Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Materialism, Socialization & Silly Bandz

First it was Squishies, then came Japanese Erasers, now, it's Silly Bandz. This is a fantastic fad phenomena -- the frequency of which I'm not sure has been matched before. In less than 12 months we have seen the rise and fall of one small and positively annoying toy, that easily gets stuck in your vacuum cleaner, after another.

Earlier this year, Squishies were banned from school, even during recess, because of the increase in possessive behaviors induced by ownership of said fad-ish toy. Granted a Squishie is cute, -- made of a soft rubbery material in the shape of common objects like land and sea animals -- inexpensive and serving to satisfy the craving "to belong", it had it's social function. However, it became an obsession, and the desire to have the LARGEST Squishies collection in the neighborhood or the school consumed some children.

Within months of Squishies becoming public enemy number one at school, a new fad presented itself -- the Japanese Eraser. Again, a small conglomeration of interlocking pieces made of eraser material that take the shapes of every day things. There are food erasers, animal erasers, car erasers, etc. So, when the children wanted Japanese erasers to take to school initially, a parent could see the cuteness and the function. What they do not do is erase! Unfortunately, they too became a problem; children wanted more and more, they began to trade them at school, just like the Squishies. And, yet again, one began to see an increase in possessive behaviors induced by ownership of said fad-ish toy. Gee, I think I said the same thing about the Squishie issue just a minute ago.

While Japanese erasers still have some leverage among the young collectors, a newer, better and more hip product has entered the playing field -- Silly Bandz. These elastic wrist wraps come in a variety of colors and are the shapes of all sorts of common objects like animals and cars... (are we seeing a trend here?) Silly Bandz are the craze, only a few months after the fanaticism of Japanese erasers and Squishies. And, they have been banned from the school because of -- you guessed it -- the increase in possessive behaviors induced by ownership of said fad-ish toy.

In a piece for the Washington Times, Kimberly Petro writes about the effect of Silly Bandz on her daughters:

They went on to explain that these were the "coolest bracelets ever" and that "everyone at school had them" and "can we please go to the dollar store" so they could buy more.

I'm nothing if not a cool mom as well as behind anything that isn't putting holes into your face or, God forbid, other parts so I happily complied. After all, if a few cheap plastic bracelets can make my daughters as ecstatic a set of puffy smurf stickers once made me, who am I to judge?

Well, honestly, I think you should judge. Just because one collected stickers, -- I had a mess of them -- doesn't mean that we should cater to every whim and fancy that comes along because it is popular and CHEAP. I collected stickers for, well, years. I saved my pennies to buy them, I traded them with friends, especially if I had or wanted a rare one. It was a hobby. These new fads are not hobbies, they are status oriented and promote no long term appeal. If you don't have them now for the brief period they will remain impressive, you're not cool, popular or fun to be around.

Materialism has a way of ruining what could be a lot of fun. For my daughter's birthday, all she wanted was Silly Bandz. She has a bunch from trading at school -- her lunch snack, her pencils, etc. I don't want her to do that! If she would like to start a collection that has some meaning and personal value, fine. But, to just want something to want it, to be cool, to be judged based on if you're trendy, that's not what Christ teaches, and it is not something I want my daughter to value.

Christ shows us how to be detached from things -- to love them for their created beauty, but not to live for them. To live, breath and die to have the coolest, neatest, newest thing on the block -- isn't that the definition of a fad? Our children deserve to have better than a "cool mom". They deserve to be brought up to understand that just because something is cool doesn't mean that we drop everything and do anything to get what we want. It's not about immediate gratification. Sometimes the earning of a thing makes the "getting of it" that much sweeter. It comes with a "look what I've accomplished" moment that can't be bought at any price. (Read: Where the Red Fern Grows, by Rawls -- that story is a perfect illustration.)

Cool moms don't hand their children material goods to be trendy, answering the "everybody has one" whine with appeasement. With that as a parental attitude, I'd be on the look out for those piercings in the near future -- I've heard that they're pretty cool, cheap and everybody has one.

Cool moms, although our kids may not see us this way, teach their children the value of having something -- even if it's cheap like a Squishie, Japanese Eraser or a Silly Bandz. Cool moms want good and happy children, but not by buying them things, but rather, by teaching them to love and care for what they have because it means something special -- it is deserved. That's more than just "cool".

