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Goodie Bags? Bah Humbug!

Teens and Smoking |


| Mommy Wars II

March 13, 2006

Goodie Bags? Bah Humbug!

David Rocks

We’ve just been through birthday season in my household. My older daughter turned 10 a couple of weeks ago, and my younger daughter turned eight last week. Somehow, though, we managed to get through the season without a party. Neither girl really wanted to have a bunch of friends over, though they’re both still regulars on the birthday party circuit with their classmates.

While I’m not a total curmudgeon (though I’ll admit to being something of a Scrooge!), I must admit that I was a bit relieved by the lack of celebration. In our materialist world, birthday parties have gotten totally out of hand, with entertainers costing hundreds of dollars, or thousand-dollar excursions to the American Girl Café in New York seeming to be de rigeur these days. And those goodie bags that are apparently required at the end of every party tend to be filled with nothing but junk that gets played with for a minute or so (if that) then shoved in a drawer for a few months before being dispatched to the nearest landfill. Slate recently posted an interesting story on the topic, written by a mother who has organized “book exchange” parties for her son for several years.

In an e-mail exchange among the Working Parents’ bloggers, Anne wrote that about 80% of the parties in her son’s kindergarten class have been shared (ie: at least 2 birthday kids) and have specified no presents. All of these are great ideas in my book. I don’t want to deny my kids the joy of presents, or the fun of playing with their friends. But I do think that by piling presents on our kids at every occasion, we cheapen the notion of gift-giving. It creates an expectation of receiving among children that I feel is unhealthy.

As BusinessWeek’s Asia Editor, I’ve had the opportunity to visit the factories in China where much of this stuff is created. Obviously, this isn’t something we can blame on China. But the availability of all manner of junk in our society makes it easy and economical to pile on the gifts when what is really needed is more attention given to your kids … time spent reading, playing, or just hanging out. So excuse me while I go see my girls.

07:44 PM


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This is an issue that has been hotly debated at my daughter's day care. Many parents, in addition to bringing in cupcakes/cake/cookies to celebrate their childrens' birthdays, would also bring goody bags for the kids in the class. Since the two preschool classes celebrate parties together, that's 25 goody bags (in addition to the goody bags at the child's regular birthday party). Not only is that expensive for the parent of the birthday child, it also has created a serious junk overload problem (as well as a serious junk food problem).

Fortunately, a group of like-minded parents banded together and adopted a policy of not bringing in goody bags. The kids haven't noticed their absence, and the parents of the birthday child are less-burdened by living up to expectations.

I mean, really -- how many whistles/super balls/small plastic animals does a three-year-old need?

Posted by: The MOM at March 14, 2006 01:22 PM

This fellow working parent blogger completely agrees with you, I hate goody bags. And I particularly hate that they always have candy in them. The kids have just been loaded up with birthday cake and whatever other junk food is served, and then they get candy as well? What's the rationale there? I have taken a stand against candy in the goody bags handed out at my own daughter's parties (haven't quite worked up the nerve to ban the bags outright) and I cannot tell you how many kids rip them open looking only for the candy, and then actually complain when they don't get any. And her party is always around Halloween!

Posted by: carnst at March 15, 2006 01:07 PM

I have never given out goody bags with little plastic animals, bouncy balls, and--God forbid--candy. My goal has been to find something inexpensive that the kids would really like. It takes more work, but believe me, if you visit a dollar store or odd-lot outlet, it's doable.

For less than $2 apiece, I have found coloring books with washable markers, CD carrying cases, decorative candles with a bas-relief scene of New York City, disposeable cameras decorated with characters from The Simpsons, baseballs with pictures of popular major league players, and miniature Lego kits.

If you have to give gifts to your childrens’ friends who give gifts to your children, you might as well put some thought into it.

Posted by: Amy at March 15, 2006 03:47 PM

Thank you, thank you! So there are other parents who think goody bags make it seem like Halloween all year round (and I love Halloween). Has anyone noticed that Valentine's Day has moved from kids giving each other cute little cards to cards that include candy like heart lolly pops or several big pieces of chocolate? For my kid's parties I too have given only things (and also from dollar shops) kids would use, and tried to make them work with the upcoming summer months. Blow up beach balls, pool toys, soft footballs, little dolls and little monster trucks that were promptly raced down the driveway.

Posted by: stacy at March 15, 2006 04:18 PM

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