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Published in Print: March 1, 2001, as The Fad Files

The Fad Files

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Move over Pokémon. Kids have found something more au courant to bring to school. Electronic message machines, scooters, and flip-flops, among other items, have caught students' fancy, and the once ubiquitous Japanese character cards are now an endangered species on campuses. While teachers may rejoice at the passing of this particularly pervasive craze, Diane Levin, co-founder of Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children's Entertainment, an advocacy group promoting "educationally and developmentally appropriate" toys, worries that the ever-changing barrage of fads is hurting students. She argues that liking what is popular discourages kids from exploring individual interests. "Fads tell them satisfaction and happiness come from external things," she says. "They are presented as 'this is what you need to be happy,' [and kids are] less internally focused."

Still, Levin, who is also a professor of human development and professional studies at Wheelock College in Boston, warns against the outright banning of trends, arguing instead that adults help kids understand the role of such rages. So, what's a teacher to do when the newest fad invades the classroom? Levin's advice: "Limit it, structure it, try to transform it into something that can be more meaningful." Here's how some schools have attempted to manage this year's hottest trends.


ELECTRONIC MESSAGING DEVICES

Fad: Resembling walkie-talkies with keypads, Cybiko Intertainment Systems, self- touted as "wireless hand-held computers for teens," allow kids to play games and electronically chat with friends as far away as 300 feet outdoors and 150 feet indoors (depending on barriers such as walls and ceilings). The toy also boasts a scientific calculator, spell checker, and Spanish-English dictionary. Cybiko Inc. leads the market, but there's no shortage of similar gadgets, such as Girl Tech's Laser Chat and Tiger Electronics' Get Mail.

Popular With: Late-elementary, middle, and high school students.

Distraction Factor: High. Enables students to pass notes and play games during class time and facilitates cheating.

School Reaction: Some teachers are experimenting with Cybikos in the classroom, using them for journalism exercises, for example, or to send messages home to parents. Many schools, however, prohibit the toys under existing bans on pagers and cell phones.

Word on the Street: Cybiko Inc.'s Web site includes a message board where kids often complain about schools that say "no" to the machines. One student gripes: "My school didn't officially ban them, but there are like 10 Cybikos in the office that got taken away."


ENERGY DRINKS

Fad: Students are chugging nonalcoholic beverages full of caffeine and vitamins marketed as energy boosters. Red Bull, a drink imported from Austria, is uncarbonated; others like Coca-Cola's KMX are lightly carbonated.

Popular With: High school students.

Distraction Factor: Moderate. While the drinks do not seem to make students jumpy or aggressive, there have been reports of several students fainting after consuming them at school.

School Reaction: John Burroughs High School in Burbank, California, banned energy drinks from campus last fall after two football players who had tried the beverages suffered dizziness and increased heart rates and had to be rushed to local doctors.

Word on the Street: According to the warning on Red Bull's label, the product is "not recommended for children or persons sensitive to caffeine."


FLIPS-FLOPS

Fad: Kids are sporting open-toed, plastic sandals, formerly must-have beach wear, all year round—even during the snowiest winter weather.

Popular With: Elementary, middle, and high school students.

Distraction Factor: Low. Blue toes in cold climates, that maddening slap- slap sound.

School Reaction: Parents may fret over their children's health, but many school officials are ignoring the fad, citing more pressing concerns. For some schools with dress codes, flip-flops are included in the list of no-nos; others permit scantily clad feet to roam the halls.

Word on the Street: One 15-year-old from Bethesda, Maryland, recently told the Washington Post: "The teachers complain a lot. My feet do get cold. But it's OK."


ROLLING BACKPACKS

Fad: Bookbags that feature retractable handles and wheels are the carrier of choice for young followers of fashion. Rolling bags promise relief to kids formerly straining under gigantic, book-filled backpacks.

Popular With: Elementary school students. According to a Jansport and Eastpak luggage spokesperson quoted in the Atlanta Journal- Constitution in January: "We've done so many focus groups. [High school and college kids] hate rolling backpacks. They think they are geeky."

Distraction Factor: Moderate. The awkward bags are difficult for some students to maneuver, causing a few hallway collisions.

School Reaction: Braelinn Elementary School in Peachtree City, Georgia, has barred K-3 students from using the rolling bags. Other schools are attempting to lighten kids' book burdens in different ways. Some allow students to keep copies of their books at home; others prohibit students from carrying any type of bag during the school day, insisting that they store their belongings in lockers instead.


SCOOTERS

Fad: Upgrading a mode of transportation from their parents' generation, students are riding aluminum kick scooters to—and around—school. Lightweight and collapsible, today's scooters feature a sleek, narrow baseboard (wide enough for two feet standing sideways), adjustable handlebars, and built-in brakes.

Popular With: All ages.

Distraction Factor: High. More difficult to lock up than bikes, scooters are more easily stolen. Alternatives—such as keeping the vehicles at the back of classrooms or in bookbags—have proven irksome.

School Reaction: As with skateboards and in-line skates, school districts are handling scooters in a variety of ways. In California, for example, the Corona- Norco and Moreno Valley school districts have banned scooters from campuses. However, in most areas nationwide, the decision to ban is left to individual principals. Some schools treat scooters like bicycles and don't allow them inside; others have no-riding-on-campus rules.

Word on the Street: The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports an estimated 39,800 emergency room-treated injuries due to scooter accidents between January 1 and December 31 of last year; 85 percent of injuries were to children under 15 years old.

—Jennifer Pricola

Vol. 12, Issue 6, Page 10

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