I've learned a lot this year about fads, about marketing, about my children and their eagerness to have what is fashionable and trendy. It's a blessing to know that in a world where materialism pervades every pore of their social existence, I can still be a socially "cool mom" to my kids while instilling a sense of worth in having earned the object of desire.



Peony Moss said...

What do you think about allowing kids to spend their own money on stuff like this?

I suppose if you really wanted to be a mean mommy you could insist on reimbursement for the lunch snack and the pencil :)

Kathy said...

I have absolutely no problem with kids receiving these toys as gifts or earning the money to purchase them to trade for similar items outside of school. But, to run out and get them because they are all the rage and you want your kids to be happy and popular -- that's ridiculous and teaches nothing but the warped idea that material possessions are all you need to have friends and get places. That concept often leads to lonely and frustrated young adults who will do whatever behavior is fashionable to get the next set of cool friends. It's a bad lesson to teach your children -- sometimes, it's a dangerous lesson.

Peony Moss said... run out and get them because they are all the rage and you want your kids to be happy and popular...

...and don't forget wanting to become popular with your own kids by being "the cool mom" (*snort*)

Over here the allowance-sucking craze du jour is Bakugan. As much as I detest them, at least they're not glorified rubber bands.

Kathy W said...

Thank you for this post. My daughter this school year has taken turns begging for squishies, and then Japanese erasers, and now these ridiculous Silly Bandz (which initially made me say "What? Are the Madonna bracelets I had to wear in 5th Grade 25 years ago back in style?"). In addition to the reasons you mentioned, I refuse to buy them because my daughter is 1) scatter brained, meaning that she loses these teeny tiny objects all too easily and 2) a Drama Queen, meaning that when she loses these teeny tiny status symbols and she realizes it you can bet there will be long episodes of mass hysteria (we've already had such episodes with Squishies and Japanese erasers that have been given to her by friends and then promptly lost).

I'm glad to hear the school has banned them. Now if I can just get my daughter's ballet school to ban them (Silly Bandz are like currency there) I'll be happy.

anne said...

Amen! Thanks for the great piece! It's so easy to get caught up in these seemingly harmless and cheap fads and to not see the greater lesson that we could be teaching our children...

Kathy said...

Anne & Kathy -- thanks for the comments. It's funny what issues strike a cord. This is certainly one that makes me wonder!

Davin Winger said...

Yea for uncool Moms!

I must be out of the loop because I haven't heard of these fads. Could be because I'm a man, don't have any young'ens, or this fad hasn't reached the Texas Panhandle yet.

Kathy said...


Never you mind why you don't know -- Just be grateful! :o)


K.H. said...

I'm going to be the mildly dissenting voice on this one. I had a mom who tried to turn everything into an object lesson, and didn't allow me to participate in any of these fads. I was ostracized for it, I resented it, and as soon as I was out on my own (too early, at 16), I blew all my money keeping up with the fads I hadn't been allowed to indulge in as a kid (which were much more expensive by then, going to a private college in L.A -- let me tell you, buying a Prada bag to keep up with your classmates costs a lot more than buying Guess jeans or a slap bracelet). I still struggle with that impulse to this day.

So my thinking is, when my child asks for a fad item, we can talk about it. He can understand that these things aren't all that important, but that as long as it's reasonable and we keep it in perspective, we can participate and have our fun. And then, when I say no to something bigger later on (whether due to expense -- remember $100 Air Jordans? -- or morality), hopefully he'll be more willing to listen, instead of just shutting me out because I'm the "Mom who always says no."

Just a thought from someone who remembers very well what it was like to be a kid in a shockingly materialistic world.

Kathy said...


I appreciate your perspective. I don't believe that I say I am completely against fads. I just don't think that handing things continuously to our children without teaching them the value of earning or deserving them is harmful to their development of discretion, prudence and temperance.

Running out to make sure that our children have the new and the latest item teaches them nothing but if I want it mommy & daddy will buy it for me. I know for a fact that my children, especially because everything is purchased with plastic these days, have very little concept about money. They take literally (and materially) "ask and it shall be given to you."

Understanding this about my kids, I don't just give them things. I make them earn them with good grades, extra jobs around the house, rewards for acts of charity, sibling harmony, etc. They have what is cool, but they also value what they have.