When it comes to the experience of childhood, there are some things that never change. Everybody dreamt of being the coolest in the class, tried to spend as little time as possible with their parents, and got the fear on Sunday nights with the terrible realization that there was a whole new week of school about to start.
There are, however, things that are unique to each decade, too. For those of us who grew up in the 90s, our upbringing already seems a world away from that of today’s kids, with all their weird phrases, terrible TV shows, and social media obsessiveness. Nowadays it seems like children are far more likely to be sitting in their rooms downloading pointless apps or practicing their Instagram poses than cruising around outside in the fresh air on their Fisher Price roller skates.
Okay, so today’s kids might have more technological know-how and better fashion sense (that’s probably debatable), but what do they know about the joy of dressing as your favourite Power Ranger, or giving yourself third degree burns by going down a slide on a hot summer’s day?
Whether we had it better or worse is a matter of opinion, but at least we can look back in joy (and shame) at some of the weird, wonderful, and usually colourful fads that shaped our childhood. Without further ado, here are 15 things that you will definitely remember if you grew up during the 90s… sorry in advance for making you feel old.
15. The Frustrations Of Dial Up Internet
Today’s teens will never understand the struggle of having to wait for your mom to finish her phone conversation before being able to get online. If you didn’t, that almost frightening dial-up noise would be broadcast down the phone, and you’d face an angry shout of ‘get off the internet!’. It did make a good (albeit not very subtle) way of listening in on someone’s conversation though.
For those of us whose parents didn’t want to fork out for the monthly payments, those AOL free trial CDs were our only hope of getting online, but then you were faced with the constant panic that you were about to run out of minutes; in which case it was back to using your massive desktop pc in the way I’m sure it was really intended; countless games of solitaire and minesweeper, and flexing your artistic talents on paint – you might’ve even saved a few of your best pieces onto a good old floppy disk.
14. The Toys You Never Got
Although the 90s was undoubtedly packed with a huge array of weird and wonderful toys, it was the ones you really wanted that you never got. Every 90s kid will have that ‘one that got away’… that one toy that they wished for with all their might every Christmas, but never turned up under the tree.
Whether yours was a Mr. Frosty, an Easy-Bake oven, a Nintendo 64, a Baby Born doll or that elusive robot dog (did anyone have that robot dog?), it probably still haunts your childhood memories today. But hey, what did it matter? You could always get to experience that expensive Super Soaker water pistol or DreamPhone game at your spoilt pal’s house, and it wasn’t like your own room was completely barren; you had the decade’s staples like Barbies, Action Men, Lego, and Playmobil to keep you busy. If all else failed, you could always bust out the classics; Etch-a-Sketch, Bop-It, and that weird contraption with all the pins that you used to stick on your face.
13. The Best Kids TV
Growing up in the 90s meant getting to enjoy some of the best kids’ television shows ever… fact! Our Saturday mornings usually consisted of sitting around watching Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, with awesome cartoons like Rugrats, Pokémon, The Powerpuff Girls, Hey Arnold, and Dexter’s Laboratory.
Then there were the TV shows, like Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Kenan and Kel, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Art Attack and everyone’s favorite, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. What self-respecting 90s kid doesn’t know the theme tune for that word for word?
The 90s was also a prime decade for Disney Movies. Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, Toy Story, Hercules, Mulan, Tarzan… need we go on? These movies are all so deeply engrained in our childhood memories that it’s shocking to think that many of today’s kids haven’t even seen them… they’re missing out on some of the best soundtracks ever!
12. Collecting was IN
If you grew up in the 90s, you may still have some remnants of one of the many collections you had on the go, back in the day. Sure, kids have always been into collecting stuff (it’s probably Instagram likes for today’s teens…), but for some reason our decade in particular was obsessed with it.
Beanie Babies, Pokemon cards, Polly Pockets, Trolls… let’s be honest, we all had our own vice. Some of these fads became big business in the playground, too, with large audiences gathering round to watch a battle between Pog or Gogo’s Crazy Bones owners. Of course, most of us were merely spectators – we weren’t silly enough to put our entire collections on the line for the sake of pride, but we did feel a little sorry for the loser who would have to pretend he wasn’t bothered that he’d just had to surrender all of his shiny Pogs.
