Gen Xers Share The Best And Worst Parts Of Growing Up In The ’80s

Generation X is often lost in the heated debates between baby boomers, millennials, and Gen Z-ers. They’re tucked in between the late ‘60s and early ‘80s when social constructs were changing and new technology was rampant.

Being born into a world rife with change resulted in a level of independence and self-sufficiency in adulthood. And a lot of that was thanks to the trials and tribulations of having to navigate life in a household where both parents worked.

An online community of Gen X Redditors recently discussed the best and worst parts about being a latchkey kid, and we have to agree…with most of what they had to say.

The Good And Bad Side Of A Latchkey Upbringing

Latchkey kids had their own house keys, and let themselves inside after school to fend for themselves until a parent arrived home from work. In general, as more parents joined the workforce and divorce became more common, it was normal to grow up independently.

Children play game of soccer in the street
(Allsport UK/Getty Images)

“There was something to the feral nature of our upbringing,” a Redditor commented. “We are particularly resilient and resourceful. Further generations have been sort of infantilized compared to the previous generations, for better and worse.” 

That independence was not all good, of course. “There’s a cost, though,” another user countered. “In short, I’m flabbergasted that I actually survived. I drank and drove and stayed out all night and let men take advantage of me (which they did in their entitled assholery unique to the ‘80s). My poor parents had to just hope I’d make it home okay.”

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Taking Entertainment To The Max

Several Redditors cited the music as the best part of growing up as a Gen X-er. “Great clubs, concerts, and music for anyone’s tastes. Martha Quinn and MTV playing videos! Some very fun popcorn movies,” one user wrote.

Side by side images of Bon Jovi and Paula Abdul in the
(;Vinnie Zuffante/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

“The home entertainment revolution [was the best],” another added. “Even though VCRs and cable TV were invented in the ‘70s, they weren’t prolific until the ‘80s, where they combined with video game consoles and emerging TV and speaker technology to create a quality surround sound home theater experience.”

“In this regard,” they continue, “the ‘80s left the ‘70s in the dust. The content created during that decade to view with this tech kicked ass too, including all the youth-oriented action and sci-fi movies, video games, and MTV.”

It wasn’t just video and audio quality that set the ‘80s apart, however. As one user puts it, “we all subscribed to the same ‘reality’ as we were all limited to listening to the same broadcasting of music, movies, TV shows, and news.”

Limited Perspectives And Larger Than Life Crises

That collective “reality” had its pitfalls. “Many of us were not taught the real history of the US or world,” the same user continued. “We came under the influence of marketing and advertising campaigns, which led to hyper-consumerism without regard for the environment.” 

Gay rights protest in Washington DC
(Paul Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

And unfortunately, Gen Xers had to grow up with several crises, often occurring all at once. “This probably depends on where you lived,” one Redditor wrote. “For some, it was crack. For me growing up in suburban NorCal, it was AIDS.”

“It felt like there was no escaping its influence,” they continued. “It fueled homophobia to a fever pitch and even killed two of my teachers in middle school while I was there. The sense of powerlessness we all felt was made worse by the fact that our government chose to ignore that it was even happening for years.” 

Another user added that they remember “Cold War-era fears” permeating their childhood, along with rampant bullying and lots of cigarette smoke everywhere.

The Light And Dark Side Of Smart Phones

Many Redditors referenced social media or smartphones in their comments. As one user states, the best and worst part of growing up in Gen X was “no cell phones and no cell phones. Good, because I didn’t have to check in every single second with anyone. Bad in case I got stuck in a jam, but I usually figured it out.” 

Woman models 1980s cell phone models
(Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images)

Another Redditor agreed with the duality of today’s virtual world. While they believe their face-to-face interactions improved their social skills better than an online environment could, there were limitations to being offline. 

This user cited the worst of a Gen X upbringing as “the absolute lack of information, opportunities, and ideas that modern social networks afford. I would have gone a different route with my schooling, my career, and my location. Just think if you could have asked a group of people what they would think of something. I’m envious of just being able to consider all the choices that my kids have.”

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Hope For The Future

One comment that hit particularly hard in the feels was this: “Best thing: Everything felt possible. Worst thing: That feeling didn’t last.” Indeed, nostalgia paints an even greater divide between what we thought was possible in our youth and the world today.

Whether things are actually better or worse today is entirely relative, but many can’t help but hold a soft spot in their hearts for their lives in the ‘80s and ‘90s. From Aquanet to Atari and everything in between—what’s your favorite part about being Gen X?

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