Growing Up in the 1980s: Things My Kids Should Know About My Childhood (Part 2)

My Favorite ’80s TV Shows, Music Videos, Books, and Junk Food

In Part One of this series, I discussed my favorite ’80s movies, Ronald Reagan, Michael Jackson, and more. Now it’s time to reminisce about the TV shows and music videos I watched, all the junk food I ate, and all the books I read in the totally radical 1980s.   

Too Much Television!

When I was a preschooler/kindergartner in the early ’80s, I watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and tons of Sesame Street. Elmo wasn’t a big star back then. Bert and Ernie, Big Bird, Grover, and the rarely-seen Snuffleupagus were my favorite characters. I loved Jim Henson’s Muppets, especially Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear, and saw all The Muppets movies that came out in the ’80s. My brother and I also liked the Muppet Babies cartoon.     

Kids, when I was your age, we didn’t have computer-generated cartoons like Doc McStuffins or Star Wars: The Clone Wars. In the 1980s, cartoons were still hand-drawn—sometimes the quality was poor, but we didn’t care. My brother’s favorite ’80s cartoons were G.I. Joe, Transformers, and He-Man. I liked He-Man, too, and She-Ra (He-Man’s twin sister), Rainbow Brite, Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake, and Jem. We both watched The Smurfs, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We also watched older cartoons: The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Yogi Bear, Pink Panther, Tom & Jerry, Looney Tunes, and Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! Classic Disney cartoons were still shown on The Disney Channel back in the ’80s. Goofy and Donald Duck were my favorites.

My whole family watched these ’80s TV shows: The A-Team, Magnum, P.I. (my mom still loves Tom Selleck), The Greatest American Hero, Knight Rider, The Cosby Show, Cheers, Family Ties, and A.L.F. My mom was addicted to Dallas. She and my dad also liked Remington Steele, which must have come on after I was in bed because I never watched it.   

I watched these ’80s shows sometimes: The Golden Girls, Highway to Heaven, Head of the Class, Growing Pains (Kirk Cameron was sooooo cute), Diff’rent Strokes, The Facts of Life, Night Court, Full House, Who’s the Boss? and Murder, She Wrote. And every Saturday morning, I looked forward to Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. My husband, who also grew up in the ’80s, liked Miami Vice and The Wonder Years, and remembers his parents watching Hill Street Blues and Moonlighting. We both watched Star Trek: The Next Generation and the classic Star Trek series, too.   

Some of my favorite ’90s shows started in the late ’80s: Doogie Howser, M.D.; Roseanne; and The Simpsons. My family watched The Tracy Ullman Show, which is where The Simpsons first appeared. It’s hard to believe that new episodes of The Simpsons are still being made, all these years later—and my kids love it just as much as I did when the show was brand-new.       

When I was a kid, having cable TV was a big deal. I’m not sure exactly when my family got basic cable (1985?), but it was a happy time. No more fiddling with those rabbit ears on top of the television! If I wanted to watch Fraggle Rock on HBO, I had to go over to my neighbor’s house, but our basic cable package included The Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, and MTV. On Nickelodeon, I watched an incredibly stupid show called You Can’t Do That on Television (someone was always getting green slime dumped on their head), an educational science show called Mr. Wizard, and a game show for kids called Double Dare. In the evening in the late ’80s, I liked watching “Nick at Nite,” which exposed me to lots of black-and-white shows I never would have seen otherwise: The Patty Duke Show and The Donna Reed Show were two of my favorites. I watched I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Leave It to Beaver, and The Price is Right, hosted by Bob Barker, during the day if I happened to be home sick.

This might be hard to believe, but MTV actually showed music videos in the 1980s. Lots of music videos! Some of my favorite videos from that decade were Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (duh), A-Ha’s “Take On Me,” Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer,” George Michael’s “Faith,” Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” with Run-DMC, Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence,” and D.J. Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” (Kids, you know The Fresh Prince by a different name: he’s Will Smith!)  

My younger brother watched a lot of MTV; he was really into hair bands in the late ’80s/early ’90s. He used to wear a black Motley Crüe T-shirt that said “Kick Start My Heart” on the back. I had a crush on Mike Tramp, the lead singer of White Lion. Watch this video and you’ll understand why:

That would have been around the same time that I bought Tiffany’s self-titled album on CD (one of the first CDs I ever bought) and fell madly in love with Jordan Knight of New Kids on the Block (that was before we called them “NKOTB”).

