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Please Stop The Treat Bag Madness

By , August 22nd, 2008 | 25 Comments »

Birthday treat bagsI went to my share of birthday parties as a child and without exception they were of singular focus – to celebrate the birthday of a friend or relative. All attention was placed on the “person of the day” or persons in the case of twins or triplets. Getting to play games with other children, in addition to loading up on sugar in the form of cake and ice cream was the benefit to partygoers.

Then, at some point in the past decade or so, things began to change. This change was so subtle that it went unnoticed until our society was firm within its grasps. To what evil would I be referring? I speak of nothing less than the birthday “treat bag!”

These little bags filled with a medley of dime store toys and candy that are given to partygoers as if they were payment for attending the party. Kids rush to treat bags like construction workers to the payroll office. They are simply receiving just compensation for time served. It is beyond my comprehension why we feel compelled to give gifts to every kid at a party.

I can only speculate how this phenomenon began and spread throughout Middle America. My guess is that several years ago, some mother thought it would be really sweet and cute to provide little bags of treats for all her child’s friends. It was a nice gesture and I commend her on the thoughtfulness.

The real problem is what occurred next. The parent of the child with the next birthday probably felt that she needed to give treat bags also. She obviously couldn’t host a party that didn’t match up to the previous one. If someone gave her child a treat bag then she must give one in return lest she be perceived as frugal.

From here, the cycle continued until it had soon spread throughout the country. Now, it’s almost impossible to go to a birthday party without all the attendees receiving a bag stuffed with suckers, little plastic rings, stickers, and a host of other doo-dads. We have reached a point where some kids even expect to receive a treat bag for showing up.

Don’t get me wrong. This misaligned gesture in itself is not destroying society. However, it is one of a multitude of things that middle class adults have unconsciously bought into, which over time and combined with other similar acts have a deleterious effect on our kids. Let me provide some additional examples to illustrate my point.

Many children and youth cannot seem to take a 5-minute car ride to the grocery store without entertainment. Without thought, some parents stick a DVD in a portable player as soon as the kid is buckled. We then complain that our children do not understand appropriate social behavior or that they are unable to converse intelligently with their parents. That is not a big surprise. In effect we have “taught” them that our job is to ensure they are entertained and enjoying themselves at ALL times.

Involving kids in every extra-curricular activity possible seems to also be required of middle class Americans. We don’t want to be seen as the parent who doesn’t help their child achieve an Olympic dream, act on Broadway, or join the LPGA. We would rather spend every minute of spare time driving from school to practice to event without time to even think about what is happening. The mind-boggling pace that we put our children and ourselves through prevents any real time for family bonding, reflection, and “life”. Thank goodness the kids have DVD players in the backseat, or they might get bored between all the shuttling.

The final example, and one which I’ll probably catch the most flak, is cell phone ownership by kids and youth. Yes, I’ve heard the argument regarding the safety aspects. However, I have not once heard how a child with a cell phone was saved from danger.

Instead, I see young people texting their friends at a rapid pace, with little regard to the environment around them. By succumbing to social pressure of more and more gadgetry for our children, we only fuel our youth’s increasing desire to be in constant contact with one another. We’re putting them on the road to high stress much younger than we were forced on it.

Parents, myself included, should be less concerned about providing our children with gadgetry and more cognizant about the signals that we are sending them. By giving them cell phones, we simultaneously promote a culture of materialism and send our approval that interaction with technology is more important than developing true social skills.

Wait a minute! I just thought of a valid reason why children should have cell phones. A 7-year old girl might need to call her father to find out why he isn’t at the course to pick her up after golf practice. The answer to that, of course, is he thought she was still at piano practice and that he was supposed to pick her up after the swim meet.

All I ask is that someone (in addition to my wife and I) please stop the madness. Let’s take our role as adults seriously and be intentional about the signals that we send to our children. Let’s make the birthday parties solely about the kid with the birthday. It’s still fair as every child has the same number of birthdays per year as every other child. Let’s spare our kids from the stress involved with too much activity and let them just be kids. Stop with the materialism and entertainment at all costs mentality to which we have fallen prey. Everyone will benefit in the long run and we will even save substantial amounts of money.

Do I really think treat bags are as evil as I suggested or that cell phones, extracurricular activities, and car DVD players will lead to the demise of our country? Not really, although my wife and I abstain from or limit them for the very reasons listed above. I hope you can read between the lines and see that these are not problems in and of themselves. The issue is how we all get caught up in doing things that if we’re honest with ourselves, does more harm than good in the long run.

Do we take the same actions as others just because they expect us to follow suit? Anticipating the long term societal effects is something at which we probably fail miserably; especially when those actions seem trivial (like treat bags). Eliminating treat bags from children’s expectations is just one tiny step at making things better. Somebody please help me in this endeavor.

