Strange as it may seem, childhood actually does have a purpose — and even stranger, that purpose isn’t just “to have fun all the time before you start having to deal with real responsibilities.” Childhood is also a time to prepare for adulthood, even if you don’t realize that’s what you’re doing. And speaking from experience, we frequently don’t realize what we’re doing — which is why, looking back on the decade in which I grew up, I have now suddenly realized that there were loads of things we did in the ‘90s that prepared us for adulthood, often in some unexpected ways.
While it’s true that there are a lot of skills most of us don’t learn until we actually are adults — how to do our taxes, for example, or what exactly a 401K is — you’d be surprised how much stuff you get a jump on just by being a kid. Furthermore, the ‘90s in particular were full of common kid activities that just felt like playing to us, but which also taught us a huge array of valuable lessons. Frequently they were the sorts of lessons grownups might classify as “character-building” — how to lose gracefully, for example — although others are legit life skills: Budgeting learned via the microcosm of your allowance, creative thinking via the games we played, and so on. Little did you know that your choice to spend your hard-earned chore money on a wacky mechanical pencil case would set the scene for how you think about money for the rest of your life.
This isn’t to say that whatever we learned in childhood doesn't change over time; on the contrary. It's to be expected that our views keep evolving the older we get. But these 14 activities served to introduce some important topics to us in an approachable, accessible way when we were quite young indeed.
Also, they were fun. Because being a kid in the ‘90s was pretty rad.
1. Taking Care Of A Tamagotchi
I mean, yes, an actual child is far more complicated than a Tamagotchi. A real, live pet is more complicated than a Tamagotchi. Heck, even a houseplant is more complicated than a Tamagotchi. But even as small children, we understood that this little creature — as simplistic and imaginary as it was — depended on us for survival. What kind of monster would we be if we let it die?
2. Starting Your Own Baby-Sitter’s Club
Starting your own business is no joke, even if you’re 12 years old and in eighth grade at Stoneybrook Middle School. Even if you just read the Baby-Sitter’s Club books, you still got some valuable lessons in entrepreneurship — as well as in how to be an awesome human being who helps others out as much as possible.
3. Collecting Every Gelly Roll And Milky Pen Under The Sun
Never underestimate the worth of good penmanship. Sure, we do a lot by computer these days, but have you ever handwritten an address on a letter or package and had it end up in the wrong place because the post office couldn’t read your writing? It’s not fun. Trust me.
4. Lunching On Lunchables
OK, so maybe the original Lunchables weren’t much more than cheese and crackers, but the taco ones? Those were pretty creative. You had to be quite the adventurous eater to want to give taco filling that came served in a squeeze tube a shot. Way to both expand your palette and learn to take risks.
5. Begging Your Parents For Five More Minutes On The Family Computer
It pays to be tech and Internet savvy in this day and age — literally. It keeps the lights on and the rent paid for many of us, including yours truly.
6. Eating Push Pops
The beauty of the Push Pop was that you didn’t have to finish it all in one go; you could cap it off and save the rest of it for later, teaching us how to plan for the future in the process. In adulthood, just replace “Push Pop” with “your pay check” and you’re good to go.
7. Figuring Out What To Spend Your Allowance On
And how much of it to spend. Here, not only do we have another iteration of the whole “save it for later” thing, but moreover, we also have a lesson in how to budget.
8. Playing With Pogs
On the one hand, I suppose Pogs might be kind of analogous to gambling, which might not be the greatest lesson in the world to teach… but on the other hand, if you played for keeps, it also taught us about the importance of being a good sport. Sure, you may have just lost a giant stack of your favorite Pogs to your elementary school nemesis — but there’s something to be said for losing gracefully.
9. Listening to the Spice Girls
Girl power! Feminism! Friendship! All very important things!
10. Watching Boy Meets World
Because no one taught you about healthy relationship dynamics in quite the same way Topanga and Cory did. Sure, they were fictional, and sure, fictional relationships don’t usually play out in the same way real life ones do — but as far as role models went, you could do a lot worse.
11. Spending Hours Trying To Beat Sonic the Hedgehog
Patience, perseverance, and keeping your cool were all required to beat most of the platformers that were so big in the ‘90s. Because seriously, you guys — they were hard.
12. Passing Notes In Class
English class taught us about the importance of clarity in written communication in formal settings; passing notes in English class taught us about the importance of clarity in written communication in more informal ones. It also allowed us to hone our skills in brevity — kind of like Twitter before Twitter was a thing.
13. Losing A Piece Of Your Favorite Polly Pocket Compact
Sure, it may have felt like the end of the world; what was the good of a Polly Pocket set without Polly? But it also inspired a whole bunch of creative, outside-the-box thinking: OK. Accept that Polly is lost, and that your compact can no longer be used for its original purpose. What can you do with it now? Repurpose it? Find other toys that might fit inside it, like your Littlest Pet Shop hamsters? Gut it and turn it into a carrying case for your favorite can’t-live-without-‘em Lip Smackers? Say hello to a lifetime love of DIY projects. You probably have the coolest home decor scheme, don’t you?
14. Cheating At MASH
You didn’t have to rely on chance to give you the life you wanted; if you played your proverbial cards right, you could make it for yourself. I mean, yeah, maybe cheating wasn’t the best way to go about it — but the bottom line was that you didn’t have to just let the chips fall where they may.