Silly Over Silly Bandz

Quick question: what’s stretchy, cheap and cute, comes in different colors and shapes, and is guaranteed to drive every parent crazy? If I changed “crazy” to “silly,” would you know the answer? It’s Silly Bandz, of course, the silicone bracelets shaped like animals, numbers, letters and every object known to man. They’re all the rage at my kids’ school, and judging from the number of kids I see wearing them in supermarkets and on soccer fields, at every elementary school in the US.

Man, I wish I had been the one to think of Silly Bandz. You package a dozen of these glorified rubber bands for a penny each, then sell them to crazed kids and their indulgent parents for $3. I’d be as rich as Mark Zuckerman by now — except I’d have to give half of my inventory to my kids, who have taken to collecting Silly Bandz like they’re rare stamps or Giants game tickets. They’re constantly talking about which shapes they have duplicates of and which shapes their friends found at Target, or obsessing about finding someone who owns — and is willing to trade — the rarer shapes, like the orange elephant or the Skelanimals bulldog or the phoenix, or that rarest of gems, the neon blue iPod — not the green ones, mind you, those are a dime a dozen (more like $3 a dozen), the blue ones.

Things have gotten so bad around school that some teachers have actually banned them from their classrooms, which has caused some stirrings among the parents because each teacher seems to have their own policy. The Pea’s teacher lets them wear the bands, but not take them off; Jammy’s teacher doesn’t let them wear the bands in class, but lets kids bring their collections to school so they can trade during recess and lunch; 3Po’s teacher doesn’t let her kids bring Silly Bandz to school at all. Poor 3Po and his classmates have to resort to inviting friends over for trading sessions, I mean playdates, or convincing their parents to bring their Silly Bandz collections at pickup time so they can trade after school. I wish the principal would just step in and acknowledge that Silly Bandz has become an infestation, like lice, and adopt a school-wide policy on them. Keep them or ban them, I don’t care, as long as it’s consistent!

I suppose as fads go, Silly Bandz aren’t too bad. For one thing, they’re pretty cheap; for just $5, a kid gets two dozen Silly Bandz to build his collection with. That’s a lot cheaper than Beanie Babies, Pet Rocks or Zhu Zhu Pets. You can even get knockoffs from Walmart at $1 per dozen (just hope your kid has a baby-sized wrist, otherwise his circulation will suffer). If I’m going to reward my daughter for a test she’s aced, or if I just want to shut my whining son up, I’d rather spend $5 on Silly Bandz than an ice cream sundae. They make great Good Behavior currency:  when the kids complain about fixing their room or making their beds, I just threaten to take away one of their Silly Bandz and watch them snap to attention.

Maybe I’m (pardon the pun) stretching it a little, but I think kids are collecting one or two great life lessons along with their Silly Bandz. For example, I kind of like all the trading and bartering that goes on because it teaches a kid about supply and demand, and how to negotiate (“I’ll give you a gorilla AND a Buzz Lightyear if you give me the phoenix. No?  How about if I throw in a heart ring?”). I’ve even seen a lot of Silly Band philanthropy going on; kids giving one or two Silly Bandz to friends who don’t own any (hey, it’s not their fault their parents still don’t have a clue).

That’s why I’ve become one of those parents who drive to Target when another parent reports they’ve got a new shipment of glow-in-the-dark ballerinas. I had my Hello Kitty stickers and Ring Pop collections when I was a kid, so I guess I can let my kids enjoy the fun and silliness of Silly Bandz while they’re still kids. Besides, when this fad goes away, I’ll find it much easier to dump a whole load of silicone bracelets into the trash than a pile of stuffed animals.

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