What's out of control about birthday parties today?

  • Party costs are skyrocketing.
  • The number of children exceeds what many parents can handle.
  • Children are getting too many presents that cost too much money.
  • Gift bags contain more and more junk.
  • Kids get over-stimulated and difficult to manage.
  • Themes and venues have to be cooler and better each year.
  • Birthday celebrations are turning into “party weeks” with several parties: family, friends, and school.
  • Being on the “party circuit” is stressing families' schedules and budgets.
  • There is pressure to make parties perfect, original, and enriching—a once in a lifetime experience every year.
  • We live in a super-sizing consumer culture: more, bigger, splashier.
  • Today's parents have high expectations of themselves and want to make every activity enriching for their children.
  • Some parents are competitive and keep raising the bar for birthday parties in their communities.
  • Other parents are afraid that their child's party will fall below that bar, and therefore do more than they really want to.
  • Today's “time squeeze” leads to outsourcing birthday parties and spending more than at home.
  • Smaller families allow for more spending on each child's birthday.
  • Some parents may be compensating for their guilt over being too busy and overscheduled.
  • A lot of parents nowadays want their children's approval and have trouble setting limits and saying “no.”
  • Birthday parties are a new profit area in a “more and better” business environment.
  • The “Martha Stewart Syndrome”: make it wonderful, and from scratch.

How do out of control birthday parties affect kids, parents, and communities?

For Kids: Not all children face each of these consequences, but enough children experience them to give us worry.

  • They get stressed out from parties that are too large and too orchestrated.
  • They are overindulged by too many presents.
  • They feel entitled to what they want, not just want they need.
  • They feel envious of friends who get more—and someone will always get more.
  • They feel disappointed, because enough is never enough.
  • Long term, they develop materialistic values that equate personal celebrations with accumulating things.

For Parents: Some parents say they are happy with birthday parties that drive other parents up the wall. But we have talked to many parents who report these consequences.

  • They feel pressured to “make” their child “happy” by meeting escalating community standards for parties.
  • They feel guilty if the party was below community standards that they don't really agree with.
  • They feel overloaded with TOO MUCH STUFF, which they have to manage, organize, and clean up.
  • They feel an energy drain from planning, shopping, preparing, and hosting the party.
  • They feel regret or resentment afterwards when their child, or others, is not appreciative enough—“Why did I extend myself so much?”
  • They run up debt from their own parties and from buying gifts for other parties.
  • They experience couple strife when parents do not agree on how big to make the party and how to carry it off.

For the Community and Culture: This issue is bigger than individual families. Personal decisions affect the wider world. Out of control birthday parties contribute to:

  • A too much stuff culture
  • A me first culture
  • A trash and waste culture
  • An entitlement culture
  • A envy culture
  • A more of everything culture