your child something to bring for lunch, or B) give them a few $1 bills to buy something in the cafeteria. If you forgot to slip your son or daughter some money in the morning before they left for school, they’d come home with a growling stomach begging for Bugles.
And PB&J was still an acceptable lunch.
A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a classic American lunch. But with most schools these days banning or severely restricting peanut butter because of nut allergies, it’s become an endangered sandwich species in the school setting. Sure, peanut allergies existed in the ’90s, but it wasn’t nearly the epidemic it is today.
The Tooth Fairy was affordable.
As a kid in the ’90s, you were lucky to get a quarter for every tooth you lost, maybe a dollar if it was your first tooth or your parents were feeling especially generous. These days, though, kids make up to $5 a tooth. A five dollar bill! It’s highway robbery, we’re telling you. A ’90s parent would have never stood for it.
Screen time wasn’t as big of a concern.
Excessive phone and television usage wasn’t a problem for 1990s parents like it is today. One 2019 study published in JAMA Pediatrics even found that the amount of time young children are spending staring at screens has more than doubled since the mid-1990s. Of course, parents had to monitor the amount of cable TV their children watched in the ’90s—but today, streaming services, high-speed internet, and social media sites have turned media consumption into a worldwide epidemic.
Music festivals were only just becoming popular.
Lollapalooza. Warped Tour. Coachella. During these festivals’ infancies in the ’90s, they were all still years away from becoming some of the most popular mainstream music events in the world. So when parents heard their kids announce that they were “heading to Lollapalooza” or “hitting up Warped Tour,” they could basically only scratch their heads and wonder whether their kids were joining a cult.
Overalls were the perfect parenting outfit.
Not only was a big pair of denim overalls fashionable in ’90s, but it was also perfect for any busy parent on the go. The numerous pockets may have been designed for tools, but moms and dads used them to conveniently store baby wipes, bottles, and pacifiers instead.
Kids were impossible to entertain during road trips.
Kids in the ’90s didn’t stare passively at their laps during road trips, hypnotized by their screens or devices. They usually spent most of those car rides complaining about how bored they were, repeatedly asking their parents, “How much loooooonger?” Invariably, they’d eventually get into loud arguments with their siblings, pushing, shoving, and shouting until mom had to pull over and get involved.
Vaccinations were not controversial.
If you had kids in the ’90s, you got them vaccinated. If someone had said to you, “I’ve decided not to have my child vaccinated against polio,” you would have been dumbfounded.
Spanking was (mostly) still acceptable.
At the start of the 1990s, spanking was a relatively normal form of discipline. In fact, a Gallup poll from 1994 found that 67 percent of parents at the time believed that “a good, hard spanking” was an acceptable way to discipline a child.
However, in that same year, a Georgia mother was arrested for slapping her 9-year-old son in a grocery store, sparking a national debate that eventually led to the demise of this outdated form of punishment.
You thought your kids would see Russia as one of the good guys.
By the 1990s, with the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, parents excitedly told their kids about things like glasnost (Russian for “openness”) and how America was entering a golden age of U.S.-Russia relations. Parents had every reason to think their children would grow up in a world where Russia was an American ally and that U.S. citizens would never have anything to fear from that nation ever again. Time is a fickle thing indeed.
Showing Star Wars to your kids was monumental.
The re-release of the original Star Wars trilogy in the late ’90s gave every parent an excuse to lecture their children about why Luke Skywalker and Han Solo were the greatest film heroes in cinema history. Kids weren’t always impressed, but that didn’t matter—at least parents got a chance to relive the glory days of a galaxy far, far away.
The Y2K bug was something that kept you up at night.
Parents and non-parents alike were so sure that when the clocks rolled over on December 31st, 1999, all computers would simultaneously self-destruct. Why? The majority of programs only used the last two digits for each year, so people believed the year 2000 would be incorrectly interpreted as 1900. A lot of parents were paranoid that the world would devolve into chaos and their families would be in imminent danger.
Luckily, we now know how that story ended: The millennium bug turned out to be a false alarm. And 2000s parents had a whole host of other things to worry about with computers instead. And for more on the parenting facts we believed that are wholly untrue, check out these 17 Parenting Myths People Have Believed for Decades.