Things ‘60s Kids Did That Would Horrify Parents Today

By: Alyssa Miller | Published: Nov 29, 2023

“Back in my day … ” It’s a phrase everyone has heard from an older generation. Many of the behaviors and activities that children found fun in the 1960s would shock people today. As culture evolves, so do parenting methods and practices across different cultures and socioeconomic groups.

These changes have all contributed to a decline in children’s freedom. Children today are less safe, less independent, and less able to explore their world. If you grew up in the 1960s, you’re likely to recognize 11 of these norms and practices.

Corporal Punishment Was Common 

These days, kids are a bit more precocious when it comes to what they’re “allowed” to do. But most kids of the ‘60s grew up knowing what their punishment would be if they broke any rules.

Faceless people scolding a discontent black girl

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Corporal punishment was more common in the ‘60s than it is today. According to a 1967 study, 80% of parents reported spanking their children in some form, while about 20% used harsher punishment that often included a tool like a spoon or paddle.

Smoking Around Children Was Common in the ‘60s

Not many people smoke today, let alone smoke around children, but smoking around children was pretty common in the ‘60s.

Photo Of Man Smoking Cigarette

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There were several reasons for this. In the ‘60s, smoking rates were high because tobacco products were marketed as glamorous and sophisticated. Another reason was that there was less awareness of health risks or any knowledge that smoking could cause cancer or other serious health problems. Parents didn’t think there was any harm in smoking, so they assumed their children were safe.

Kids Often Played in the Streets

Parents often let kids run in the streets without much supervision. It wasn’t that the parents didn’t care, they simply believed they were pretty safe.

A Grayscale Photo Kids Posing while Standing on the Street

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Children had a lot more freedom and were much safer than they are today. Crime rates were much lower in the 1960s, making it easier to play outside and explore, and there were fewer cars on the road then, making it safer for children to walk and bike to school and to their friends’ houses.

Walking Was the Main Way to Travel

Those exaggerated stories of your grandparents telling you about walking to school uphill both ways are probably somewhat true. Parents were not dropping off kids at the bus or at school before heading to work.

A group of kids walking through a park

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Kids mainly were sent on their way to school unchaperoned. Again, this comes the ‘60s having lower crime rates and fewer cars on the road.

Nobody Wore Seat belts in the Car

These days, cars and parents will tell you to put your seat belt on (no matter your age) as soon as the car starts moving. We also have air bags today to keep us safe. But in the ‘60s, air bags weren’t invented and the closest thing to a seat belt was a lap belt.

A girl pretending to drive a car

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In the ‘60s, there was less awareness about the safety benefits of seat belts, car manufacturers were not incentivized to make seat belts a standard feature, and there were not many laws requiring the use of seat belts.


Kids Jumped, Unaware of the Risks 

Trampolines today promise safe fun for children. However, there was a lot more risk involved with the pastime in the ‘60s. Kids were allowed to jump around on a trampoline without a net.

Kids jumping on a Trampoline with a safety net

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While parents were not aware of the risks of trampoline accidents, trampoline safety nets were not as widely available as they are today. The limited availability of safety nets likely led to people in the ‘60s being oblivious to proper safety precautions.


Kids Rode Bikes Without Helmets

Before parents knew the dangers of a kid falling and hitting their heads on the ground, kids rode bikes without helmets. Now, parents and children both know the laws put in place to protect kids from getting concussions when they fall.

Greyscale Photo of Two Boys Riding Bicycles

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Back in the day, kids would often jump on their bikes and take off immediately without taking a second to put on their helmets.


Hitchhiking Was a Common Way to Get Around

While some kids today take Ubers to school, children in the ‘60s would hitchhike as a common way to get around. Hitchhiking was a common form of transportation in the United States from the 1930s to the 1970s.

Two Women Smiling while Hitchhiking

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Another reason everyone hitchhiked, children included, was because crime was low and there were fewer cars on the road, which made hitchhiking more appealing than walking the entire way to their destination.


No Need to Wear Sunscreen

Kids in the ‘60s were constantly outside, playing and exploring. Unfortunately, applying sunscreen was not a common ritual before heading out into the sun.

Children Playing on Ground

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Sunscreen was not common in the ‘60s because of the lack of awareness around the benefits of sunscreen. Sunscreen was also not widely available, and, if people had it, the sunscreen in the ‘60s did not provide as much protection from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays.


Unsupervised Swimming

Often, children would be allowed to go into the water and swim on their own. Many parents would not allow this to happen today due to the rise of crime and the unpredictability of what happens in the water, so children often can’t go more than a few feet from their parents.

Woman and Three Children Playing Water

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In the ‘60s, children were deemed safe and responsible enough to know their limits. Children could go for a swim by themselves as long as they stayed within their parents’ eyeline.


Sipping from Garden Hoses

Today’s kids know that it is only safe to drink water from the fridge or a water bottle, but kids in the ‘60s often drank from the outside garden hose.

Boy Standing in Front of Faucet

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Children were playing outside a lot and would take a quick sip from the hose when they were thirsty. There wasn’t much bottled water back then, and nobody knew if the hoses they sipped from could contain harmful bacteria, chemicals, or even lead. If you are thirsty, it is always better to drink from a clean glass of water.