13 Modern Taboos That Used To Be Perfectly Normal

Man hitchiking with thumb stretched out.

Bob Dylan once sang, “The Times They Are A-Changin',” and that truism has never been more accurate. Year after year, the world around us changes just a little. With social norms morphing at a breakneck speed, keeping up with what's kosher and taboo can be difficult. In fact, if you grew up generations ago, chances are there are things you used to do freely that are no longer socially acceptable. 

Let's take a nostalgic and maybe somewhat naughty look back at a distant time to explore a few things you simply can't do today.

1. Spreading Your Faith

man praying in church
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Personal beliefs are such a hot topic these days, but conversations about them are best saved for houses of worship and personal space. It used not to be such a big deal because the nation wasn’t quite as diverse with religious beliefs. Christianity may be predominant in the United States, but there are so many different faiths out there, and it may be considered disrespectful if you try to convert someone already practicing.

2. Littering

Person throwing trash out of their car.
Image Credit: Slava Dumchev / Shutterstock.

Why wait for a trash can when you have a car window? Play hot potato with the Burger King wrapper and throw that thing outside! Well, that was the mentality years ago, at least. It's weird to think that this was acceptable at one time, but you have to think of the times. Disposable products weren't always widely available, so when households started piling up with trash, the only solution seemed to be just to toss it outside.

According to Wesley Schultz, professor of psychology at California State University, San Marcos, studies show that 90 percent of Americans think littering is still a problem. If you've ever looked at the side of a highway, you'd probably agree.

3. Sending Kids to the Store

Kid Grocery Shopping
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Off to the store you go, honey. Remember, I need a Red Bull, a pack of Swishers, and some of those rhino-horn-derived mystery pills. Don't dilly-dally; momma's thirsty!

While kidnappings were always a thing, there seemed to be less of a fear over them in days gone. The question is, who ultimately changed? Did parents start getting more and more protective, or have children become less and less capable? To answer that question, we'll look to the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital survey, which found that half of the participants would allow their children aged 9 to 11 to go to a separate aisle in a store. 

4. Spanking

Mom gift Mother’s Day kids
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While spanking might not be common among adults today, it was once a go-to form of punishment. Rampant fear of Child Protective Services, kids' ability to trash their parents on social media, and “evolved” parenting attitudes have prompted a drastic reduction in spanking. While some parents may still swear by physical punishment, the American Academy of Pediatrics urges a different approach. For example, rather than admonishing for bad behavior, parents should practice positively reinforcing good behaviors.

5. Shaming the Poor

Impoverished Man
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Some Americans who grew up in poverty look back on their childhood and remember being made fun of. As opposed to the sympathy most show to people experiencing poverty today, some used to view all poor people as the product of their own poor decisions (and, in many cases, lack of work ethic). 

We like to think of the poverty issue with more nuance today. Not everything is black or white, and you don't have to make bad decisions to get poor.

6. Riding in the Bed of a Pickup

women in the back of a truck
Image Credit: Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.

We have to decide whether we're coddling children to their detriment. Have you even lived if you haven't ridden in the back of a rusted-out Ford F-150 going 75 miles per hour on a busy highway? If you live in a quieter part of the country, you may still see this activity on the daily. Unfortunately, as American roadways get increasingly congested, these dangerous but invigorating pastimes will vanish entirely.

7. Going Helmet-Less

Kid Bicycling
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Hands-off parenting was prominent in the pre-2000s decades. Not coincidentally, so was helmets-off bike riding. Like littering and making fun of the impoverished, riding without a helmet is taboo for a very good reason. According to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, helmets have a clear purpose and, if worn universally, would prevent over 150 deaths and tens of thousands of head, face, and scalp injuries annually. 

8. Aggressive Flirting

Mad Men Elisabeth Moss, Jay R. Ferguson
Image Credit: AMC.

Some might even call it harassment, and those who don't are probably perpetrators of it. Either way, office dynamics between men and women were decidedly different decades ago, and most would say not for the better. If you don't know what I'm talking about, watch a season or two of Mad Men.

That's not to say sexual harassment in the workplace has vanished entirely. It's just more widely accepted as a bad thing. 

9. Edgy Jokes

Please Stop
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Making wisecracks about someone's nationality, race, gender, or orientation was far more common years ago. While many jokes went too far, Americans were better at letting edgy comments roll off their backs. We're not condoning bad behavior. Just stating the facts and reminding you that, while you may be able to make humor out of atrocities, many won't appreciate that razer absurdity.

10. Drinking and Driving

Police Officer
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Back in 1910, New York became the first state to outlaw drinking and driving. If you can visualize what a car from 1910 looked like, that's a somewhat funny thought. However, the fight against drunk driving is ongoing, and while some drivers may suggest having just one beer behind the wheel isn't a bad thing, for the universal fight to significantly reduce the 10,000-plus annual deaths from drunk driving, it's a worthy sacrifice. 

11. Pants-ing

The New Kids
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures.

If you were a young man in the early 2000s, 90s, and perhaps even earlier, there were few acts more hilarious than pulling your buddy's pants down in a public space. Today, it's a good way to be slapped with a sexual harassment complaint. It's certainly an odd thing to want to do to someone, especially when there's always the possibility they've gone commando. 

12. Hitchhiking

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Thanks a lot, serial killers. Now I have to pay for the bus.

Even if hitchhiking were remotely safe, we'd guess that the popularity of ridesharing would ultimately have reduced rates of signaling for a ride. After all, why offer a ride for free to some random stranger waving you down when you can flip on an app, make money for the ride, and be safer?

13. Respect for Teachers

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Believe it or not, there was a time when you'd never hear about students openly defying teachers. No insults, no body slams, no disrespect whatsoever. In other words, none of the stuff you see weekly now from students in horrifying TikTok videos. Either kids have lost sight of why teachers are important in their lives, or teachers have become so unbearable that they're impossible to respect.

We're taking a guess it's the first one here.