Saturday, January 20, 2007

Children's parties US style

There is growing concern in the US, apparently, about the escalating cost of children's birthday parties. Forget ice-cream, cake and a clown; no more passing parcels, musical chairs and spin-the-bottle. Today's children demand to be entertained by international celebrities and to take home a party bag containing electronic gear.

From the Daily Telegraph yesterday:

Mega-rich parents often set a spendthrift example - a Long Island
businessman, David Brooks, spent $10 million on his 13-year-old daughter's party,
which included performances by the rock group Aerosmith and the rapper 50
Cent, together with $10,000 party bags for the teenage guests.

Where the US leads, the UK tends to follow albeit in an appropriately scaled-down fashion. The extravagance here only extends to around £50,000 for the most 'fashionable' parties.


Every summer I organise camps for 8 to 12 year olds. They are inexpensive, so that we can take children from all economic backgrounds. The rules are simple, but strictly adhered to: no mobile phones or electronic games and no TV. The first twenty-four hours are tough because the children are used to being entertained rather than thinking up their own games; they crave constant visual and auditory stimulation. We take all that away and provide quiet and space, routine and discipline, art and craft materials, musical instruments, bats, balls and skipping ropes.

By the end of Day Two, the kids have formed themselves into friendship groups and 'working' groups, which are not necessarily the same. We adults watch as leaders emerge, teamwork and co-operation develop, imagination and creativity flourish. There is rarely any bullying and I have never seen any snobbery - friendships develop among children from very different social backgrounds.

When the parents come to collect their children at the end of the week, they are amazed at the displays of artwork, music, dance and drama. They are even more amazed that their offspring have survived without TV and electronic games. We get many letters afterwards, saying the youngsters had more fun than on any holiday, and many come back year after year. It is interesting though, that even those coming back for the third or fourth year have that painful first day when they miss the trappings of the 21st century!

I know - it sounds simplistic and idealistic. But it works and it costs almost nothing!


  1. I suppose children are happy enough if there are other children around and a bit of space to run around without adults telling them off. Then they can always find ways to play, or if not play, at least fight.

    Mobile phones as 'toys' is interesting, because they are social instruments, and thus opposite to video games, which are anti-social. Although even video games are now going online and allowing people to form 'communities'.

  2. Mobile phones are theoretically social instruments, but in practice they can lead to isolation among young people. Observe a group of 13 year olds walking home from school - half will be listening to music on their iPods while the rest are texting their friends - no interaction with the group they are with.

    I'm interested in the idea of virtual communities playing video games online. Perhaps future generations of children should be fitted with screen-like masks so that they will recognise fellow beings that they can communicate with.

  3. It would be very hypocritical of me to condemn online communities. The advantage of them is that they erase the problem of geography in allowing you to find likeminded people.

    Some of my new best friends are entirely pixellated, and now old friends are as well.

  4. I didn't intend to suggest that online communication is altogether bad. Obviously, I enjoy it myself. It is when electronic gadgets, TV, DVD, games and mobile phones, become substitutes for human interaction that I worry.

    Listen to the concerns of teachers, especially in Early Years education. The most significant problems among young children are poor language skills and lack of imagination in play. My experience on the summer camps shows that when children have to think up their own entertainment, they become very creative and communicative.

  5. Brit

    My original intention was to show that kids don't need £50,000 to have fun.


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