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

Kids and Costumes: A Few Predictions

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Oct 16, 2012 @ 02:25 PM

Gangnam Style’s Psy? Pregnant Snooki? Clint Eastwood’s Chair? Honey Boo Boo? Smirking Fab Five member?

These are likely to be some of the top costumes at Halloween parties this year – but probably not the parties that preschoolers or little kids will be attending. It’s a safe bet that a few preschool princesses will come to your door (perhaps of the Tangled or Brave variety this season) and that firefighters, superheroes and pirates will parade through your neighborhood. But beyond these timeless tropes, what’s new in the Halloween haute couture this year?Halloween Costume

  • Whether they’re working moms or just practical parents, most Halloween costumes we'll see on the streets will likely come from a store of some sort…At the higher price point, Pottery Barn Kids offers an artisan-looking collection of costumes from Where the Wild Things Are that help preschool parents provide a chance to play favorite-character, while feeling like they’re promoting the literary prowess. This brand also offers quirky costumes that seem to seek handmade simulation over sleek production – see their “paper doll” costume or their cardboard “house.” And while animals are always a Halloween favorite, this year’s batch, at PB Kids and Target, include creatures who haven’t been under-celebrated in the past…Hedgehogs and donkeys might lose out to lions and tigers, but their mere inclusion in the these stores’ selections suggest that parents are looking for something a bit more offbeat in their store-bought costumes. 
  • Speaking of quirky, Chasing Fireflies offers a watermelon fairy costume, alongside a goth “Tragedy Ann.” This brand’s offerings are certainly differentiated versus the competition (Vampire of Versailles costume for your little guy?), but they may have missed the mark. This parent targeted catalog seems to be skipping sentimentality in their offerings, which might be off-putting to parents who strive to steer their little kids and even bigger kids towards good, clean fun.
  • In contrast, superheroes (especially the  Avengers, but also Spiderman) fit the bill for boys this year (as well as last year). Variations on this theme abound, but we have no doubt that many youth will slip into some version of the quintessential cape and mask on Hallow’s Eve. If birthday party themes are any indication of the kinds of properties that preschoolers love (and we think they are) than our YouthBeat Jr. data might hold some clues to Halloween’s top costumes: Disney Classics (Mickey and Minnie), Princesses, and LEGOs.
  • For parents who prefer the commercial-free look, but don’t have the skills or the time to do it themselves, Etsy helps them accomplish their goals. Parents can get the authentic handmade look without putting in the labor – and this marketplace is full of stay-at-home-moms willing to monetize their costume-making skills for those who can’t or who choose not to do it themselves.
  • And what about tweens and teens? Look for Katniss braids on girls, along with a few Olympians. For the boys, athletes are always a mainstay among guys who know that dressing up like your favorite player protects you from making the wrong choice. Will we see any Wanted or One Direction homages? Tough to say – we don’t expect too many boys to take on these personas, but perhaps we’ll see a few female “number one fans” knocking at our doors.

What’s your best bet on the costumes that will connect with youth (and their parents) this year?

Tags: preschool, play, Youth, fashion, culture, youth media, Halloween

Halloween - Possibly the Perfect Holiday for Kids, Tweens and Teens

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Oct 31, 2011 @ 01:06 PM

Halloween may just be the perfect youth holiday…Halloween gets it right in so many ways with kids, tweens and even teens (not to mention their parents). The most kid-centric of celebrations, this holiday could only be made more perfect if it came with a day off from school (maybe – see below).  And while parents might suspect that other holidays have become too commercial, or require more planning and prep than play, most have no problem getting into the spooky spirit. To get all you guys and ghouls in the mood (sorry, we couldn’t resist!), see our 10 reasons why Halloween gets the under 18 set howling:

  1. The power of fantasy. Whether you’re a kid, tween or teen, every youth wishes to be someone else, at least some of the time. For kids, Halloween is a chance to be big. Whether it’s dressing up like a superhero, a princess or a ferocious animal, Halloween gives kids a chance to turn the tables. For once, they can feel what it would be like to be in charge and on top.
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  2. The opportunity to express one’s self.  For tweens, Halloween transformations are more subtle, and often, involve trying on the look of one’s aspirational self. The up-and-coming athlete asserts his or her identity by being, well, a soccer player. The tween girl dresses up as the super fan of their favorite band. And the teen who might not stand-out on the traditional measures has a chance to get kudos for their cleverness with a witty costume. Tweens and teens are in the midst of the important process of figuring out who they are and how they want to be seen, and on this day, they have more tangible tools to help them do it.
  3. Permission to break the rules. Maybe today’s kids don’t really wander the streets in the evening (with trick or treating officially ending at dusk in most places)…But on Halloween, you get to knock on your neighbors’ doors and beg for candy, and then actually get to eat it. In many schools, the dress-code gets ditched. And – under the protection of being “in character” – you might get to be a bit rebellious. After all, no one expects a Pirate or a Vampire to use their inside voice.
  4. Connection to community. In a “Bowling Alone” culture, where friendships play out online, with little face-to-face interaction, connection matters more than ever. Concerns about “stranger danger” sometimes isolate our kids from people who live very close to us. But on Halloween, barriers are broken down as costumes serve as conversation starters. Halloween parades give youth a chance to show off (and compete for prizes) but also give them a chance to participate in community.
  5. The chance to be scared. Being frightened might seem like something to be avoided, but it’s actually as much a need as a truth. For the little kid who worries about ghosts in the night, Halloween is a chance to confront your fears (and laugh them off). (Toys that tap into this need, like dolls from brand “Monster High,” tend to meet with unexpected success.) For older youth, Halloween gives them a delicious taste of the uncanny – the sense that something is familiar and not quite right at the same time. Some of our most loved literary ventures tap into this Freudian theme, and it makes for a chance to explore the dark side in a safe space.  
  6. An excuse for family fun. For many parents, Halloween comes with a certain amount of anxiety. Most parents don’t make their kids’ costumes, but even trying to find the perfect costume at the right price, in the right size, can be stressful. (Not to mention the parents of teens who are monitoring their children’s choices for public appropriateness!) But Halloween gives mom and dad a chance to join in the fun, and gives kids, tweens and teens some time to bond with parents.

Halloween might be a tough act to follow for organizations and brands who want to tap into some of its magic. But this day might provide some inspiration, along with ideas, for smart marketers to consider.

Tags: kids, Youth, Teens, holiday, tweens, Halloween