On Facebook a friend born in 1989 posted a link to 10 things '90s kids will have to explain to their children. In the comments there, someone posted a link to an even more extensive list of things '90s kids realize, a nostalgia site. Last, among the highest-rated articles at Retro Junk, another nostalgia site, is a three-parter about growing up in the '90s. The writer was born in 1987 and wrote them when he was 22 to 23 (here, here, and here). I poked around more of the site's high-rated articles about being a '90s kid, and his take seems pretty representative.
What jumps out is how they must have never gone outside as children, or even done anything physical while inside, let alone interact with other people. Just about everything in these lists is TV shows, video games, and movies (I hope they at least left the house to see them in theaters). That degree of solipsism is a huge change compared to children of the 1980s. *
Consider the list of about 140 items from the Things '90s Kids Realize site. (Note: as of fall 2011 when I tallied them up.) I count roughly 14 things that are not TV, movies, and video games.
Like any generation they have good memories of snack foods: fruit snacks (like Gushers), Dunkaroos, pizza Lunchables, fruit stripe gum, juice boxes, and breakfast cereal.
There's only 2 real references to toys or fads: pogs and gel pens. (I group Tamagotchis under video games.) In the first link's comments, several people mentioned those dorky trading card games like Magic. I assumed that toys would have made up a huge part of a guy's boyhood memories -- action figures, building / engineering toys, weapons, or whatever else. Millennials were too busy leveling up their Pokemon to be shooting cap guns or making their own world out of Legos.
Just one reference to clothes (although it is written by a guy): L.A. Gear shoes. Those are actually from the later '80s, but maybe they changed the look in the '90s. Obviously girls from the '80s would list a lot of clothing-related memories, but I think even guys would include Reebok Pumps or Nike Air shoes, Hypercolor, slap bracelets, neon Swatch watches, etc., in their list.
Only two items about music. One is the "Jump On It" dance from an episode of Fresh Prince, as well as the "I'm Too Sexy" song. That first link mentioned the Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys, and 'NSYNC. However, none of these writers express how in love they were with the music -- they just report that so-and-so was trendy, and that some of the guys were cute. I never got attached to '90s music either, but you'd think they would have at least gotten into some kind of music. They just don't dig it at all, whereas music is one of the first things people mention when you ask them what about the '80s they're aching to return home to.
There's one mention of slang -- "da bomb", although they didn't invent that. It was either Gen X-ers or the early '80s cohort; Millennials are not creative enough to come up with even a lame slang phrase like "that's da bomb." In fairness, it's usually teenagers who make up new slang, not children. And yet Millennials didn't do anything there once they became teenagers, in contrast to the Valley girls and surfer dudes, who were cooking up hot new buzz words every week.
And scarcely two references to books: the Goosebumps series, and ordering from the Scholastic Book Club. I was surprised not to see Harry Potter books show up, but as I recall that was when little kids' books started to be aimed more at high school and college students instead of little kids themselves. The explosion in good children's books from the '60s through the '80s would surely show up on a nostalgia site for having grown up then. Dr. Seuss, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Bridge to Terabithia, just to name a few. Certainly authors have continued writing kids' books, but they're either not as good or the would-be audience isn't as excited to explore new worlds as they used to be, since books have left little impression on '90s kids.
The exceptions above are as fun as their childhood ever got, while about 90% of it was boring TV shows, video games, and movies. Part of this is not their fault, but due to the overall plummeting of creativity and innovation over the past 20 years. And another part is not their fault either, but due to their helicopter parents banning anything from the home that would develop their character, bones, or muscles, allowing only things that inculcate passivity (like video games) or that superficially exercise the brain (like flashcards and shallow types of non-fiction -- maybe Wikipedia by now).
Still, even if we had been subjected to loony parents, we would have disobeyed them. Millennials bear the blame for welcoming their own imprisonment. And even if the culture-makers had not given us exciting new things to play with, we would have made it ourselves, like when we invented games like ball tag and Butt's Up, when some other generation invented the cushion-and-blanket fort, or when we pretended that tree branches were guns and swords. Not to mention when kids made up their own songs ("99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall"), urban legends, and other folklore. So Millennials also bear the blame for not inventing a culture of their own.
If it was this bad in the '90s, it could only have gotten worse in the 2000s. When I see him, I try to help my nephew enjoy real childhood experiences, like trekking through the woods and bashing open rotten logs to look at the squirming bugs inside. (He got a real wide-eyed kick out of that -- "An' granma! An', an', an' we saw BUGS!!!") But I only get to see him a handful of times a year. Shoot, even if he were my own son you can only work so hard against the broader societal forces pushing in the sissy shut-in direction. But you still have to do it.
* During our nostalgia trips, my generation would bring up things like the roller rink, mini-golf, hiking home from school through the woods, play-fighting in the woods, cruising around the mall, camping in the back yard, riding our bikes everywhere, etc. Even activities that are now solitary used to be social, like going to the arcade or a friend's house to play video games, rather than play them only while being holed up alone indoors.