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What Our Kids Will Never Understand

What Our Kids Will Never Understand

By Chris Jordan

Recently my 6 year old asked if clocks were for people who don’t have phones. I was completely baffled by this question until I realized he meant wrist watches.* I hadn’t thought about it, but as I looked around at people I saw that a surprisingly number do not wear watches. And when asked the time, most of us look at our phones.

I started thinking about things that my children find funny or quaint, the things they will never experience which were part of our collective culture growing up.

Things Our Kids Will Never Understand

1: Watches. It seems that those who do wear them now do it more for fashion or out of habit.

2: Rolling down the car windows by hand. My 16 year old son bought an old Ford Bronco that does not have automatic windows. When my 6 and 8 year olds got into the car for the first time, they had had no idea what “that twirly thing” was. They were amazed that it rolled down the windows. And then they fought over who was going to roll the window up and down.

3: Related to the above, upon seeing the roll-down style windows, my 12 yr old said, “Oh, is that why old people like you guys say, ‘Roll down the window?’

‘Why, what do young people like you guys say?’

‘We just say open or shut the window.”

Huh, I hadn’t noticed. Is “roll down the window” the dungarees of our children’s generation?

Other phrases I have recently had to explain:

“I sound like a broken record.”
They thought of record as in Guinness Book of World Records. As in I had broken the record for being the world’s grouchiest Mom.

“I’ll be waiting by the phone.”
“Of course you will, it’s always in your pocket.”

I know there are other phrases, but none come to mind right now.

4: “Snow” on the television. We watched Poltergeist a few months ago and my kids did not understand what was wrong with the people’s television. I had to explain that there wasn’t 24 hours of non-stop tv shows. All televisions did that every single night. That was what made the movie so scary! My kids did not think it was at all scary and watched the movie with the same detached incredulous awe that I remember reserving for black and white movies. The awe being, holy cow, how did people ever think this was good?

5: Cameras with film. This past summer we went to a water park and I bought one of those disposable waterproof type cameras. The kids kept asking me to see the pictures. I kept explaining to them that there is no digital viewer on the back of the camera because this camera has film. The concept of film was lost on them.

“So you have to bring the camera to the store because the pictures can only be downloaded onto their computers?”

6:  Pen pals. We did this in elementary school. We wrote back and forth to kids in a classroom in Australia. It was SO exciting. They lived SO far away. I have a friend who had a pen pal for years and years. They finally met as young adults. She ended up marrying her pen pal’s brother.

I just texted with someone who is in Japan. It was instant. Not exciting, at least not compared to being ten years old and finally finding a letter in your mailbox with weird stamps on it. The world seems smaller now, less mysterious.

7: Memorizing phone numbers. Do you know anyone’s phone number by heart anymore? Last week my phone went dead and I couldn’t call my kids from another phone because I DON’T KNOW THEIR PHONE NUMBERS!

8: The Phonebook. The Dictionary. The Encyclopedia Britannica. The card catalog. They are all obsolete. Basically any reference material that was made out of paper is now computerized.

9: Paper maps. Remember having those in the car on long trips. Folding and refolding to try and get just the part you needed visible? And never being able to get it back the way it was originally folded. Those days are long gone.

10: Along with the above, getting lost. Do people ever get hopelessly lost anymore? Well, aside from those people who had to call 911 to be rescued from a corn maze. Sure, you might not be able to pinpoint exactly the location you want to go, but your GPS can always guide you home. As an aside, my 12 year old son and I are horrible with directions even when using the GPS. When we are navigating in the car together we jokingly call it the blonde leading the blonde. Last week we drove for over an hour to get to a football stadium, using our GPS, only to discover that it was 5 miles from our house.

11: Life before Caller-ID. Gone are the days of prank phone calls at sleep-overs or calling the boy you like fifty times in a single evening until he finally answers and then hanging up.

12: Having only one phone number that was shared with the entire family. And while you were talking on that shared phone there was no expectation of absolute privacy. Now, they text. And with it the idea that they would have anything but absolute privacy is foreign to them.

13: Hawaiian Tropic Coconut Tanning Oil. That smell just says summer to me. I recently bought something that smelled exactly like this. I held it up to my kids, “Smell this. Doesn’t it remind you of summer?!?” They all looked at me like I was crazy. “No, it reminds me of coconuts.”

14:  Being disconnected. Our kids don’t know what this means. They are in contact with everyone all the time. Every thought or experience is viewed through the lens of how am I going to share this with everyone else and thus validate the experience. Part of the experience has become the reactions of other people. Facebook has made it so they are potentially in contact with every person they have even had a passing acquaintance. And they are all called “friends.”

15: There was a time when it would have been embarrassing for your underwear to show. Kids now feel no such embarrassment. Underwear to them is just the first layer of clothes.


* I guess wrist watch is sort of outdated since it was used to distinguish between wrist watches and pocket watches.  Who the hell wears a pocket watch anymore?

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Chris Jordan
About the Author

Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children. Yes, the...

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.
Yes, they are all hers.
No she’s not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.
Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That’s why her youngest is almost 6.
Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.

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  • Liz

    October 31, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    Thanks for making this list. I was thinking about a lot of these recently, in terms of my own baby growing up in today’s world and I concluded that life isn’t quite as exciting anymore. Not to sound negative or overly nostalgic, but I think it’s true when you look at this list of differences, that there is no longer a lot of surprise or mystery in the world! And I won’t even get started on the “instant gratification” aspect of all this. Prank calling, pen pals, waiting for film to be developed, and missing my friends over school breaks had a pretty significant impact on my life! I guess I will have to try to find creative ways for my kids to have similar lessons and experiences.

