‘An enthusiasm for a particular activity or object which appears suddenly and achieves widespread but short-lived popularity’.
I haven’t as yet met anyone who did not experience a childhood craze. We all got caught up in them didn’t we? For our parents it was smashing conkers, flicking marbles and dropping yo-yo’s. For our generation it was pulling off gravel-scrunching skids on a BMX, playing top trumps on a long car journey and tackling the mind-bending complexity of the Rubik’s Cube. And in more recent times we have witnessed surging frenzies of interest in Pokemon, Tamagotchi and Moshi Monsters.
Because children experience such rapid changes in development, more so than during any other phase of human life, it is inevitable that their interests surge from one ‘craze’ to the next as they navigate through their way through childhood. However, some crazes are more persistent than others. Conkers, Top Trumps, football stickers, to name but a few, have all survived the fickleness of crazes over the decades, and still occupy a special place in the hearts of today’s children.
But what makes a successful craze?
What are the magic ingredients? Can they be identified, distilled and created by craze-y alchemists?
It is noticeable that many craze products are very versatile in their use - they can be played with on your own, as well as with friends. I can recall childhood friends stealing their Rubik’s Cube back into their bedrooms for training sessions, only to emerge weeks later to demonstrate their honed skills to impressed friends. In fact, there is huge variety across crazes. Some require no ‘product’ as such - for example, ‘thumb wars’ merely needs two children, and their hands, locked in thumby mortal combat. Others, such as the acquisition of a digital watch, required no skill or dedication - merely the recognition and purchase of a cool device.
We can also see that different crazes fulfill different aspects of children’s developmental needs from playful experiences. For example, Top Trumps, football stickers, Pogs and Pokemon cards all satisfy children’s urge to collect, whereas Doc Martens, turn-ups, leg warmers and Reebok Pumps are all about the buying, the wearing and the being seen. Those children who wanted to nurture had My Little Pony, Tamagotchi and Cabbage Patch Kids to fulfil this.
So what of the future?
The digital revolution is innovating new crazes and behaviours all the time - everything from the virtual world of Moshi Monsters and the creative fantasy of Minecraft, to the taking of ‘selfies’ and playing Angry Birds.
But, ultimately, crazes are powerful agents of nostalgia. In fact, eras can be recognised by the crazes that were happening at that time. So, are these fads more important to our history than we realise? Do we take for granted the ever-changing trends and fads in children, without recognising the effect of these things on society's timeline? Whatever era we grew up in, we all look at children now with a strong recall of our own childhood obsessions. The two are inextricably interlinked. This is why parents allow their children to get crazy with crazes, as they can recall and reminisce about those things which they got crazy about themselves.