Image courtesy of house_n_baby

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  • David Mitchell says:

    We stopped giving goodie bags last year and it felt good to do it. We have never been cheap with a party but the party was supposed to be about our kids and their friends, not the presents that flow in either direction.

  • leslie says:

    I too hate treat bags. I have actually banned them at my kids parties. A friend and I were complaining about them before her son’s birthday last year and she actually said to me “Well, I won’t be the mom that doesn’t have treat bags”. You know what – I WILL be the mom without treat bags.

    I have commented to my husband several times about the number of mini-van’s driving around town with a DVD playing in them. Honestly, I completely get the DVD thing on long trips but running to the grocery store or home from day care? That I don’t get.

  • Monkey Mama says:

    I hate treat bags because they are full of crap. I wish more parents would stop giving them. If you are going to give a treat, at least make it nice. πŸ˜‰ I think the part that peeves me most is they usually end up in the trash. & I rarely throw things away. I like to recycle/reuse/sell donate and try to throw as little in the trash as possible. But this stuff belongs in the trash.

    I am not sure what the big deal on cell phones are. I am sure we will give them to our kids quite young for emergency (have you tried to find a pay phone lately?). BUT then you assume everyone has a cell phone has it for status. I can’t see giving texting options and many minutes to a young child. I have personally used my cell phone many times in emergency, which is the only reason I carry one.

  • pretty cheap jewelry says:

    Has anyone else but me MADE their party favors? How about an ‘activity’ booklet? There are loads of puzzles, paper folding projects, stories and more on the internet and probably right inside your greeting card software disc.

    Attach a helium balloon and tie on a single fancy gel pen and you’re done.

    I have lots of ideas, even those that synch with the party. How about a seed packet, with a little pot and some soil? (for a party in the park). How about some posters (I got them free at the skateboard shop) tied up with a couple ‘cool’ stickers.

    I don’t mind thoughtful party favors, but the CANDY!! STOP!! And am not in favor of what will be sent to the landfills.

    Subversive education is my motto.

  • Scott says:

    I used to feel the way you do about the treat bags and was also going to ban them, but my 6 year-old provided a different perspective that changed my mind.

    When preparing for her birthday this summer she told me that she didn’t think it would be fair if she got all the presents at her birthday party; she wanted to everyone to get something. This led to a discussion about why we give gifts and how in some cultures (I can’t remember which) the birthday celebrant actually gives presents to his/her guests.

    My daughter liked this idea and wanted to put together her guests’ treat bags. We kept the costs to a minimum (a couple dollars per kid) and we cut back in other areas (no pizza). The end result? The guests enjoyed their gifts and my daughter loved giving them out almost as much as opening her own presents.

    Did the kids need more stickers or plastic leis? Of course not. It did, however, give my daughter a fantastic opportunity to practice thoughtfulness and generosity. That can’t be bad, right?

  • Petunia says:

    I totally agree.

    I was shocked when DD was little and I found out about treat bags. We had party favors (ONE little plastic item not a bag full) when I was a girl and that was plenty! Treat bags are one of the few areas where I ended up with a “keep up with the Joneses” problem. It’s somewhat solved now – my daughter is older and we don’t have the lots-of-kids birthday parties any more.

  • nanamom says:

    I give my kids birthday parties every year but no one is allowed to give them a gift at it. Instead I have taught my children that having a friend over is gift enough. We give treats or gifts to each child. They have very little candy in them and usually are a fun small toy like a car or some stickers. We also limit the number of kids to the age of the child having the birthday plus sibling. We give our children presents and a close friend does also but they are not deluged. We also have a DVD player in the car but it is for long trips and even then use is seperated by games together, scenery, and books. Movies are a reward for good behavior not an expectation.

  • gruntina says:

    I remember a party where a fight broke out because a guest did not get a pretty color and design on her pen like some of the others in their treat bag. Granted these kids were pretty young but can see the awkwardness on the guest side of view as well.

  • consumer_q says:


    A “Back in the Good Ole Days” article…
    How many miles did you have to walk in the snow uphill to and from school? (I kid)

    If you are going to give out treat bags, I suggest doing it after the party on the way out the door, or at least near the end of the party during free play. This way the children are not distracted by the contents during the main presentation of the party.

    “Has anyone else but me MADE their party favors? How about an

  • Ann says:

    Oh, goody!
    Goody, a derivative of Good.
    Good: as opposed to services, a material thing produced for purchase.
    We have gone from the “goody goody” era of “nice kids” to the “Good-y, good-y” era of “nice toys.”
    Treat bags are the king of them all.
    Happy Birthday! Give me something!

