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The War Over Goody Bags

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I have fond memories of birthday parties from my childhood, but planning them now for my own kids makes me cringe—largely because of my feelings about goody bags. My mom used to organize jewelry-making parties for me, where friends and I created necklaces and bracelets out of plastic beads and elasticized string. After celebrating with cake (made from a box and frosted from a can) and ice cream and a flurry of gift-opening, friends headed out the door sporting all kinds of awesome rainbow jewelry with a small goody bag with a couple of stickers and pieces of candy. It seems those days may be over, at least according to the New York Times, which yesterday featured an article called “Tempest in a Goody Bag,” which was also hotly debated on the Motherlode blog there as well.

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Today’s kids may get goody bags stuffed with toys, which sometimes cost more than the gifts being offered to the birthday honoree. “The rise of the goody bag is part of a larger escalation of the commercialization of children’s birthday parties,” Susan Linn, a psychiatry instructor at the Harvard Medical School and the director of the nonprofit Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, told the Times. And while some parents spend extreme sums of money on goody bags, others who feel goody-bag pressure but are on a limited budget choose to fill bags with ample inexpensive items from dollar stores, including plastic toys, temporary tattoos, nail polish, erasers, and more.

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Personally, and I recognize I may be in the minority here, I’ve come to hate goody bags. At this point in time (my sons are 4 and 2), I don’t think my kids need more sugar after consuming ample amounts of cake and ice cream at a party—and I loathe the arguments that ensue over the candy when I refuse to let them gorge any further. I definitely don’t think they need to be given an expensive toy in exchange for attending someone’s birthday party (aren’t we supposed to be the ones bringing a gift?)—and I don’t like feeling like I then need to offer guests who attend our birthday parties thank-you gifts of equivalent value when they’re simply out of our reach financially. And finally, we really and truly do not need any more plastic crap in our house. Really. (I’ll admit that I sometimes “misplace” goody bags even before they enter our home because I just don’t need any more clutter—and my kids can do without it.)

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I don’t have any good answers—at least of the kind that will please everyone (myself included). I understand that kids like goody bags (who doesn’t love treats?!) and as ours grow older, I’m sure I’ll feel less opposed to their receiving candy (I don’t think I’ll grow any more appreciative of cheap plastic crap, though.) As a compromise for the last two birthday parties we’ve thrown, in lieu of a goody bag, we’ve done some kind of craft activity at the party that the guests could take home with them (painting a wooden animal at a party at a local wildlife refuge and construction of a cardboard subway train at a nearby transit museum). I don’t know if the kids continued to play with them after the party (I know ours actually did), but I do know that I felt good not foisting candy or plastic crap onto the other families.

What’s your take on goody bags for kids: yay or nay?

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