We’re very excited to be celebrating the 25th anniversary of New York Family. To help rejoice in our love of all things parenting, the editors of New York Family magazine have traveled back in time to take a look at what things were like in the 1980s compared to today. We spoke with some of our favorite parenting experts to find out how raising kids in the city has evolved. From strollers to maternity fashion, from baby food to kids’ birthday parties, things have changed in so many interesting and unexpected ways. Join us as we journey back 25 years, to reflect upon what parenting in the city was like back when New York Family was born and to imagine what’s in store for the future of parenting. And to view our Then & Now slideshow, click here.
Then: Strollers were aiming to become more manageable and easier to maneuver in the late 1980s. Graco produced several premium strollers at the time including the Stroll-A-Bed with a seat that could recline into three positions for a more comfortable ride. Graco strollers also had balloon wheels, a folding canopy, and an under-carriage shelf in which to store diaper bags. Their Elite model boasted a reversible, foam-padded handlebar and a quick folding mechanism for more efficient collapsibility.
Now: Parenting in such a fast-paced place like NYC requires a stroller that can withstand years of wear and tear. Orbit Baby’s Double Helix Stroller Frame converts Orbit Baby car seats, toddler car seats, and bassinets into stroller seats for fun and functionality on the go. The double frame means that two seats can fit safely inside and rotate in any direction. Plus, the smartphone slot and ShadePad with tablet pocket provide tons of storage space, especially for working moms and dads.
Then: Life was much simpler back in the 1980s. Parents sent their kids to whichever camp their friends were attending and saw them only once during the eight-week program on parents’ visiting day. The camp’s staff consisted of school teachers who were off for the summer, and only basic programs were taught with set schedules and few electives. Children didn’t bring elaborate bunk decorations, eat in dining halls that accommodated food allergies or health requirements, nor did they have to be told not to bring makeup, two-piece bathing suits, and their portable music players.
Now: Technology has changed summer camps drastically over the past 25 years. Camps actually focus on getting children unplugged to spend more time outdoors and take part in organized sports, according to Renee Flax, Director of Camper Placement of the ACA, NY and NJ. They have truly diversified their offerings with help from year-round staff. New programs include digital photography, movie making, spin classes, and mountain biking. Many camps have also updated their food menus with healthier choices such as salad bars—not to mention accommodations for various food allergies, celiac disease, and lactose intolerance. Parents communicate with their children much more frequently as well. Camps post daily pictures on their websites, parents can send one-way emails to their kids, and there are scheduled parent-child phone calls. What’s more, camps are offering shorter session lengths, with programs as brief as two weeks.
Then: Back in the day, was there anything more entrancing than watching an image slowly appear on instant film right in the palm of your hand? Instant cameras like the Polaroid One Step were the first big leap in cameras created for the general public. Intuitive, easy to use, and affordable, these devices allowed people all over to dabble in amateur photography, taking their own family photos rather than having to go to professional studios. First birthday parties, family vacations, high school graduations—all of the memorable moments in a family’s history were captured in a tangible way.
Now: Today, most images flash at us on a computer or the back of an LCD screen on our cameras. Small, portable, technologically savvy, the most sophisticated cameras now merge digital imaging with wireless technology. The Samsung DV300F, for example, is pioneering the integration of Wi-Fi for instant sharing on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. It can even help you get your kids to smile, thanks to colorful animations on the LCD that draw their attention to the camera. And families can show off their images to friends and family all over the world soon after they’re captured. Gone are the days of instant film, but Polaroid is now offering printers attached to cameras using Zink (zero ink) technology.
Then: Children of the ‘80s grew up listening to Raffi Cavoukian, a singer-songwriter and self-proclaimed troubadour. Children responded so well to Raffi because of his commitment to reaching kids on an emotional level. He’s still well known for his hit children’s songs like “Baby Beluga,” “Down By The Bay,” “Apples & Bananas,” and “Bananaphone,” and continues to make music as well as lead the Centre for Child Honouring, an organization committed to providing global awareness of the importance of respecting children and the Earth.
Now:Nickelodeon’s Yo Gabba Gabba! musical group provides families with fun, infectious songs for singing and dancing. “Every episode feels like a party,” says Teri Weiss, EVP of Nickelodeon Preschool. With songs like “Party In My Tummy” and “Don’t Bite Your Friends,” and guest performers from stars like The Roots, Solange Knowles, and The Ting Tings, parents and children enjoy Yo Gabba Gabba! together. The show takes inspiration from indie, pop, and hip hop beats and creates lyrics relevant to a preschool audience. So what does this mean for the future of children’s entertainment? With the goal of creating music for kids and parents to share with one another, artists and musical groups will continue to create high quality music, because, as Weiss notes, kids have “terrific, eclectic taste.”
