Monday, March 3, 2008

Birthday Parties for Kids: Out of Control

Monday’s Cleveland Plain Dealer featured an article about how high the stakes have become with birthday parties for kids. Specifically, the proliferation of gift bags or goody bags for the children attending the party.

I have to admit that I was stunned that this practice is going on. I’ve always been a little disappointed in the whole birthday party “extravaganza” that parents feel the need to give to their children, starting at a very early age and continuing ad nauseam. But goody bags for the partygoers? Please!

You get the idea of how ludicrous this is just be reading the first few paragraphs of the Plain Dealer article:

“At the conclusion of the lovely kids birthday party, with cake and ice cream and games, the hostess bid each guest farewell with a smile and a goody bag. A 6-year-old boy grabbed his, peered inside and said, "This is a rip-off!"

At another party, a mother decided to do the unthinkable and not even give treat bags. A group of 7-year-olds cornered her and complained: "You should have told us before we came!"

Still another mom called her child's friends to invite them to an upcoming birthday bash. At least one of the kids refused to accept the invitation . . . at least until she told them what was going to be in the gift bag.

When another party ended without swag bags, a group of outraged 10-year-olds bum-rushed the birthday boy and . . . beat him up.

These aren't tall tales or urban legends. These horror stories are true, told by parents and grandparents to Bill Doherty, a professor in the Department of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota. He is one of the founders of Birthdays Without Pressure, an informal citizen-action group that's trying to raise awareness and reverse the trend it calls "out-of-control birthday parties."“

I was born in 1955, a time when things were still simple. Mom would usually make a birthday cake and we would all celebrate. But a birthday party? No way. It was too expensive, and frankly with mom already having 6 kids, I can see why she wouldn’t want any more to deal with, even for the short term.

These days, many parents go all out with the parties, sometimes having them at off-site locations made just for kids. OK, I can understand that with both parents working these days why an off-site party would seem attractive. But, rewarding guests with a gift bag just for coming? It’s almost obscene. Are we teaching our children that they need to be rewarded just for showing up? Or, that if you give something, you always have to get something in return? I can just imagine these pampered and spoiled children starting their first jobs and not having everyone celebrate their mere presence. I also see more and more kids throwing tantrums while shopping or dining out with their parents if something isn’t done to their exacting requirements. (Sometimes, the parent’s behavior is equally bad.)

I really don’t blame the kids for the whole “gift bag” thing. I blame the parents. Sure, it’s nice to be able to give your kids nice things, and celebrate their lives. But teaching children that birthdays are all about presents and getting things is not going to prepare your children for real life, where a person doesn’t always get what they want. And perpetuating the gift bags is teaching your child that their friends have to be bribed to be with you, and that you’re only as good as the presents you give back.

So parents, quit trying to keep up. You can’t. The only people that win are the retailers, who are more than happy to sell you anything. Maybe next time, try making a birthday cake with your child, and then celebrating their birth with just the family. You may be surprised that the biggest gift you can give your child is your undivided attention.

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1 comment:

Rick Carlson said...

This practice is way too excessive. A better way to do something different without breaking the bank is to get the kids outside in nature. Parents here in Minnesota often hold kids' birthday parties at parks or farms with sheep, goats or even llamas.