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Take the Poison Out of Children's Birthday Parties

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Rob Kall     Permalink
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The poison is not the arsenic kind. It's the corporatist, threat to the ecosystem, poisoning the child's mind kind.

I'm talking about poisoning children's minds and poisoning the planet. Birthday parties are sacrosanct parts of American culture. I know I'm going to offend some people with this critique. But I believe that the way that toddlers' birthdays are celebrated has become an insidious symptom of the commercialization of modern culture. Good, eco-conscious people do Toddlers' birthdays in a way that is highly inconsistent with good ecological practices of living. They do things for birthdays that directly contradict progressive values such as avoiding buying processed food, big brand names and non-sustainable products.

If your intent is to live with a lighter environmental footprint, or if you choose to eat in an environmentally responsible and healthy way, this article is for you. If you are concerned about the way that consumerism is destroying American culture and eroding responsible citizenship, this article is for you.

I attended a three-year-old's birthday party yesterday. I should make it clear up front that I don't really like birthday parties or the idea of celebrating birthdays, especially nowadays. Also, all of the people who bought the things I am complaining about are good, loving people who have the best interests of the three-year-old at heart. They just do what most people do. I'm writing this because as I sat through the party, it got me thinking about how things used to be and ought to be.

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There really wasn't much of a birthday or party industry when I was a kid in the fifties. A parent would go to a dime store, maybe Woolworths five and dime, to get paper cone party hats. There were no paper plates, no paper table cloths and no special character or video game themed products. Treats for the party were made by the person holding the party and by parents of the children attending the party. Maybe a box cake would be made, and the icing would be made at home. Cookies would be home-made. Entertainment was simple, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, three legged races.

Even back then, sixty years ago, there were gifts that were based on TV characters. I remember wanting a Daniel Boone hat with a real animal tail, and wanting stuff based on Robin Hood. And I had a Mickey Mouse tee shirt. But everything was made in the US, by American workers, and none of it was plastic. No plastic toys, no plastic cups or cutlery.

From flickr.com: Gloucester Stuff 1955 to 1958 Mostly East Gloucester and Chapel Street Area {MID-142059}
Gloucester Stuff 1955 to 1958 Mostly East Gloucester and Chapel Street Area
(Image by leakytr8)
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Today, the birthday industry is huge. There are candy stores and party stores that create gift bags and candy displays, balloon "sculptures", that offer plates, napkins, paper table cloths with themes from Disney or Marvel Comics characters. I'd speculate that most of these items, outside the candy, are made in China. Of course, parents can also, if they want to spend even more, have personalized balloons with the child's picture on them. Those will probably be made in the USA.

But it gets worse. I sat and watched as the three-year-old opened gift bags and wrapped presents. Every bit of the gifts except for two wooden ice cream cones were plastic. There was a ton of cardboard and plastic packaging. I kept thinking to myself, "plastic, plastic, plastic, from China."

Be assured, the three-year-old was gleefully thrilled with the presents, and, they were thoughtfully be chosen with love. There are no bad people here.

Personally, I give gifts al year round. I tell the people in my life I love them all year round. I don't see the need for a birthday party. But I'm not saying that birthday parties should be done away with. Birthday parties have been around for at least 150 years. The earliest ones were held by the wealthy. Here's a description, excerpted from a history of birthday parties:

"for a truly old-fashioned birthday, you'll need a house full of servants and room for a ball. Brushing up on your manners will also help. In the early 1800s, well-heeled Victorians seized on the notion of a children's party as a way to showcase their wealth by simultaneously indulging their children and instructing them in etiquette. Even party games had a socializing function, such as teaching the boys how to lead in formal dance. Party gifts were from parents to child, and significantly, sometimes from child to the servants. The unmistakable intention of the party "was to teach children the manners they would need to assume their place of privilege in society."
The history of birthday parties article says. " By the 1950s they were entrenched as a right of childhood for all. "Children not only expected to have a birthday party, but the absence of one was virtually a sign of neglect."

Consider the typical birthday party from an ecological perspective. Green Child Magazine offers this perspective,

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"Think of the last child's party you attended. Chances are -- the cardboard, paper, plastic, and heavy-duty tie wraps filled a garbage bag or two. And that's just wrapping paper and packaging! Most people don't realize that with all the laminates, dyes, and glitter" most wrapping paper is not recyclable.
Then there are all the toys and favors. What is the long-term impact of batteries and all the indestructible molded plastic? So many of those toys will never, ever break down in a landfill. And many of them came from China and are loaded with plastic toxins.
Add in the fact that an over-the-top birthday party reinforces the notion that "bigger is better." Not exactly the message you want to send to your child, is it?"

I propose that birthday parties be used to build character and bolster ecological consciousness values, that they be used to teach children connection consciousness. That can still be done with some of the contemporary trappings. Instead of buying a $60 or $100 Frozen the movie castle, download a favorite song from the movie and have the kids at the party sing the song together. Make sure that the Birthday party both discourages and minimizes feeding a child's propensity towards consumerism.

Instead of spending an afternoon shopping for party favors, ordering balloons and finding the latest hot toys, spend the time making something. Bake a cake. Make cookies. Instead of renting a party facility for $100 or $1000 or more, keep the party small. Hold it at home, or in a park. Make the party about nature, Kids love nature-- bugs, butterflies, fish, frogs, snow, trees.

Green Child Magazine suggests getting rid of goodie bags and the junky stuff inside them. Ask people not to wrap gifts in wrapping paper. have them recycle grocery bags, newspaper, homework paper, etc. Maybe you should show young children what plastics do to beautiful birds.

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Rob Kall is an award winning journalist, inventor, software architect, connector and visionary. His work and his writing have been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, ABC, the HuffingtonPost, Success, Discover and other media. He's given talks and workshops to Fortune 500 execs and national medical and psychological organizations, and pioneered first-of-their-kind conferences in Positive Psychology, Brain Science and Story. He hosts some of the world's smartest, most interesting and powerful people on his Bottom Up Radio Show, and founded and publishes one of the top Google- ranked progressive news and opinion sites, OpEdNews.com

more detailed bio: 

Rob Kall has spent his adult life as an awakener and empowerer-- first in the field of biofeedback, inventing products, developing software and a music recording label, MuPsych, within the company he founded in 1978-- Futurehealth, and founding, organizing and running 3 conferences: Winter Brain, on Neurofeedback and consciousness, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology (a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, first presenting workshops on it in 1985) and Storycon Summit Meeting on the Art Science and Application of Story-- each the first of their kind.  Then, when he found the process of raising people's consciousness and empowering them to take more control of their lives  one person at a time was too slow, he founded Opednews.com-- which has been the top search result on Google for the terms liberal news and progressive opinion for several years. Rob began his Bottom-up Radio show, broadcast on WNJC 1360 AM to Metro Philly, also available on iTunes, covering the transition of our culture, business and world from predominantly Top-down (hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian, patriarchal, big)  to bottom-up (egalitarian, local, interdependent, grassroots, archetypal feminine and small.) Recent long-term projects include a book, Bottom-up-- The Connection Revolution, debillionairizing the planet and the Psychopathy Defense and Optimization Project. 

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