Then: Early childhood education in the mid-80s didn’t receive nearly as much attention as it receives today on the national stage. Founded in 1939 by Max Mandell, The Mandell School on the Upper West Side originally opened as a nursery and kindergarten in a residential brownstone building. “Twenty-five years ago there were about thirty children in the school,” says Gabriella Rowe, the school’s current CEO and Max Mandell’s granddaughter. Rowe believes that the way in which the nation views early childhood education has changed significantly. “Nobody was talking about the material lifelong difference that a great preschool education can get you.”
Now: In our 21st century world, there’s no denying the prevalence of preschool education. Rowe reflects, “I think it is front and center on every level of our society in ways that it never was before. You can’t pick up a newspaper, you can’t have a conversation at a dinner party without the subject of education coming up, and I think that that’s incredibly positive for the world of education.” It seems we’ve come to recognize the value of early childhood education in significant ways. “There has never been greater acknowledgement of the importance of early childhood education than there is today,” Rowe says. In some cases, as with Mandell, nursery schools are growing into ongoing schools, and children who begin their educations at the school can go all the way through eighth grade. Plus, overseas expansion means that NYC schools can be found in other countries like Korea.
Then: In the real estate sector in New York City, the family buildings category has changed drastically over the past 25 years. Back in the ‘80s, one of Manhattan’s most popular neighborhoods for families and young intellectuals was the Upper West Side. Pre- and post-war buildings were being converted from rentals into co-op apartments, and the average rental fee was $1,700 per month. Family-friendly buildings were not focused on amenities such as playrooms and pools. David Stern, the Downtown Leasing Manager for Glenwood Properties, explains that 25 years ago, the majority of families were looking to move to suburban areas. “There were no playrooms, there were no amenities like that for the kids,” he notes.
Now: While there are still a lot of families living uptown, lately, couples with kids have been drawn to the downtown area as well as Brooklyn brownstones. The trendy Tribeca neighborhood has attracted a lot affluent families to be within walking distance of stores that offer art classes and other activities for children. Generally, the average rental is $3,500 per month, a significant hike in price compared to 25 years ago. The real estate industry in NYC now caters to the demand for indoor entertainment. Glenwood Properties rents apartments with indoor movie theaters and pools with special hours for kids. In fact, the second floor of downtown’s Barclay Tower is home to the Barclay Street School, for children between the ages of 2 and 5. Stern says: “There’s a tremendous attraction for parents [to live] downtown, in many instances to be close to where they work, if they want to come home for lunch and see the kids.”
Then: When Destination Maternity came onto the retail scene in the 1980s, pregnancy fashion was extremely conservative. “Back in the ‘80s, women wanted to conceal their bump, usually in matching sets with tunics, a pair of pants, and a matching skirt,” explains Destination Maternity’s President, Chris Daniel. If moms-to-be weren’t opting for pant sets, they instead chose roomy blouse-and-jumper combinations.
Now: Instead of concealing themselves in billowy clothing, expecting moms are now choosing to accentuate and feature their baby bumps. Skinny jeans, leggings, and tops with ruched detailing offer flattering, stylish looks that accommodate the growing belly of a mom-to-be. Women these days don’t need to give up their designer fashion for nine months: Destination Maternity’s A Pea in the Pod collection offers garments from BCBG, Catherine Malandrino, Vince, AG, and Joe’s.
Then: The Rubik’s craze took over in the mid-1980s, right around the time of Papa Smurf’s first television debut. Kids across the country became obsessed with solving the 3D puzzle of colored squares. Originally called the Magic Cube, Rubik’s Cube has become a household name and is still one of the world’s bestselling toys.
Now: It looks as though the cube is here to stay! Tollytots, a division of JAKKS®Pacific, now has a Rubik’s Jr. Line with the same color patterns as the original six-faced cube. They also have a plush collection, made with Velcro, for younger children. The more recent Rubik’s Stack and Build Blocks will bring back nostalgic memories for parents everywhere as they watch their children solve the classic puzzle cube. Beyond the popular puzzle from the ‘80s, toys these days run the gamut from low- to high-tech. On the low-tech end of gadgetry, Melissa & Doug manufacture simple and educational products for children from babies to 8 years and older. Their award-winning toys engage children’s imaginations without buttons or batteries. On the high-tech end is VTech, which creates electronic toys for age-appropriate learning and enrichment, like their Brilliant Creations Advanced Notebook, which is essentially a learning laptop for kids ages 5-8.
