I’ve been thinking a lot about how LP and Little Man’s childhood is different from my own, how it was simpler 25 years ago, things were less material and how I loved more basic things like playing outside, reading and making tents in the garden with sheets. It’s not that the children don’t love those things now, just that life is busier, has more distractions and there are just more options when it comes to entertainment than there were when I was LP’s age.
I take the children to soft play all the time. We go at least a couple of times a month and it’s their favourite way to pass a rainy morning. But, when I was little soft play didn’t exist. Instead, if it was raining, we would take all the cushions off the sofa and use them to make our own indoor fun or we’d put our wellies on and go and jump in puddles.
I remember getting in from school and turning the TV on, having four whole channels to choose from – with only two showing children’s TV shows. It was the same on a weekend morning, dragging myself downstairs in my pyjamas and turning on Live and Kicking or Going Live. Our TV choices were limited but we would watch them or we would do something else. It was that simple.
Nowadays, children spend more time choosing what to watch than actually watching it. Terrestrial TV no longer exists and so if you have access to TV shows then you have hundreds if not thousands of options at the click of a button. I can count my favourite shows from childhood across the fingers on both hands whereas LP and Little Man have so many favourite shows, with more being added as each week goes by.
They also have reality TV as part of the life they are growing into. So many shows follow real people around, not actors just real people doing real things. I remember the first series of Big Brother, how it was so new, so different and so compelling to watch. From there we have seen so many singing contests, talent contests and people sharing their whole life on screen. The Only Way is Essex, Made in Chelsea and Gogglebox are all pretty normal TV now and as popular as a proper series or soap. I wonder what LP and Little Man will make of these type of shows that will end up being so normal for them and such a typical part of their TV viewing when they’re older.
I remember having a few VHS tapes that I would record on, over and over again. Taping movies or an episode of Byker Grove to watch later. I had a few Disney movies on VHS too and DVDs didn’t get launched until my late teens. To have the amount of movies, right there on DVD, that LP and Little Man have would have been a thing of dreams when I was a child – we didn’t even have the space for that many movies on VHS – let alone the money.
We didn’t have the internet at home until my late teens either when our first dial-up connection was installed. The idea of having a computer that we could walk around with, a tablet that we could take everywhere with us and have access to a whole world of information and activities at the touch of a button would have been so futuristic, something we could only dream of.
But now, the internet is everywhere. It’s hard to find somewhere now where there isn’t wifi although you occasionally have to pay extra for it. Children are growing up with apps to do pretty much anything, social media ready to join when they get older enough and YouTube to while away the time when they have nothing better to do – watching anything from music videos to toys being unboxed. The most I had as a child was MTV at friends’ houses – we didn’t have cable or Sky at home so even music videos weren’t easy to access back then and instead I listened to the chart on the radio on a Sunday evening, my Mum doing the ironing and me doing the last of my homework. We didn’t even have MP3s back then – no iPods and just my trusty old Sony Discman, before that a cassette Walkman. Now, having my whole music collection with me wherever I go is still something I find amazing. But, back then, I loved listening to an album over and over until I bothered to change the cassette or CD. The first album you bought was always something special, a right of passage. Now, without that tangible case and disc in their hands I doubt it would be as memorable an experience for LP and Little Man.
The children love to watch TV shows or play games on my phone. They know how to take photos using the camera on it and they love talking to Daddy on loudspeaker when he’s at work. Children use FaceTime and Skype and they can’t imagine not having access to people, family and friends, at the touch of a button but when I was small mobile phone weren’t commonplace – they were clunky and huge, reserved mainly for the armed forces. But by my teens mobile phones were smaller, they could fit in your pocket and I remember getting my first one – after collecting ring pulls on Coke cans.
The same goes for GPS – it just wasn’t around when I was little. We had to read maps, with one person driving and one directing with so many arguments all starting over map reading. The children now are growing up knowing when we have reached our destination – as a little voice tells them so. They’ll never hear Dave and I arguing over whether it was the first or second left and they will always know where they are going.
Through my childhood our dinners were simple and snacks were fruit, crisps or toast. Actual snacks aimed at children weren’t really a thing although I do remember there being a lot of drinks especially for children – those plastic bottles with the top you would twist or chew off. There was also so much confectionary – sweets everywhere and always at supermarket checkouts, something you don’t often see today. But, snacks were simple and we had three meals a day, mostly homemade. There weren’t many of the kitchen gadgets you see today – our trusty Tefal Actifry would have been seen as a complete waste of money back then, taking up precious space in the cupboard. There were no recipe boxes delivered to your door and there wasn’t the health conscious marketing that there is today – no traffic lights on food packaging and pretty much one option of each thing when you went shopping with a basic, supermarket own version gradually brought in.
We also had to do our food shopping in the supermarket and it was a regular Monday excursion for us when I finished school. Supermarkets were so busy and it seemed to take all afternoon – it was amazing when internet grocery shopping took off and something I am so thankful for although I know my parents would see it as the ultimate luxury and not something they would have been able to afford themselves. Our children now have the best of both worlds, coming to the supermarket with us sometimes but seeing our weekly shop delivered, with food literally just appearing at the door when the fridge is nearly empty.
I loved school and watching LP and Little Man go to school and nursery each day I realise how similar it is to when I was their age. We all learn things the same way although they didn’t call it Phonics back then. There were also no SATs tests, which were introduced in my teens. It seemed more relaxed when I was a child yet I loved school as much as LP does and learnt just as much too.
I walked to school every day, holding my Mum’s hand and skipping along. LP and Little Man scoot to school and they asked if I had a scooter when I was a child but no, they didn’t exist either. I had roller skates and then inline skates and I had a bike – a pink one with stabilisers and a basket on the front. But, I didn’t have a scooter – I can only imagine how much fun it is to be a child now and scoot to school.
Life now is amazing. It truly is. I grew up through the years where the future was made. Technology progressed so quickly and we had so many new material things in such a short space of time. It was a consumer’s dream. Now, the children are growing up in an age where everything is right there – they have Google, Wikipedia and the whole of the internet to explore. They don’t need to go and research things in the library, look at the weekly paper for cinema listings or go and look at the sign on the bus stop to know what time the next one will come.
The children are so lucky to be born into such an era, to have so much. But, I look back at my own childhood, a childhood where we didn’t have so much, where everything was that much harder and where we had to work to get even the smallest piece of information. It was a time when we made our own fun, where we spent most of our time outside and where it didn’t matter if you had the latest gadgets – those things didn’t exist to even care about.
So I wonder what is better? I knew no different as a child and LP and Little Man know no different now. I feel quite nostalgic for the childhood I had and I know that if LP and Little Man were to live that same childhood then they would love it just as much as I did.
Things were definitely simpler twenty five years ago and things are definitely a lot different for children growing up today. I don’t think either generation is better than the other – they are just very, very different.