What About Me?
Are we raising a generation of “Me Too” kids?
For a smashing example of today’s politically correct, tail wag the dog, hypersensitive society gone wild, look no further than a child’s birthday party and junior athletic league.
Thinking back to when I was a kid, circa eight track tapes, Watergate Scandal, and 55 cent gas, kids’ birthday parties where something of a non-event. An occasion where boys—young women were strictly prohibited from attending these androcentric celebrations of alphabet burping and insufferable arm-pit noise making—assembled briefly to pay homage to a playmates’ birthday by generously offering a poorly swathed Matchbox car or Lone Ranger figurine, and shoveling substantial quantities of homemade cake and ice-cream into their mouths as hurriedly as possible before returning to a now-impossibly named game of “Smear the Queer,” where one kid with a football would run—with friends in hot pursuit—for his life, until tackled by his pals in a heap of boyish merriment.
Indeed, back then birthday parties were simple, but most importantly, low-cost. Not so these days. No longer are kids, or some parents for that matter, content to have such underwhelming birthday celebrations.
The modern-day parent-child party planning coalition insists on far more, and so plan birthday party extravaganzas chockfull with magicians, pony rides, moon bounces and tilt-a-whirls, renting entire ice and roller skating rinks, gymnastic and pool facilities; for girls, manicure and pedicure parties are now the new normal.
What to do when your kids’ friends are having elaborate parties and swapping extravagant birthday party stories? When your child’s party plans, though ambitious, are but an amalgamation of elements from parties they’ve attended themselves? “Hey, listen, about that skating party you wanted for your birthday? You know, the one with eighteen of your friends, the magician, the pink unicorn and the twenty-five stilt-walking, juggling, unicycle riding clowns? Well, mom and I were talking….and…that’s just a bit beyond our price-point. So, instead how bout we invite your sister, grandma, one or two of your friends. We’ll eat some home-made cake and ice-cream, and afterwards we’ll play a good ole fashion game of ‘Smear the Queer’ in the backyard. Whaddya think? Pretty good idea huh?” No, I don’t think so Homer Simpson.
Adding to the work and expense, as if the aforementioned carnival for kids wasn’t enough, parents are now expected to provide party favors--gift bags filled with treasures including sweet treats, stamp kits, erasures, pencils, balloons, glow sticks, lip-gloss, hand sanitizers, something glittery, cupcake or princess shaped notebooks, and at least one wind-up toy—to all attendees, just for coming. What’s that all about? “Hey, thanks for coming to my kid’s birthday party, thanks for the gift, and thank-you for smearing chocolate cake and melted ice-cream so deeply into my carpet I’ll never get it out, but here’s a gift for you too, as I’m concerned about your self-esteem and wouldn’t want you to feel left out.” Wait what?
Are we that concerned our sons and daughters are incapable of appreciating (in the absence of their own gifts to unwrap) the experience of a friend receiving and enjoying a birthday present, that we feel the need to give them one of their own even though it’s not their birthday? That he or she must be given a gift to open—even though it’s not that child’s special day—lest we risk the child’s self-esteem being mauled and mutilated is simply irrational.
So it is with kids’ sports too. Giving every kid a trophy, so the argument goes, assures no child will be made to feel bad about his or her scarcity of performance, which, so the argument continues, promotes healthy self-esteem in all children alike. At great risk of sounding like a tyrant, I disagree—save the six and under crowd who we’re trying to encourage and who are still too young to understand not everyone can be the winner.
Important to remember is the reality that we are raising adults. And, like it or not, in the life of an adult, there are winners and losers. Winning is good, wanting to win is natural, and trying to win—by working a little harder than the next guy or girl—is healthy. Equally important is losing. It provides good life lessons for all who experience its frustrations and humility. And, coming for someone who's failed many times at many things, I can attest to its galvanizing and motivational force.
However, changing these practices will no doubt be met with great resistance by many, but the changing of such feel-good practices is always met with great resistance.
To that end, and risking life and limb if my daughters ever find out, might I suggest we abolish the practice of party favors altogether. Limit the stilt-walking, juggling, unicycle riding clowns to just two, and keep the magician and pink unicorn appearances to every third year—at most. Likewise, let us all just say no to the practice of gratuitous trophy giveaways, breathing a collective sigh of relief for doing so, as these artificial accolades of false optimism have a tendency to inflate our children’s sense of self-worth—theoretically risking the possibility of having a generation of exceedingly confident underperformers.