In the summer of 1995, I was about the same age as my oldest daughter—10 about to turn 11. Just as my daughters are growing up today, split between two households, I was also raised by a single mother. My mom was a nurse who sometimes worked irregular hours. She relied on my grandparents to help when she could not be there, but when I got to an appropriate age, I was left with a good amount of responsibility. My days were filled with endless bike rides around my neighborhood, to the library, and to our local Dairy Queen for a cookie dough blizzard or crunch cone.
Friday nights meant a visit to the nearest Blockbuster in hopes of getting our hands on a new release, followed by a Pizza Hut delivery of pepperoni stuffed crust pizza. Eaten backward, of course. We usually saved the movie for Saturday because we wouldn’t dare miss ABC’s T.G.I.F. lineup of Family Matters, Step by Step, and Boy Meets World. My sister and I would walk to and from school nearly every day, and my mom would just trust that we arrived safely because there was no smartwatch or tracking device to notify her of our arrival from one ‘safe zone’ to the next.
My mom didn’t overpack our schedules or organize playdates for us. We played with the kids in our neighborhood or my mom’s friends’ kids. Plus, I always had my sister. She and I played a lot of house, school, and with Barbies longer than I care to admit. My mom did a lot for us and created wonderful childhood memories for my sister and me. Still, as far as finding everyday activities to keep ourselves entertained, that was left mainly to us.
How I’m Parenting Like It’s the ‘90s
Today, kids have a level of expectation placed on them that didn’t exist 25 years ago. Schedules are packed with sports (starting at much younger ages) and, in many districts, musical activities must be held outside the school day because of the demands of educational testing. In 2023, parents have to deal with many other issues parents back in the ‘90s did not. While I’ve adjusted to the changing times, there are specific values from my ‘90s childhood I still hold onto when raising my two girls.
I let them have some freedom
Will I let them ride the city bus up to the mall? Most likely, no. But when venturing out into our neighborhood, they just have to tell me where they’re going, and I tell them when they need to be home. I don’t feel the need to be outside constantly watching them. Instead, I use that time to cook dinner and catch up on chores.
I don’t know one neighbor friend who has a house phone, so my oldest child does have a Gabb watch. If she wants to stay longer or go to another friend’s house, she doesn’t have to bother a parent to use their cell phone to contact me. I program certain phone numbers into her watch and she can call me or message me whenever she needs to. Giving the kids some responsibility and freedom shows that I trust them to be away from me, use their best judgment, and be aware of their surroundings. And we’ve talked about what to do if approached by a stranger.
I limit screen time and don’t allow social media or cell phones
For the most part, we save iPads for emergency situations: long car rides or when they wake up earlier than I do on the weekends. If we’re out at a restaurant, they entertain themselves by socializing, drawing pictures, or playing multiple games of Tic Tac Toe.
I also currently avoid is social media. I don’t show them anything I see on Instagram, and we’ve never uploaded a video to or watched anything on TikTok together. Despite my 10-year-old’s persistent request and today’s societal norms, social media use for kids is one thing I won’t budge on until she’s well into her teen years and then we can readdress it.
The cell phone subject is also a hot topic between their father and me. I’ve been advised by multiple friends with older daughters to hold off as long as possible. The limits aren’t perfect by any means. My 10-year-old has access to kids’ Facebook messenger, but that came with the pandemic shut down so she could communicate with friends.
We have family nights
Instead of heading to our nearest Blockbuster for family movie night, we all have to agree on what movie we stream. Unless one of the kids had an exceptional week, then sometimes their reward is getting to choose the movie we watch on the weekend. Sometimes we’ll do puzzles or play an exciting round of one of my childhood favorites, Hasbro’s Game of Life, but in the current version, instead of choosing to be a doctor or teacher, they also have the option of being a video influencer. I cherish the weekends with my kids, and my preferred pace is finding fun things to do at home instead of constantly being out and about. Some of my best childhood memories involve simply being together and having fun.
My kids rely on each other for entertainment
While I will help build the occasional LEGO set and play some board games, ultimately, they rely on each other when it comes time to find a playmate. Even though it’s not always peaceful play (they’re sisters, after all) it’s helping them build a stronger sibling bond and teaching them to sort out their differences with little interference from me. When they come running to me with a sibling problem, my usual response is, “Figure it out yourselves.” I’m always telling them how lucky they are to have each other and that no matter whose house they’re at for the week, they’re the constant in each other’s lives.
I want to prolong their childhood
Besides showing that I trust my children to have some freedom, building their sibling bond, and encouraging imaginative play, the biggest reason that I tend to parent like it’s the ‘90s is that I want to provide space where my kids can just be kids. In a book titled Girls on the Brink, which is about helping girls thrive in today’s society, a whole chapter discusses ‘The Missing Years.’ Childhood is being cut short and the window between childhood and adolescence is getting smaller. The expectations society puts on our kids to grow up faster are causing them to lose out on the simple joy of just exploring the world in a carefree way.
Parenting kids today does have some perks
As much as I enjoyed growing up in the ‘90s, (it was the best decade for music!) I also love watching kids today get opportunities that were never a possibility for me growing up. Attending STEM camps, being able to FaceTime grandparents who live far away (I wrote mine handwritten letters when they moved away), and watching them navigate their way around a Smart TV while I fumble my way through are just a few examples. My kids still can’t believe we had to wait for our favorite television show to come on or that we’d have to watch the ticker on the bottom of the screen to see if our school had a snow day. I’m so excited to see who they’ll become growing up in the 2020’s, even if I have to hear them refer to the ‘90s as “the olden days”.