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Should we be surprised that teen parties get out of control when we give them so much when they are so young?

I’ve been putting this blog article together for some time now … Each time I receive another email from a concerned parent who is struggling on how to deal with their teen being invited to a party or gathering that they just don’t feel is going to be safe, I have a little more ammunition and some more evidence that I believe justifies me asking “What in heavens are some people thinking?”. But last night when I read an article in the ‘Essential Kids’ section of the SMH (you can find some really interesting pieces there!) called Are primary school graduation formals getting out of hand?‘, I thought, I can’t hold back any longer …

I recommend you read the whole piece (the author, Kylie Orr, makes some great points throughout) but essentially it was written because of the following ‘incident’:

“It’s now my 12-year-old’s turn to “graduate”
from primary school. We didn’t use the word “graduate” when I
finished grade six. We were simply closing one chapter and opening the next.
In the excitement around this year’s graduation ceremony,
talk has turned to limos. Yes, limousines: the extravagant purchase many adults
may have invested in for a Year 12 formal, or even a wedding. Now, grade six
children are discussing that mode of transport to their primary school

Later in the article she asks the question, if we’re talking about limousines in primary school, should we be expecting them to ask for helicopters when they graduate from high school? That of course sounds totally ridiculous until you read a Canberra Times article from September of last year titled ‘School leavers chopper in for formals – limos on the outer‘ where the reporter claims that there are actually parents in some parts of the country who charter a helicopter for their teen’s school formal!

“Red carpet looks have become the new standard for many
Canberra school girls, while interstate students are increasingly eschewing
limousine hire in favour of helicopter charters to take them to the formal
venue in style. The practice has become big business in Queensland and parts
of NSW and one helicopter operating service in the Hunter Valley said there was
no reason it wouldn’t fly to Canberra to do school formal trips if demand was
strong enough and the money was right.”

I can’t imagine that there are too many parents who are that stupid, but if there’s even one who has ever done it – absolutely unbelievable! But let’s get back to the primary school issue … over the past year here are just a couple of examples of parties for primary school aged (or younger) children that I have been told about:

  • parents hiring an entire I-Max theatre for a group of 15 pre-primary aged girls to watch ‘Frozen’!
  • a party for a class of Year 3 students (they’re around 8 years old!) who were driven to Gold Class to watch a movie in 2 hummers and provided mocktails on the way there! 
  • parents paying for a well-known Australian amusement park to be closed for the afternoon so that their Year 6 daughter could celebrate her 12th birthday with 30 of her closest friends and have the attraction all to themselves 

And then of course, last September the SMH ran a piece called ‘Kids parties go all out‘ that highlighted one particular party for a one year-old that offered the following experience for those lucky enough to attend:

“Pocahontas was there, and plenty of teepees too, and a balloon artist and a face painter and a petting zoo with 35 animals. There was a cowboy and Indian photo booth, and craft stands, and Wild West-themed snacks, plus oodles of “gorgeous champagne and incredible food” for the adults.”

Now if you have that much money and you want to do these things for your children, who am I (or anyone else for that matter) to say that you shouldn’t? Kylie Orr says the same thing in her article but she also asks parents to consider what are the possible implications in the long-term of giving so much to those so young?

“If other families want to fork out money then that is their prerogative, I get it. My concern lies in the short-sightedness of such decisions. Have we completely ignored the joy of working hard, achieving and being rewarded, in an age-appropriate way? Have we considered the consequences of allowing our children to be privy to such extravagance, so young?”

I’ve said this before but when I speak to young people and ask them what makes a safe party, most respond by saying that it is vital that there is a guest list and that the number invited is capped. That sounds great until you hear how many they think it should be capped at … the average response is usually 200! I believe the reason this is happening is because of the expectations we are setting up early – in primary school and now, even earlier. Today’s parents are the first to ever invite a whole year group to a birthday party – think about it, did you ever get asked to a party where there were anymore than 10 other invitees? It would have been unthinkable to ask 30 children to a birthday party 20 years ago – it just wasn’t done! Set up the expectation of the whole year group being invited to a party in primary school and that’s what they want when they turn 15! And remember, when they’re 15, there’s a whole lot more of them in a year group and they’re going through adolescence it’s a recipe for disaster and pretty scary …

No-one can tell any parent what to do when it comes to putting on parties for their children (certainly not me – I don’t even have kids of my own!). But be warned, give them too much when they’re young and you’re undoubtedly going to be setting yourself up for some pretty extreme requests when they’re older … Well-known parenting expert, Michael Grose is quoted in Orr’s article as saying the following:

“As parents, we don’t say to our children anymore, ‘you are a child and
these are adult concepts.’ They need to learn to bide their time, wait their
turn … We need
to ask, is this appropriate for their age and stage of development? The easiest
way to parent is to go with the crowd. The hardest is to swim against the

Never a truer word spoken!

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