  • Emily

    October 31, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    It’s all very true. I miss my watch. It broke and it’s expensive to fix when I usually just lament my watch tan line. I do not carry my phone with me all the time and often have to go to the kitchen to check the oven clock. (I’m only 32 – but the concept of always being available by phone is one I will resist until I can no longer resist it.) I think a few of these things are things that you can bring into your kids lives. For instance, pen pals.. they still exist with the cool stamps and you can use coconut scented sunscreen to make it a summer smell. Anyways, add to the list: bar soap. I love solid bars of soap for washing my hands. They are in all of our home bathrooms (along with liquid for my husband). But, my niece asked my mother a couple years back what that bar was when they were in a hotel together. I guess kids these days will always think of soap as a liquid.

  • Kathy from NJ

    November 1, 2011 at 5:19 am

    I am probably old enough to be your mother – our one black desk-style in the living room phone was on a party-line. The phone company switched it out to a kitchen wall phone because when my brother was a toddler he constantly broke the desk phone (which was rented from the phone company who made all repairs for free). It was a dial type phone, do you even know what it means to dial a number?

  • MR

    November 1, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    This is something we were just discussing. Last night, as we all held up our phones to take pics of the kids in their costumes, we laughed to realize they will never really understand a camera as JUST a camera. It will always be in the phone. And, my 3 year old will never know the days before touch screens. She uses the iPad and iPhone and tries to walk up to the TV and select things. She doesn’t understand why it doesn’t work the same way. Much less that TVs didn’t always have remotes!

  • df

    November 1, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    The camera one is so true – I absolutely love that. I have to say though, while I think we are the same age (41), and my eldest isn’t too far behind yours (almost 14), my family just doesn’t have the same experience when it comes to the rest of the wired world, because we’ve avoided it. My eldest has an iPod for music, but uses it in a very limited way. No phone, no texting, no Facebook (I’m fairly anti, but he also doesn’t have the drive to be on it). The youngest is only 8, but he’s following the example in front of him so, again, those things just don’t rate. We are a wristwatch-wearing, map book reading family and I still can’t care enough about a cellphone to use the one that I recently bought (for emergencies), so I still have a ton of phone numbers memorized. I’m hoping that may be a good defense against brain deterioration, but that’s no doubt wishful thinking!

  • andrea

    November 2, 2011 at 1:11 am

    reminds me of how my mom used to know my grandparents’ phone number. it was a word first, which indicated the first couple of numbers, and then a string of numbers. never made sense to me but i guess that’s why they’ve always had letters listed on phones, even old dial ones. ha, kids today probably think it’s just for texting.. 😉

  • Adriana

    November 3, 2011 at 2:18 am

    The other night we were watching Short Circuit… I had to explain to the kids what an encyclopedia was.

  • […] blogs that I visit occasionally. I came across an article by Chris Jordan (mother to seven!) on cultural references that our children will never understand, such as film for cameras, television ‘snow’ and why we say someone sounds like a […]

  • VG

    November 3, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    My parents STILL have rotary phones in the kitchen and bedroom… my friends thought they were “for show” like a nick-nack of sorts. I would tell them to pick up the receiver (OMG, no one even says THAT anymore) and when they heard a dialtone, they would be amazed.

  • MIchelle

    November 3, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    This is great! I esp loved the ‘roll down the window’ phrase. I’m sure I still say that but my children are too young to question it yet. I remember hearing stories from my parents about how people in the same apartment building would have to share a phone line and you could only answer it if your ring came up. Couldn’t imagine that when I was a kid! Also speaking of phones, I have noticed there is a lot of baby/picture books that actually still have a rotary phone as the picture. Where else would you even be able to see one like that in the real world?

  • Anna Claire

    November 4, 2011 at 10:05 am

    This is so funny! I never, ever thought about most of these things. My son is only 17 months old, but the world he’s growing up in already seems so different from mine. But I can remember being baffled several years ago when my parents said they didn’t grow up with microwaves, and I asked them how they made popcorn 😉 Also, I recently came across an awesome (albeit expensive) way to show your kids what a typewriter is:

  • Rebecca

    November 5, 2011 at 10:44 am

    I must be very, very old, because I listening to entire albums, both sides of a vinyl record, not just a single song –I have explained to my kids (after admonishing them for spending their college funds on i-tunes) that I would have to save up to purchase a single album, and then would spend weeks pouring over the cover, the liner, and playing that bad boy over and over again on the record player! I remember that we used to walk everywhere, and that having a single car in the family was the norm. I recall having a paper route, several actually, and “collecting” at the end of the month. Lots has changed since I was a kid in the 70’s. Thanks for reminding me!

  • Lydia

    November 6, 2011 at 8:29 am

    My sister in law, 17, was trying to call some company for her mom and kept redialing. Then she said, “I think my phone is broken; I keep hearing a weid beeping noise.” It was a busy signal! I felt so old, and I’m only 25!! Just goes to show how quickly the world changes. Most of the other things in this article were lost on her, too!

  • Tinne fro Tantrums and Tomatoes

    November 7, 2011 at 5:38 am

    I always travel with paper maps, I don’t trust the GPS 100%. Yup I am old.

  • Mel in NYC

    November 15, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    I’m laughing so hard that I’m crying. My husban and I were recently discussing the fact that my son (14 months old) will never understand why cameras “click”. Also, the poor thing already thinks that all phones have touch screens and play videos! Lastly, I always imagined that someday I have a daughter and I woul make sure she had the coolest Lisa Frank stickers for her pen pal letters!

    Thanks for this list!

  • Leigh

    November 17, 2011 at 1:24 am

    One that kills me is the way kids think water only comes in bottles. I drink tap water all the time and they think I am crazy. They would never ever consider drinking from a hose.

  • […] a turning away from “supersized” everything.So funny, though it makes us feel old: AlphaMom’s list of things our kids will never understand, from cameras with film to […]