Children’s Parties and Future Mental Health
By: Beth McHugh 2010
Ever noticed that the amount of time and money that is spent on a child’s 18th birthday party is starting to look like the amount parents might spend have spent on their children’s wedding in the not too distant past?
Ever noticed that school graduations are going the same way? Worse, elementary school graduation ceremonies have turned from a simple right-of-passage to a pre-adolescent fanfare that is starting to mimic the end of high school graduation parties.
And it gets even more serious. For some time, parties for pre-schoolers have turned into social events of the year and parents are spending increasing amounts of time and money on a party for a three year old which the latter will never remember. This seems to me to defeat the purpose of a party.
And yet this trend is continuing in first world counties and has reached epidemic proportions, with each family trying (and having to) outdo the party that was held in the previous month.
Gone are the days of having a 3-year-old’s party complete with a few cupcakes, a birthday cake, going to the local park, swimming in the pool or having a humble sausage sizzle on the family barbecue. To do this in some neighborhoods would be social death. Death for both the child and the parents, and the latter are carefully watched and assessed by the parents of other children at your party.
What does this all mean for the growing child? More presents than they would usually get if the party was restricted to the extended family. More money being spent on them at younger and younger ages. An increasing sense of entitlement about gifts and parties so that a party of increasingly gigantic proportions is expected each year.
How does this affect a child’s emotional development? It robs the child of using their imagination to play at the local park, the beach, the pool, the river. It robs them of learning to interact with children their own age because even at the ripe age of three, they are going to be “entertained” by a hired magician or other entertainer. While this is fun, young children can have enormous fun making a fort, a castle or just hosing each other down in the sun.
They don’t need fancy parties, fancy food, adults judging both them and their parents. They just need to left as children and to live in their wonderful fanciful minds before the realities of the world take it away from them all too soon.
Best to keep that at bay as long as possible. Childhood is so short.