Then: Local mom and early childhood educator Sally Tannen remembers children’s birthday parties of the 1980s being low-key, kid-focused celebrations at home. “We would decorate the apartment with crepe paper streamers,” she remembers. “We played games [such as duck, duck, goose and musical chairs] and relay races. It was just much simpler.” And parties were also much smaller. According to Tannen, the rule of thumb was to include as many children as your child was turning plus one. So if your son or daughter turned five, there would be six kids at the party. Themes included DIY projects like a tie-dye party and goodie bags were decidedly modest, including 25-cent toys and little bits of candy. For just a few hundred dollars, parents hosted kid-friendly parties and even enlisted the birthday boy or girl to help bake the cake!
Now: Kate Gyllenhaal, Co-Founder and Chief Fun Officer at the children’s birthday venue ExerBlast, says that parties at the Tribeca duplex combine the old values of play with cool, new high-tech elements. During a two-hour bash, party-goers are on a mission to save the imaginary planet Botania and each child is given an iPod touch utility belt that gives them an energy point for every move they make. Other modern features of an ExerBlast party include rotating rock obstacles, infrared walls, and electronic invitations. What’s more, Mom and Dad needn’t bring a stack of pizza pies and a supermarket sheet cake because ExerBlast works with Whole Foods to offer a healthy, kid-friendly menu—plus a baker who creates theme cakes to specification, with dairy- and gluten-free options available. The price of a standard party for 12 children at ExerBlast is $950. “Birthday parties have become more important because parents are working more than they ever have,” says Gyllenhaal. For parents these days, that’s money well spent.
Then: Almost no snack is more iconic ‘80s than Fruit Roll-Ups. At face value, it may seem strange: a paper-thin, fruity food that includes pop-out shapes and a rainbow of colors. But kids begged for it at snack time. The fruit ingredients, which were originally being developed for a cake mix, were turned into Fruit Roll-Ups based on another fruit leather snack already on the market. The original flavors—strawberry, apple, apricot, and cherry—were a hit in the ‘80s, along with the treat’s mascot, Rolupo.
Now: Welcome to the new millennium of healthy eating! Fruit snacks nowadays consist of—lo and behold—actual fruit. Peeled Snacks is a local NYC company that strives to make healthy, organic, and convenient snacks for kids. Packaged up in bright, eye-catching colors, kids are drawn to the snack when hunger strikes. Director of Marketing Anu Karwa says: “My three-year-old asks for dried figs and apricots by name.” Peeled Snacks also notes that while fruit snacks have remained as popular as they were in the mid ‘80s, nowadays, parents look for both convenience and nutrition.
Then: While the 1980s may not be synonymous with chic, urbane fashion choices, the decade did leave an undeniably dapper mark on the realm of children’s wear. In 1986, GapKids opened its doors with the intention of outfitting children in trendy yet durable garb. Four short-and-stylish years later, the success of GapKids paved the way for babyGap’s debut in 1990. What began as an easy outlet for adult Gap shoppers to conveniently shop for their little ones was quickly growing into a family outfitting phenomenon, proving versatile basics and high-quality special occasion pieces for every member of the family.
Now:These days, high-end designers like Stella McCartney, Marc Jacobs, and Gucci are designing for the littlest of fashionistas, alongside more edgy, style-focused children’s clothing companies like appaman and Harajuku Mini. In addition to the proliferation of children’s couture scattered across America, GapKids remains a beacon of style for families that value comfort and quality as much as they do novelty and whimsy. While staying true to their 1986 roots, GapKids now offers updated looks for mini style mavens, from cozy sweaters complete with classic cables and eye-catching hues to quirky accessories like faux-fur trapper hats, candy-colored scarves, and fanciful headbands.
Then: Compared to present day, being a child of the ‘80s was less stressful in 92Y’s Mommy & Me classes. Parents in popular classes such as Red, Yellow, Blue and Glue and cooking instruction concentrated on explorative learning and hands-on engagement for children. Classes were the same size as they are today, but the children were much more independent, with self-assured parents who didn’t set such high developmental expectations and rather concentrated on enjoying simple activities.
Now: Classes today are more age-specific, concentrate on skills development, and have more fathers in attendance than 25 years ago. The main change in the classroom? Parents! Moms and dads today are always looking for different, fun, and engaging activities, like 92Y’s Wonderplay programs for children from birth to 5, which has become popular since its 2005 launch. Moreover, parents are given more information about classes, class goals, and appropriate development expectations.