11. Killing Time In Class
Without smartphones to sneak a look at under our desks, we had to be a little more inventive when it came to wasting time in lessons in the 90s. If you were at school during this decade, you can probably still draw one of those big pointy S’s, thanks to the large amounts of practice you got covering all of your exercise books in them.
There were plenty of other productive fads we all participated in; how about that origami fortune teller? That one took ages to master, so many of us had to rely on friends to do the hard work for us before we just added the writing and coloured it in a bit. Or then there was the MASH game, which always started off with good intentions but usually resulted in a falling out between friends when you were teased for your future living in a shed with the guy from your class you hated and your 17 children.
10. Renting Videos From Blockbuster
I almost feel bad for today’s kids that they’ll never get to experience the excitement that came with going to a Blockbuster store to pick out a VHS or two to take home for the night. You took ages to decide on one, and even then, it was probably one you’d seen 11 times before anyway.
Sure, it was annoying when the person before you hadn’t taken the time to rewind it (even though you’d probably forget to do the same yourself), and there was always the risk that the VCR would go rogue and start mauling the tape, but most of us still look back fondly at the experience of renting videos.
Blockbuster came in especially handy when you were having a sleepover; it took a bit of time to agree on something diplomatically without at least one person throwing a tantrum, but it was worth it for hours of entertainment – your parents may have even let you get the odd horror, sealing your place as the host with the most.
9. Building A GeoCities Website
Did you even grow up in the 90s if you didn’t have your own crappy GeoCities site? It’s a wonder we’re not all web developers with the amount of time we spent on those things… and yet they still always managed to end up looking terrible. Huge glittering fonts, cheesy clip art and broken links were just some of the things that gave our sites that certain…charm.
Of course, before you got started on building your beloved site you needed to come up with a subject worth labouring over for hours at a time. Usually it was a band we liked or a celebrity we pretended to admire for their artistic talent but in reality, just thought was really hot, and you were happy to carry out plenty of research as part of the process. The final step came when you added a visitor counter and sat back patiently for the stampede of visitors to start arriving – all four of them.
8. That One Toy You Regretted Asking For…
Back in the late 90s, one of the biggest toy crazes was undoubtedly the Furby. We were all desperate to get our hands on one of these, and after much begging many of our parents eventually caved and got us the sought-after ‘pet’.
All of that excitement soon turned to regret though, when we realized that, far from being the wholesome little friend we’d envisaged, this new robotic creature in our bedroom was actually some sort of demon. They rarely did what you wanted them to, and became suspiciously chatty in the middle of the night – the Furbish language seemed much less cute when it woke you up at 3am, and you were suddenly very conscious of those gigantic eyes that were watching you sleep.
We all learned our lesson in the end, and developed a new appreciation for our first beloved digital pet we’d since neglected; the Tamagotchi. Sure, it was hard work keeping those things alive, but at least you didn’t have to worry about it appearing at the end of your bed each night.
7. ‘Amazing’ Tech
Ok, so our old tech may seem pretty outdated now, but during the 90s we had plenty of gadgets that back then seemed pretty impressive. Before cell phones became widely available, you might’ve had a pager, though to be honest not many of us kids did… so really it was just used by your mom to tell you when dinner was ready. Next came our beloved first cell phones – which for a lot us – was the loyal Nokia 3210… perfect if you wanted to play Snake for hours.
The move from a tape walkman to a CD one was a pretty proud moment for most of us, as was our first Gameboy. There were definitely some gadgets that were a bit tragic, though. Case in point, the electronic organizer. If you had one, chances are you probably just used it to pretend you were a businessman or lady checking your shares on the stock market. To be honest, it wasn’t good for much else, unless you had an extensive to-do list to write, or you needed to know what time it was in Berlin.
6. Inflatable Furniture
Because we were all far too classy to be sitting around on beanbags, inflatable couches and armchairs were essential for most 90s kids’ rooms. After all, who didn’t want a garishly-coloured piece of furniture that got nice and sweaty on a warm day and that was in danger of deflating any time the cat got too near? You could even buy a foot rest to complete the look; not that you had much space left by the time you’d inflated the massive things.
