553. Fads

As I write this essay, a current fad among the children I know and children all over the country (e-mail feedback from my friends around the country has confirmed that) is to own an electronic “pet.” These “pets” come on little toys that children can keep in their pockets. They move around on a little screen, do a few tricks, and make little noises when it’s time to take care of them. And many children have them, so whatever company is selling them is doing very well.
The first fad I remember being part of was the hoola hoop fad. Hoola hoops were fun, but more important, “everybody” had them. I “had to” have one, and my parents got me one. I learned a few ways to use it. I was able to rotate my hips – the basic hoola hoop movement, and I could also twirl the hoop on my hands and arms or around my neck. And I was able to roll it and have it come back to me. Some kids I knew could do more. For example, they could twirl several hoops at once. I was impressed, but not intimidated; I was glad that I, a self-professed klutz, could at least do a few things with the hoop.
Some children and adolescents resist fads. They don’t want to be “like everybody else,” and they don’t get hoola hoops or electronic pets. But a lot of attempts to create fads work. Adults who create successful fads tend to make a lot of money. Transformers, Cabbage Patch Kids, and lots of other fads have come and gone during my career as a teacher and parent. And my parents can probably name the fads that happened as I was growing up.
I don’t know what to make of it all – what, if anything, it all means. Do fads help separate one generation from another? Maybe that’s part of it; I’ve certainly felt “out of it” during some of the fads children have latched on to. But children also latch on to items and bits of culture that were popular when I was a child. So it’s not simply a manifestation of a generation gap.
Do fads create an “in” group and an “out” group? Sometimes, but fads are not a very effective way to do that; stores sell to anyone who wants to buy, so any child who wants to be “in” has a pretty good chance. Unless the fad is expensive. Then there are “haves” and “have-nots.” I remember a few children whose parents bought them more than twenty Cabbage Patch Kids. Those children seemed, at first, to be “haves,” but soon, they were so “in” that they were “out;” no one wanted to have a friend who could afford THAT much.
I can’t draw any conclusion about the fads I’ve witnessed and experienced. I know the feeling of wanting yourself or your child to have what “everybody else” has, and I also know how it feels to want yourself or your child to be an individualist, immune to the fads. It’s something to think about.

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