Then: Some of the most popular baby gear in the mid-80s included bouncy chairs, baby swings, and baby walkers. By far, one of the top-sellers was Graco’s Pack ‘n Play, a collapsible combination playpen/bed. Also celebrating its 25th anniversary, the ingenious Pack ‘n Play opened up a whole new world of portability for travel-bound parents. The original model featured wheels for ease of mobility. Graco eventually expanded their Pack ‘n Play concept into a line featuring over 60 models.
Now: Aside from certain low-tech trends like slings and cloth diapers, baby gear of today is much more advanced with ergonomically designed bassinets, electronic food and bottle warmers, and even apps for new moms. Today’s technological advancements allow parents to be in easy reach of their babies more than ever before. The AC1100 Digital Video, Movement, and Sound Monitor from Angelcare enables parents to see their bundle of joy on a color LCD screen with infrared capabilities for nighttime vision. The monitor can even sense the child’s movements using a sensor pad attached to the bottom of the crib, which sounds an alarm if it detects no movement for 20 seconds. This agent 007-esque piece of hi-tech gear also acts as a nightlight and a two-way communication sound monitor for added safety.
Then: When Asphalt Green opened in 1984, their arena in the George and Annette Murphy Center had two gymnasiums, an indoor track, an exercise room, graphics, fine arts, photography studios, and a theater. Shortly thereafter, the directors decided to create a larger technologically advanced sports complex including Asphalt Green’s Aqua Center, making it one of the most premium athletic centers in all five boroughs. Children of the ‘80s tended to follow a traditional route of afterschool activities like music and art instruction or sports practices at a place like Asphalt Green.
Now: These days, kids have access to more diversified offerings throughout the city, such as archery, chess, tutoring, cooking, computer science, and yoga. But because of the increased popularity in technology, more children are physically inactive. Asphalt Green has modified their programs to help combat rising obesity rates with free events such as the Halloween fitness event Asphalt Screams and Snowman Showdown—a snowman-building event at the first big snow of winter season. What’s more, the venue renovated its fitness center in the late ‘90s with two floors of state-of-the-art equipment. Now, classes in the expanded aerobic studios have sweeping views of the East River. Then, in 2008, Asphalt Green completed a renovation of the Aqua Center. Finally, the outdoor AstroTurf field underwent a renovation in 2009 and is now complete with a new track, updated lighting, and an illuminated scoreboard.
Then: Atari Pong, the accessible yet competitive arcade game, was king in the ‘80s. First becoming a hit with adults in pubs, Pong was later released with the Atari 2600 home console, making it easy for families to play from the comfort of their couches. Pong started a video gaming revolution, creating an industry that continues to grow to this day, most notably with smartphones and tablet devices. Pong has continued its reign as a gaming classic, now available with the Atari Greatest Hits app. “We think of mobile devices as being the new arcade,” explains Atari CEO Jim Wilson. Pong’s influence is everywhere and “can even be seen in Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph, in which two paddles and a ball appear as non-speaking characters in the central hub of the arcade known as the Game Central Station,” says Wilson.
Now: Nintendo recently released its newest and most anticipated console, the Wii U GamePad, a controller with a 6.2-inch touchscreen. Wii U has been breaking traditional barriers between games, players, and their televisions by “creating a second window into the video game world,” as Nintendo says. Wii U became available soon after the release of the Nintendo 3DS, a system that enables 3D viewing without the need for special glasses. Nintendo continues to connect families through interactive recreation at home, and along with Wii U, Nintendo has created the Miiverse, allowing gamers all over the world to connect, communicate, and share their gaming experience.
Then: One of the most notable differences between private schools in NYC of today versus those of the late ‘80s is the cost of attendance. According to a New York Times article published in 1987, the cost of sending a third-grader to private school was around $4,500 per year, considerably less than the current annual private school tuition fees (about $35,000 per year). Three decades ago, private schools were not nearly as racially diverse as they are today. Another Times piece written in 1987 cites that of the 15,000 students enrolled in private schools in the area, only 20 percent were non-white.
Now: The national private school system has changed dramatically in the past 25 years. Teachers have started to move the focus from lecture-based classes toward more student-directed learning. Technology has also played a significant role in the way students learn. Schools have computer labs designed to teach the basic computer skills needed in a tech-driven world. Some schools have even purchased tablets for their classrooms. Additionally, private schools have grown more environmentally conscious. The Riverdale Country School in the Bronx is using “thinking green” as a theme at its Middle and Upper Schools, making use of solar panels and teaching the importance of recycling.