Here’s another humiliating confession: My brother and I watched WWF wrestling in the ’80s. We stayed up late to catch up with all of our favorite wrestlers on the weekends after my parents were in bed: Hulk Hogan; Andre the Giant; future governor of Minnesota, Jesse “The Body” Ventura; Jake the Snake; “Macho Man” Randy Savage; and The Ultimate Warrior. My parents wouldn’t let us order any of the big “Wrestlemania” events on pay-per-view. They said wrestling was “fake” and “stupid”…but, boy, it was sure entertaining.  

Kids, when I was your age, we didn’t have DVRs. It was hard to remember to program the VCR to record something on TV (besides, most people couldn’t even program their VCRs to display the correct time; many VCRs flashed “12:00” endlessly), and we couldn’t go on the Internet (what’s the Internet?!) to watch TV shows on Hulu or similar sites the next day. If we happened to miss a show when it was on live TV, we didn’t get to see it until the rerun came on weeks or months later. And we couldn’t pause live TV. Oh, those were dark days. If we had to pee really bad, we held it until commercials came on. Commercial time was also when we got our drinks and snacks.

What were my favorite snacks and drinks in the ’80s (years before I became a vegan, then a lacto-ovo vegetarian, then a pescetarian, then a caffeine-eschewing veggie-poultry-fish-eater, then a gluten-free caffeine-eschewing veggie-poultry-fish eater)?

Doritos (Cool Ranch Doritos were introduced in 1986), Little Debbie snack cakes, Minute Maid fruit punch, and Coke. Not “New Coke,” though—that tasted too much like Pepsi. (Kids, you can read all about New Coke here.) I liked Pop Rocks, Blow Pops, Now & Laters, Laffy Taffy, Jolly Ranchers, strawberry Twizzlers, Reese’s peanut butter cups, and M&M’s (peanut butter M&M’s unfortunately didn’t exist yet, but red-colored M&M’s, which went away briefly in the late ’70s, made a triumphant return in 1987). Nerds and Runts candy were both introduced in the ’80s. I used to ride my bike to the gas station to buy Whatchamacallit candy bars. Sometimes my mom would buy a gallon of fresh A&W root beer at the drive-in A&W restaurant; that was always a treat. We popped our popcorn on the stove in the first part of the 1980s, but by the end of the decade, we’d switched to microwave popcorn because it was so much easier.  

When I was your age, pizza delivery was becoming more popular nationwide. Domino’s Pizza promised to deliver our pizzas in 30 minutes or less (avoid the Noid!”). But we had to call the store to place our order; we couldn’t text or order online, obviously. Pizza Hut started delivering pizzas in 1986 (source), but we usually preferred to dine-in because my brother and I always had “Book It!” coupons for free personal pan pizzas to redeem. The Book It! program, which debuted in 1985, encouraged us to read books outside of school in exchange for Book It! pizza coupons from our teachers.

Books I Would Have Read Even Without the Pizza Hut “Book It!” Incentive

Some of my favorite books in the early ’80s were classic Dr. Seuss books, the Ramona Quimby series by Beverly Cleary, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, and anything written by Judy Blume. Guinness Books of World Records were popular Scholastic book-order choices in my classroom in the mid-’80s. I spent hours looking at the unbelievable pictures in those books—the man with the longest fingernails, the tallest woman, the biggest baby, the fattest identical twins, the oldest woman to give birth, etc. “Choose Your Own Adventure” books were also popular. I went through a Sweet Valley Twins and Babysitters Club phase. By the late ’80s, in my “tween” years (I don’t think we used the term “tween” back then), I was addicted to Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine horror books (that was before he started writing his Goosebumps series for younger kids). I also collected comic books for a few years. Then I made the jump to Stephen King and never looked back.

In Part Three, I’ll look back on ’80s toys, games, collectibles, and more.


Related Articles by Maria Roth:

Growing Up in the 1980s: Things My Kids Should Know About My Childhood (Part 1)


Sources: (links embedded throughout this article)


Fun photo gallery of popular 1980s WWF wrestlers:


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