I went to my share of birthday parties as a child and without exception they were of singular focus – to celebrate the birthday of a friend or relative. All attention was placed on the “person of the day” or persons in the case of twins or triplets. Getting to play games with other children, in addition to loading up on sugar in the form of cake and ice cream was the benefit to partygoers.
Then, at some point in the past decade or so, things began to change. This change was so subtle that it went unnoticed until our society was firm within its grasps. To what evil would I be referring? I speak of nothing less than the birthday “treat bag!”
These little bags filled with a medley of dime store toys and candy that are given to partygoers as if they were payment for attending the party. Kids rush to treat bags like construction workers to the payroll office. They are simply receiving just compensation for time served. It is beyond my comprehension why we feel compelled to give gifts to every kid at a party.
I can only speculate how this phenomenon began and spread throughout Middle America. My guess is that several years ago, some mother thought it would be really sweet and cute to provide little bags of treats for all her child’s friends. It was a nice gesture and I commend her on the thoughtfulness.
The real problem is what occurred next. The parent of the child with the next birthday probably felt that she needed to give treat bags also. She obviously couldn’t host a party that didn’t match up to the previous one. If someone gave her child a treat bag then she must give one in return lest she be perceived as frugal.
From here, the cycle continued until it had soon spread throughout the country. Now, it’s almost impossible to go to a birthday party without all the attendees receiving a bag stuffed with suckers, little plastic rings, stickers, and a host of other doo-dads. We have reached a point where some kids even expect to receive a treat bag for showing up.
Don’t get me wrong. This misaligned gesture in itself is not destroying society. However, it is one of a multitude of things that middle class adults have unconsciously bought into, which over time and combined with other similar acts have a deleterious effect on our kids. Let me provide some additional examples to illustrate my point.
Many children and youth cannot seem to take a 5-minute car ride to the grocery store without entertainment. Without thought, some parents stick a DVD in a portable player as soon as the kid is buckled. We then complain that our children do not understand appropriate social behavior or that they are unable to converse intelligently with their parents. That is not a big surprise. In effect we have “taught” them that our job is to ensure they are entertained and enjoying themselves at ALL times.
Involving kids in every extra-curricular activity possible seems to also be required of middle class Americans. We don’t want to be seen as the parent who doesn’t help their child achieve an Olympic dream, act on Broadway, or join the LPGA. We would rather spend every minute of spare time driving from school to practice to event without time to even think about what is happening. The mind-boggling pace that we put our children and ourselves through prevents any real time for family bonding, reflection, and “life”. Thank goodness the kids have DVD players in the backseat, or they might get bored between all the shuttling.
The final example, and one which I’ll probably catch the most flak, is cell phone ownership by kids and youth. Yes, I’ve heard the argument regarding the safety aspects. However, I have not once heard how a child with a cell phone was saved from danger.
Instead, I see young people texting their friends at a rapid pace, with little regard to the environment around them. By succumbing to social pressure of more and more gadgetry for our children, we only fuel our youth’s increasing desire to be in constant contact with one another. We’re putting them on the road to high stress much younger than we were forced on it.
Parents, myself included, should be less concerned about providing our children with gadgetry and more cognizant about the signals that we are sending them. By giving them cell phones, we simultaneously promote a culture of materialism and send our approval that interaction with technology is more important than developing true social skills.
Wait a minute! I just thought of a valid reason why children should have cell phones. A 7-year old girl might need to call her father to find out why he isn’t at the course to pick her up after golf practice. The answer to that, of course, is he thought she was still at piano practice and that he was supposed to pick her up after the swim meet.
All I ask is that someone (in addition to my wife and I) please stop the madness. Let’s take our role as adults seriously and be intentional about the signals that we send to our children. Let’s make the birthday parties solely about the kid with the birthday. It’s still fair as every child has the same number of birthdays per year as every other child. Let’s spare our kids from the stress involved with too much activity and let them just be kids. Stop with the materialism and entertainment at all costs mentality to which we have fallen prey. Everyone will benefit in the long run and we will even save substantial amounts of money.
Do I really think treat bags are as evil as I suggested or that cell phones, extracurricular activities, and car DVD players will lead to the demise of our country? Not really, although my wife and I abstain from or limit them for the very reasons listed above. I hope you can read between the lines and see that these are not problems in and of themselves. The issue is how we all get caught up in doing things that if we’re honest with ourselves, does more harm than good in the long run.
Do we take the same actions as others just because they expect us to follow suit? Anticipating the long term societal effects is something at which we probably fail miserably; especially when those actions seem trivial (like treat bags). Eliminating treat bags from children’s expectations is just one tiny step at making things better. Somebody please help me in this endeavor.
Image courtesy of house_n_baby