One of the other biggest trends in kids’ furnishings back then was decorating your whole room on one theme you had a fleeting interest in one summer. Did you enjoy the first Toy Story movie? Well, then you probably had a room that was basically a shrine to it; wallpaper, stickers, lampshades, duvet sets…
Thankfully, when you got a bit older you probably had more of a say in your room’s look, and as a result it was covered in posters and clippings from magazines, with glow in the dark stars on the ceiling.
5. The Boyband Era
Boybands were all the rage in the 90s, though you could only pledge your alliance to one; loyalty was essential to being a true fan. From N’Sync, the Backstreet Boys and 98 Degrees to Take That, 5ive and Westlife, we all spend much of our free time learning every lyric to their terrible songs and trying to find out as much as possible about our favourite member.
Of course, the decade was pretty good for girlbands too; the Spice Girls, TLC, Cleopatra and All Saints all had us girls dreaming of performing on stage, miming along to our hit songs whilst performing some pretty questionable choreography. The only thing that would’ve made the dream better would’ve been dating a guy with frosted tips.
If you were a bit older you’re probably feeling pretty smug that you managed to bypass a lot of the cheesy pop of the era; spending your time moshing to Nirvana or trying to learn the guitar so you could play Oasis songs.
4. The Joy Of The Book Fair
Today’s kids probably see the annual school book fair as more of a hassle than anything, but back in the 90s it was a highly-anticipated event. We practically counted down the days until its arrival, and begged our parents for at least three books that deep down we knew we’d probably never actually get around to reading.
Of course, there were exceptions to the rule… what 90s kid didn’t enjoy settling down to delve into their new Goosebumps book? Especially the ones where you got to choose your own storyline. Those Magic Eye books were pretty cool too, even if you did have to lie sometimes and pretend to your friends that you could see a lion instead of just a bunch of colourful wavy lines and dots.
3. Questionable Fashion Choices
One area where us 90s kids will probably concede defeat is the fashion choices we made as kids. For guys that meant short-sleeved plaid shirts, backwards baseball caps and flames and dragon designs on basically everything. The look was finished off with a shell necklace and hoop earrings in both ears, and a bowl cut with a middle parting, also known as curtains.
For girls, being trendy in the 90s meant combat trousers, tiny backpacks, and a very large and colourful selection of scrunchies. We crimped our hair for special events (why?), then tortured ourselves by adding those painful little butterfly clips all over our scalp; if you made it to the end of the school disco with those still in place you must’ve been pretty hardcore. Stick on earrings were also a pretty big deal, and so were chokers – you probably thought you’d seen the last of those by 1997, and yet, today’s youngsters have adopted them as their own.
2. Stocking Up On Stationery
The 90s were much simpler times… and this is probably demonstrated most in the way we used to get so excited about the big stationery overhaul at the end of each summer. Going out to buy new clothes was always a drag, especially with your mom getting more and more stressed as the day wore on and the shops got busier, so being able to pick out new pens et al at the end of the shooting trip felt like a reward.
Alongside the staples like pencils, biros, sharpeners and rubbers, there were all the other additional bits and bobs that we convinced our weary parents we needed; glitter gel pens, scented highlighters, tacky pencil cases… it was all too tempting.
To be fair, if we’d actually bothered to take care of everything during the last school year we wouldn’t have needed to keep restocking… but alas, sharpening our pencils down until they were tiny and cute and swapping all of our expensive pens seemed like a good idea at the time.
1. Dance Routines Were Serious Business
Back in the 90s, we took our choreography very seriously. If you grew up in this era you more than likely know the dance routines for the Macarena, Saturday Night, and the YMCA. You may have even done the Time Warp from Rocky Horror, though you had no idea of its context at the time.
All of these moves are probably still burned in your brain from the numerous school discos you attended. Or if you were a girl at least; the boys spent most of their time showing off their mad skills by skidding along the floor. Heaven forbid the girls and boys would mix; despite gossiping about your crush all week and making sure you looked extra snazzy to get their attention, we mainly stayed at opposite ends of the hall, except for that one girl or boy who was brave enough to make a move and ask the object of their affections out – by sending one of their friends over, of course.
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