Frightening Fun

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Oct 30, 2013 @ 12:20 PM

Happy HalloweenWith Halloween just a day away, it’s time to turn our attention to a specific kind of kid, tween and teen fun: frightening fun. In posts from previous Halloweens, we’ve made predictions about costumes and have made an argument for Halloween as the perfect kid holiday. Rather than writing about the shocking sophistication of little girls’ costumes (just try to find one that doesn’t involve a mini skirt!), or debating whether Breaking Bad characters are appropriate icons for elementary schoolers (or even younger) to emulate, we decided to turn our focus to the very nature of fright. We explored this in last year’s post, calling “the chance to be scared” one of the reasons why youth gravitate to Halloween, a day dedicated to trying on other personas and testing one’s own tolerance for terror. Getting a glimpse at ghouls, in all forms, and showing you can persevere is not simply socially beneficial (i.e., conveys that you’re brave) – it’s also a way for kids, tweens and teens to remind themselves of their own resilience.

Although funny costumes can’t go wrong for any of these age groups, scary looks are likely to rule the night on this Hallow’s Eve. From Royal Vampires to Zombie everything, the undead are “in” this holiday season. Are today’s kids, tweens and teens particularly macabre? Literature professor and smart satirist Regina Barreca suggests that “anxiety and fear are paradoxically often a product—not a failure—of being both astute and perceptive: The most fearful are often those with the most imaginative intelligences.” Given this assessment, it’s no surprise that fear strikes hard among youth, who might seem prone towards delusions of invincibility, but who are also smaller and less in control than many people around them. They live with uncertainty and risk – and even when they embrace it – it’s often despite, not because of, the hold that it has on them.  And their imaginations are highly tuned instruments for fighting fear through escape or transformation.

Scary fun and horror surely share some common ground. But knowing how to deliver frightening fun, versus just fright, can be the difference between appealing to most youth and to the small subset who find themselves drawn to true terror. Movies like Monsters Inc. or even old-school TV shows like Scooby Doo let kids unmask the silly ghost or confront the monster in the closet. Halloween specials like Toy Story Tale of Terror might make preschoolers jump, but it also shows them that Woody and his gang can once again triumph over “evil” – even if evil equals an eBay enthralled hotel manager who teaches his pet iguana to swipe toys! And this Halloween, zombie-lovers can take a turn at putting the undead in their place at 2013’s alt-haunted house: zombie paintball! For kids, tweens and teens, it’s the relief and the exhale after the scare that turns fear into frolic. This reassurance reminds them that they can confront and master mayhem, and that they can deal with their worries, not give into them. For brands, it’s important to understand that frightening fun matters and compels – but not to take it too far. For content creators, don’t deny kids, tweens and teens their fill of fear!

Tags: fashion, Halloween

Rethinking Intergenerational Influence

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Oct 17, 2013 @ 10:56 AM

GrandparentsPick up any book for young children that include a reference to or visual of a grandparent, and you’re likely to see a sight unfamiliar to most youth of this generation. The days of the truly elderly grandma, who dons her apron all day and ricks the day away in quiet acceptance of old age are long gone. Many of today’s kids, tweens and teens have grandparents who struggle with the name “grandma” or “grandpa,” opting for sassier monikers to describe their relationship to their children’s children. Many Millennials and their younger counterparts know “grands” as folks who are fully engaged in work or their personal passions or travel. Many see their grandparents running or walking races, staying socially active and fully participating in life. In fact, for some youth, grandparents seem to have a much younger outlook on life than their own parents!

But when we think about the role that grandparents play in youth’s lives, we still tend to think of them as transmitters of tales from the past, or conveyors of fairly conventional life wisdom. It seems as though the kind of influence we attribute to grandparents hasn’t caught up with the way they really live and look at the world right now. Last week, we heard this story on NPR’s Story Corps (collected by Story Corps, an independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives) and it reminded us of the way grandparents are and have been reframing their role from authoritative elder to trusted confidant. This tale, told by an adult grandson, describes his grandmother as his partner in crime – someone who would go on adventures with him, not simply warn him of their dangers or wait to hear his recap. He suggests that he didn’t always know where he fit in with the world – he felt like an outsider – and somehow it was his grandmother who (an outsider herself) made him feel like he “fit.”

Like this grandmother, today’s grandparents are sometimes more prepared to play than parent. In a world dominated by devices, they sometimes surprise and delight by bringing offline activities to their offspring’s homes. They are increasingly aware that their value doesn’t come from advising parents about the proper way to do things, but rather providing a break – for parents and for kids – from their daily routines. And for brands and retailers, grandparents represent not only a link to the past, but sometimes, the most forward thinking consumers in the lives of youth.

Tags: family, Youth, grandparents, culture, parenting

SUREFIRE: Helping High School Girls “Ask Anything”

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Oct 08, 2013 @ 10:49 AM

What if there was a place where girls could ask questions about where they’re going in life and how to get there? This is precisely what SUREFIRE (SUREFIRE) aims to do. At the SUREFIRE event this coming Saturday, high school girls will come together in real space (not virtual space!) to ask questions, but also to tell what’s on their minds.SUREFIRE Side Bar 2   MESSYDIRTY v

Girls (and their parents) can attend workshops on social media, fitness, fashion, beauty, philanthropy and finance. Speakers come from girl-centric organizations with names like “InternQueen” and “1000 Watt Presence.” Randi Zuckerberg of DotComplicated will speak with parents about their teens’ tech lives. And Betty DeGeneres will share her story of her role in daughter Ellen’s life-journey.

We have to admit – we’re intrigued. We can’t wait to find out what comes of this event. And we’ll be watching to see what these teen girls not only learn and hear, but also what they contribute. Regardless of what’s said, we think the reminder to listen to girls might be the most lasting legacy of this event.  

Tags: girls, conference, Teens, culture