20 Activities from the ’60s That Would Shock Parents Today

The 1960s were a time of significant social and cultural change, marked by the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and rock and roll.

It was also a different world for children, with less supervision, fewer safety regulations, and more freedom to explore. However, many common activities for kids in the ’60s might seem unthinkable today.

Here’s a look at 20 things kids did back then that would horrify us now.

1. Riding in Cars Without Seatbelts

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Back in the ’60s, car safety was not a priority. Seatbelts, if they were installed at all, were often ignored. It was common to see children standing in the front seat or even sitting in the driver’s lap, steering the wheel.

Today, such practices are not only frowned upon but also illegal in many parts of the world due to the known risks of injury and death in car accidents.

2. Playing Outside Unsupervised

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Children in the ’60s often left home in the morning and didn’t return until dusk, playing unsupervised for hours. They roamed neighborhoods, forests, and fields without cell phones or GPS trackers.

In contrast, modern parents monitor their children’s whereabouts and activities more closely, often scheduling playdates and supervised activities.

3. Smoking at a Young Age

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It was not uncommon to see teenagers, and sometimes even younger children, smoking in the ’60s. The health risks of smoking were not as widely recognized or accepted, and tobacco advertising targeted a wide audience, including youths.

Nowadays, the knowledge of smoking’s adverse health effects and stricter age restrictions make the idea of young children smoking unthinkable.

4. Playing with Hazardous Toys

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Image Credit: Miljan Zivkovic/Shutterstock

Many toys from the ’60s would not pass today’s safety standards. From chemistry sets with real chemicals to metal darts and clackers (two balls on a string that could cause serious injuries), these toys presented real hazards.

Toy safety has since become a significant concern, with stringent regulations to prevent injury.

5. No Bicycle Helmets

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Image Credit: YuliyaKirayonakBO/DepositPhotos.

Riding bikes without a helmet was the norm in the ’60s. Helmets were rare and, when available, often not worn because they were uncomfortable or considered uncool.

Today, wearing a helmet is a basic safety rule for biking, recognized for significantly reducing the risk of head injuries.

6. Drinking from the Garden Hose

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Kids in the ’60s often quenched their thirst by drinking directly from a garden hose while playing outside.

Today concerns about the chemicals in the water, the hose material, and potential bacteria make parents wary of allowing their children to drink from anything but a clean, safe source.

7. Asbestos Everywhere

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Asbestos was widely used in building materials, including schools and homes, during the ’60s. Children were exposed to this carcinogenic material daily, unknowingly breathing in fibers that could cause serious health problems later in life.

The use of asbestos is now heavily regulated or banned in many countries.1

8. Riding in the Back of a Pickup Truck

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Image Credit: Rachel Moon/Shutterstock

It was not unusual for kids to ride in the bed of a pickup truck, something that is now illegal in many places due to the risk of injury or death in the event of a crash or sudden stop.

9. Less Stringent Food Safety

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Image Credit: Tada Images/Shutterstock.

Food safety standards were not as strict in the ’60s as today. It was more common for children to eat canned foods at home, which posed a risk of botulism, and to consume unpasteurized milk and dairy products, which can carry harmful bacteria.

10. Handling Mercury

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Mercury was a fascinating element that could be found in thermometers and other household items. Kids often played with mercury, marveling at its liquid metal appearance, unaware of its toxicity.

Today, mercury is recognized as a hazardous substance, and its use is highly controlled.2

11. Hitchhiking

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Hitchhiking was a common means of transportation for teenagers in the ’60s. Today, the idea of a child thumbing rides from strangers is alarming to most parents and is generally discouraged due to safety concerns.

12. Unprotected Sun Exposure

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Sunscreen was not widely used in the ’60s, and children spent long hours in the sun without protection, leading to sunburns and increasing the risk of skin cancer.

Awareness of the dangers of UV radiation has led to a much greater emphasis on sun protection in recent years.

13. Latchkey Kids

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With both parents working or in single-parent households, many children in the ’60s were “latchkey kids,” coming home to an empty house and taking care of themselves until a parent returned.

While still a reality for some families today, there is now more awareness and concern about the potential risks and emotional effects of this independence at a young age.

14. Playing in Construction Sites

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Image Credit: Tania Kolinko/Shutterstock

Construction sites were often irresistible playgrounds for kids in the ’60s, with all their dirt mounds, materials, and partially built structures.

Such trespassing is now strictly forbidden, with fencing and warning signs common to prevent accidents and injuries.

15. Limited Childproofing

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Homes were not childproofed to the extent they are today. Medicine cabinets were accessible, electrical outlets were uncovered, and choking hazards were not as well understood, posing risks to young children.

16. Secondhand Smoke Exposure

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Smoking indoors and in cars with children present was routine in the ’60s. The health risks of secondhand smoke to children, including respiratory problems and increased risk of SIDS, have since led to public smoking bans and greater awareness.

17. Using Lead-based Products

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Lead-based paint was common in homes and on toys, and leaded gasoline was used in cars, exposing children to high levels of lead.

The detrimental effects of lead exposure on brain development are now well known, leading to strict regulations on lead in household products.

18. Dangerous Playground Equipment

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Playgrounds in the ’60s featured equipment like tall metal slides, which could get scorching in the sun, and swings over hard surfaces. Modern playgrounds prioritize safety with softer landing surfaces and equipment that minimize injury risks.

19. Frequent School Physical Punishments

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Corporal punishment in schools, such as spanking with a paddle, was a common disciplinary measure in the ’60s. Today, such practices are considered harmful and are banned in many educational systems.

20. Less Awareness of Allergies

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Awareness of food allergies and sensitivities was not as high in the ’60s. Kids with allergies were at greater risk because there was less understanding of the need for special diets and the potential severity of allergic reactions.

A Changing World

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The past few decades have significantly changed our understanding of safety, health, and child development. Though nostalgic for some, many practices from the ’60s would not meet today’s child care and safety standards.

This evolution reflects our growing knowledge and commitment to protecting the well-being of children in a changing world.


  1. haspod.com/blog/asbestos/why-asbestos-was-used-building-products
  2. ducksters.com/science/chemistry/mercury.php
Martha A. Lavallie
Martha A. Lavallie
Author & Editor | + posts

Martha is a journalist with close to a decade of experience in uncovering and reporting on the most compelling stories of our time. Passionate about staying ahead of the curve, she specializes in shedding light on trending topics and captivating global narratives. Her insightful articles have garnered acclaim, making her a trusted voice in today's dynamic media landscape.