  • Recritique says:

    Very good points. My kids are now older but I used to start hating the gift bag thing when it took over our party. And then you have to start being concerned about if it is enough.


  • asmom says:

    I couldn’t agree more with each and every point made.

  • RetiredAt47 says:

    Yes, Yes!! I don’t have children, but so many of my friends do. What a wakeup call it was to me when I learned of this practice. And, at least in the area I live, the expectations for these bags seems to be ever-escalating. Not a good lesson for our next generation. Of course I usually remain silent so as not to appear to be “scrooge”.

  • lesley says:

    If I were a parent I probably would not give my child a cell phone, but I am a grandparent and I love it. My grandchildren have cell phones for “safety” but end up using them to call their friends. The younger ones have limited friends with cell phones so I get the extra calls. I get these calls because they are bored and we get to chit-chat about their day. If I am feeling lonely I can call them. The cell phones allow us to talk daily and sometimes more often.

  • h&b says:

    Hello – popping in to see where my image ended up πŸ™‚

    Totally agree with your points made – the treat bags pictured had some stickers, a deflated balloon ( to blow up later at home ), and one other thing – a kazoo, i think, from memory. We made them at home and they were a great craft project in the lead up to the party.

    I was probably more ambitious then too, and less jaded .. I hadn’t got in with the kinder set, and everything was still all fun & innocent.


    I miss those days already, and it was only 2years ago …

  • LisaD says:

    We were never big on birthday parties for our kids. It was usually the extended family, dinner and cake. There were some slumber parties and video game parties when they were old enough to want them, but we never did goodie bags for the guests and nobody ever complained. My eldest arranged her own parties at local eateries, inviting everyone via Myspace or text message, and they just did their own thing without my input. My youngest is tuning 18 next month and is hosting a LAN party to play Halo with 6 or 7 others. We will probably get a cake and pizza and gift him with some cash but otherwise it’s out of our hands.

  • Donna Freedman says:

    A woman I know told me about a party her daughter attended in the Los Angeles area. The “treat bag” was a pink backpack (!) full of expensive little items. She is thinking of moving away because she doesn’t want her daughter to grow up thinking this kind of thing is normal.
    A former co-worker has had the same birthday party for his son for years: A bunch of his friends come over and each gets handed a Super Soaker. They’re sent out onto the woods on the property to squirt and chase and howl. In a couple of hours, Dad cooks hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill and they all eat. Then they go home. The boys talk about the party all year long and eagerly anticipate the next one.
    Not everyone has a couple of wooded acres, true. But I still think we can do better than “What did you bring me?” and “What do I get in return?”
    I don’t have a dog in this hunt because my child is now an adult. But I will ask other parents to join in your proposed trend: Stop giving treat bags. Other parents may silently (or openly) thank you for making it OK for them to stop the insanity, too.

  • Donna Freedman says:

    Oh, and one more thing: In the “Rants and Raves” section of the local paper, a writer ranted about the couple he’d spotted pushing a stroller around a lake. In the stroller sat a toddler holding a DVD player! The kid even wore headphones to block out those pesky nature sounds.
    Nobody could make this stuff up.

  • Froogrl says:

    I’m in my late 30s and remember giving and getting goody bags, so I don’t think it’s all that new of a trend.

    I also wouldn’t color all goody bags the same. I’ve been to parties in the park where the favor was bubbles, which the kids played with during the party. We’ve also been to (and hosted) arts and crafts parties where the favor is the project they make.

    Funny anecdote: One friend of mine was so fed up with the goody bag crap, that for her daughters birthday party they scavenged through the doors and had enough unused favors to redistribute them to her friends. No one noticed.

  • harper says:

    I think you are dead on! Especially about the dvd players (can’t stand video games either).

    With the treat bag, though, your time line is a little off. Treat bags were the standard thing when I was little, so in my area at least, they’ve been the norm for twenty years minimum. I think that one really depends on the kids involved. If your kid’s friends are brats, skip the bag. If you are going to do a bag try to put something reasonably nice in it (don’t break the bank, just try to avoid giving things that only serve as an annoyance to fellow parents). If your kid is painfully shy (like I was) go along with the bag thing, as it cuts down on the pressure surrounding the gift thing and the cake thing. Or better yet, make the birthday a family affair and skip the party!

  • minny says:

    It is the same here in the UK. Children and young people have achieved the status of never having to create their own entertainment and always having their ipods and mobile phones! What nonsense!

    It is just the same with treat bags. From a bag with the cake the child didn’t eat to something that costs a lot of money.

    I think we are in danger of creating a ‘gimme (give me), gimme, gimme society which is reflected in the massive personal debt owed by many 18 – 25’s. I want it and I want it NOW!

    A bad thing for any society and one I suspect the coming recession may stop.


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