Hugh McKay has a very grumpy rant in the SMH today about the excessiveness of children’s birthday parties. He starts with a description of a two year old’s party, which is more extreme than any two year old’s party I’ve ever been to (I must move in the wrong circles), and then goes on to complain that the parents stayed at the party, blaming helicopter parenting for the fact that parents didn’t just drop their kids off. The first clue that this is mostly a rant about modern parents, and how they aren’t just letting their children be children. While it’s possible that in the older, simpler days which we should all go back to, parents dropped two year olds off at a party to be there by themselves for two hours, it seems a little unlikely to me.
“For some parents, weekends have become an endless round of children’s parties. It’s sometimes more than one a weekend and the parties themselves are steadily becoming slicker, more sophisticated, more elaborate and more competitive; more like quasi-adolescent affairs.”
“As usual, it’s tempting to blame the marketing industry for “doing this to our children” and there are some big moral questions for that industry to ask itself. But who fuels the AC trend by paying for the products and supporting the activities that drive it? Yes, children put pressure on their parents to buy all the accoutrements of premature adulthood, but parents ultimately control what young children buy, how many parties they attend, what media they consume and how they spend their time.”
There are several aspects of children’s birthday party culture that do bug me. Party bags (or favours, as our US influenced culture is starting to call them) seem ridiculous to me. When I was going to parties, you got a slice of birthday cake to take home with you, not a collection of sugary sticky sweets that are bound to make a mess of the car going home (and which we immediately tend to confiscate, if we can get away with it). Bigger parties are much more common which leads to two problems – far more frequent parties, and too many presents for the birthday child.
But parties are fun, too. You get to see all your friends out of a school environment, you get to play some silly games, and you learn some social skills like being nice to your guests, and behaving like a host should.
The society my children are growing up in is way richer than the society I grew up in. So parties do happen more often, and more guests are invited. But that is not just a child centred phenomenon. It’s pretty common these days to have a big bash if you have a round number birthday (25, 30, 40, 50…). And most kids these days will have a huge party for both their 18th and 21st parties. That didn’t happen 30 or 40 years ago either.
So if there is a problem with children’s parties, it is a symptom of a wider problem of overconsumption that we as a society have, not another chance to beat parents up for turning their children into adults prematurely.