Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Skinny on Silly: What Kids Might Gain from Silly Bandz

Like many of the grade school set, Taegan has adopted the silly bandz trend as an important component of her personal sense of style, as well as a valid form of interaction with other kids at day camp and on the playground. She got her first silly band—-a cloud—-from a boy in her class, apparently after she simply asked him if she could have one, and has been collecting them ever since. To date, Taegan has spent around eight dollars of her own money on these brightly colored silicone bands that both serve as bracelets and also snap neatly back to their various shapes (think animals, sports objects, cartoon figures, princesses and fairies, rock star memorabilia, etc.) when not being worn. Although I haven’t actively encouraged Taegan’s interest in silly bandz, I don’t have a big problem with it either, and I even defended the trend to Taegan’s dad the other day when he tried to dismiss her bandz as “junk.”

Okay, so, of course, rubber bands shaped as insects and flowers, to name a few additional examples, that often break after only a few wearings and that will undoubtedly end up forgotten in a drawer sometime in the near future, could reasonably be classified as “junk.” And certainly, like any other product-driven fad, the silly bandz trend most benefits the companies who are able to successfully market the product, in this case, to children who are attracted to the various silly bandz shapes and who want to fit in with their peers who already sport armfuls of the brightly colored bracelets. As blogger Eric Steinman suggests only somewhat jokingly, then, for our children, silly bandz might represent “the first step along the slippery slope that leads to wanton and reckless consumerism” (par. 5).

I see at least a few benefits in the current silly bandz trend, however. For one thing, at around three or four dollars for 24 bandz, silly bandz are relatively cheap. Even the kids who don’t wear clothing from the latest lines at Gymboree or own every Zhu-Zhu pet and Zhu-Zhu pet accessory can probably pony up the allowance money for at least one or two packages of their very own fun-shaped rubber bands. The low cost of the product allows for kids from different socio-economic backgrounds to get in on the silly bandz action. This leads me to my next point, that the school-yard (or, in our case, Cardinal Kids Camp) trading of silly bandz can be a meaningful form of interaction among children. Taegan looks forward to seeing the other kids who engage in silly bandz trading every day during free time at camp and, more importantly, to trading for new bandz. Indeed, Taegan is also learning a bit about how free trade works. Some silly bandz are more valuable than others simply because they are more desirable among the kids of her crowd. Yesterday afternoon, for example, she was willing to give two gymnastics figures for a much-coveted tie-dyed octopus. She has also discovered that sometimes you have to have something that someone else wants before they are willing to give you what you want. She longs to own her friend’s Mr. Krabs band, but she knows that she won’t get her hands on it until she has the dolphin band that her friend wants in return. Besides giving them practice with trading, silly bandz also offer kids a chance to simply be kind to one another. Since they are inexpensive and come in large packs, silly bandz are easy to just give away. Taegan assures me, in fact, that just like her friend at school gave her a starter band a couple of months ago, she gives away a band or two every day to kids at camp who want to start collecting silly bandz but who haven’t yet saved up enough money to buy their own packs.

My final point is tentative, but it might be that the silly bandz craze is defeating the gender-based marketing of the bandz themselves. Clearly, certain colors and shapes of bandz-—pink and purple princesses, fairies, gymnastics figures, candies, etc.—-are marketed to girls and other colors and shapes-—red and black baseball figures, Sponge Bob characters, pirate memorabilia, etc.-—are marketed to boys, in such a way aims to reinforce the gender stereotypes that we already battle in the marketing of toys, clothing, and pretty much every other product that is intended for children. But it seems to me that kids are so interested in collecting the various shaped bandz that they are ignoring the traditional designation of some items and colors as feminine and some as masculine. Taegan tells me that lots of boys sport angels and cupcakes on their arms, for instance, and her exchange of the two (pink) gymnastics figures for an octopus was with a boy. For her part, Taegan has never been much for Sponge Bob, a cartoon largely marketed toward boys, but she really wants that Mr. Krabs band because it is one of the few that she has seen that has arms and legs, extra silicone parts that dangle enticingly from the main band!

Like it or not, the silly bandz fad is in full swing in our house. Michael just got back from a trip and brought back music-themed bandz (in glittery colors!) for Taegan. You would have thought that she won the lottery to see the look on her face when she spotted the pack of silly bandz. She’s probably already calculating the bandz loot that she might be able to bring in by introducing her camp friends to the newest additions to her collection.


  1. Do you remember those jelly bracelets? Same concept, different generation. Nice blog.

  2. Made me think of my kids and Pokemon cards. Near our house was a shop devoted entirely to the buying, trading, exchange, and selling of those cards, and for a time both boys had entire books with plastic Pokemon sheets filled with different cards, some more coveted and "valuable" than others.

    It was a huge lesson, which may or may not be related to the silly bands craze. But I remember them calculating all the money they were going to earn when they finally sold them . . . and then, when they were ready to do so, discovered there were no buyers and the cards were worth virtually nothing.

    Kids learn a lot through these things about going with the crowd, and how things come and go, and about the arbitrariness and fickleness of value.

    But the important thing about your post, which was fun, was the look on her face when Michael brought the music bandz home.

    She's having fun. She's part of the crowd. And that's what really counts.

  3. I agree that every generation seems to have its own collectible item. Maybe each of them deserves its own analysis about what it says about that generation, though. I like it, for instance, that the kids trading silly bandz seem not to abide by the gender norms perpetrated upon them by the marketing of toys and other kids' stuff.

  4. I think you're onto something:

  5. Thanks, Corby! Great reference on the very intellectual topic of silly bandz!

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