A Little History
The decade began with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, and it was a relatively prosperous decade, compared to the others around it. However, the ’90s weren’t completely peaceful. The United States entered the First Gulf War early in the decade. Part of that war was Operation Desert Storm, which was to free Kuwait from Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded and took control. Bill Clinton’s presidency was rocked by scandal, and former football player OJ Simpson was put on trial for the murder of his ex-wife (and found not guilty, although members of the public continued to question this verdict). Princess Diana of the United Kingdom was killed in a car accident, leaving behind two young sons, Prince William and Prince Harry.
Technological developments led to the rise of the Information Age with the development of the World Wide Web. Home computers were much more common, and for those who didn’t have one at home, they were readily available at schools or public libraries, increasingly with Internet access. Much of what was available on the Web wasn’t as well-produced as today and teachers wouldn’t always allow Internet sources to be used in writing reports for school (there wasn’t as much useful information available online then anyway), at least not as the only source, but more and more teachers began teaching their students how to use the Internet and how to document sources they found online (although they had to make up their own forms for documenting online information at first because the established systems that were used for citing sources didn’t have a format for internet sources yet, and that continued even into the early 2000s). As the decade went on, the quality and quantity of information on the Internet improved, although quite a lot of false information also found its way to the Internet as well, which was why teachers still urged students to supplement Internet sources with print ones.
Merchants began eagerly embracing the Internet as a way to market products to customers they could not reach before, and they created websites where you could look at products and order them to be sent directly to your house, like electronic versions of the old mail-order catalogs. Private individuals also began creating websites for their own interests, everything from joke lists to fan sites about their favorite tv shows. Some amateur websites were known for being poorly designed or ludicrously designed with too many flashing colors or weird sound effects that the people who designed them would put in just for the sake of showing that they could do that. Individuals started getting their own e-mail addresses as well so they could send messages either for work or just for fun to family and friends.
Some people owned cell phones, but not many. They were large, clunky, and expensive, especially compared to later models, which also included more features than just the ability to make phone calls. DVDs began replacing VHS tapes as the format for home movies, and CDs replaced the cassette tapes people used for music during the previous decade. Many people had portable CD players so they could listen to music on the go. Some people began buying digital cameras instead of the film cameras that people used before.
Video games for home systems were becoming ever more popular, and companies competed with each other for people’s money. Each video game system had series of games with their favorite proprietary characters: Nintendo had the Mario games, Sega had Sonic the Hedgehog, etc. People had their favorite games and systems. The quality and variety of games improved throughout the decade, especially in terms of graphic styles (1980s games had very simple graphics with a pixelated look). Many kids owned hand-held gaming systems like the Nintendo Game Boy and other electronic toys (and those who didn’t have them really wanted them). Parents often worried that their children were playing too many video games as well as watching too much tv.
In children’s literature, horror and scary stories were particularly popular early in the decade, especially the Goosebumps series by R. L. Stine. It was so popular that there was a tv show based on the book series.
The first of the Harry Potter books was published in 1997. They were wildly popular, and the Harry Potter series was credited for helping to get children excited about reading as they eagerly waited for new installments of the series, sometimes lining up at midnight parties at bookstores so they could be among the first to get a copy of a new book. Some people praised the complexity of the stories, which tackled dark themes like death, corruption, prejudice, and the ability to do the right thing in desperate circumstances, but some parents argued that they encouraged an unhealthy interest in fantasy and the occult. For the late ’90s and into the 2000s, other fantasy series also became very popular.
Kate Waters is the author of a series focusing on historical reenactors, showing them acting out the lives of real children who lived in Colonial America.
Children born in this decade in the United States:
None of them would remember a time before space flight.
The first children born in the decade were born during the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War. None of them would remember anything about the Cold War later. 1990s children would be the first children born following the end of the Cold War.
They would be the first generation of children to be vaccinated against chicken pox while young, making a disease that had once been considered practically a rite of childhood (mostly because there was no way of preventing it before, it was just highly contagious and, therefore, almost inevitable) much less common, except in anti-vaccine families. (Consider all of the children’s books about having chicken pox that some kids will never relate to! I say, go ahead and get your shot, kids, if you’re able. I have a permanent scar on my face from chicken pox because I was born in the ’80s.)
They were born around the time that Internet and e-mail use was increasing schools and private homes. How soon they came to use the Internet themselves would depend on what their families could afford in their homes, but most of them would have started using it early in their education. Later, they would likely not be able to recall a time before the World Wide Web existed. Generally, they became accustomed to various forms of technology from their earliest years, including Internet, e-mail, video and computer games, and cell phones. They would expect continued technological advancements throughout their lives.
The ones born in the early part of the decade would have been old enough to understand and remember the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. These older ones would have been in elementary school at the time, while the younger ones would have only been babies and likely unable to remember the event. Unfortunately, shootings, violence, and terror would be major factors in their later lives and the world around them. Because of modern methods of sharing information, they would frequently see video recordings of violent events and hear or read commentary about them from a variety of sources.
Those born in the early part of the decade would remember the turn of the new millennium, being in elementary school at the time. The youngest children would only have been infants at the time and would not remember anything about life in the 20th century later in life.
The older children born in this decade would have been old enough to understand the events of September 11, 2001 at the time it happened and remember them forever after. They would have been in elementary school at the time. This incident (and later shootings and acts of terror) would make them increasingly aware that violent, unpredictable people are always present and that any of them could be killed in similar incidents. Being young would be no protection. Most would consider the risks minimal and go about their normal lives, but the knowledge would always be there, along with the understanding that going about normal lives always involves a certain amount of risk.
The Great Recession of the early 2000s and the turbulent aftermath would have hit around the time that many of them were looking for their first jobs (regardless of whether they went to college or not), making it difficult for them to get a start in life.
None of them would have lived during a time when schools were segregated. (At least, not official segregation, which would be illegal long before they were born. Economic, not specifically racial segregation, would have more of a bearing on the makeup of their schools, although some racial segregation may have occurred as a by-product of economics in some of their schools. It would vary by region and social class.) None of them would live during a time when there were separate bathrooms or drinking fountains for different races in the United States or when people of different races weren’t allowed into certain restaurants or other public places. Almost all (with a few odd exceptions) 1990s children would find such concepts repulsive later in life. Racial makeup of churches and other religious institutions would vary by religion and region.
For more about 1990s culture:
Lists of 1990s children’s books: