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Myleene Klass and Childrens Gifts

With all that's happening in the world at the moment, the last thing we had in mind this morning was to be dragged into a very heated discussion about the etiquette of children's birthday parties.

Yet, probably in an effort to take a break from the ever-growing angst of real world news, we dived into the choppy waters of UK tabloids for the latest celebrity stunt.

This time yummy mummy Myleene Klass, former singer turned radio DJ, dropped a (well planned?) social media bomb by tweeting an email from her daughter 's classmates mother that announced a cash collection for the child’s birthday party.

Maybe Myleene was not impressed by the suggested gift of £10 towards "a kindle or a desk" or perhaps rather she smelled the easy opportunity to make headlines on the powerful waves of over-opinionated middle class UK mums.

Needless to say hundreds of retweets and articles later she had become the symbol of a new war against greed.  

Many were “shocked” and “astonished” at the rudeness of requesting a cash donation. But lets set the record straight – it wasn’t the mother but the mothers of other children that suggested the amount and offered to collect the money. Further it seems that this is the norm for children’s parties at that school.

myleene klass, daily mail, children birthday gifts

You can read the story here or just google her name to witness the sheer magnitude of cyber traffic it has generated.

Why the outrage

After reading hundreds of comments on Facebook and Twitter it appears that what most people found “outrageous” was:

  1. That there was a suggested donation amount. Despite the fact that many parents admitted they spend around that sum for an average birthday party present, they found that someone actually suggesting this extremely distasteful. (Lets also put the £10 in context - the private school they attend is £5,000 a term)
  2. That Sarah and Lola (the birthday girls) “would like” this and that present, as if there is an expectation or sense of entitlement. The fact that parents of other children rather than the children themselves were the authors is not seen as relevant.
  3. That one of the presents mentioned was Kindle (i.e. a moderately expensive electronic gadget that many adults cannot afford for themselves), and hence a  rather materialistic gift.

Is it wrong to turn gift giving into an organised activity?

Let’s take a step back and think about this. As parents we have witnessed children’s parties, with mountains of gifts and asked whether we were ok with this. The children didn't seem to have particularly been affected, rather they would loose interest very quickly and even forget about many of them the following day.

More concerning was the environmental issue – the amount of plastic (that young children’s toys are generally composed of) paper, cardboard, greenhouse gasses produced. And lets not forget all the time invested by everyone who generously went out of their way to give something. Our friends and family are very generous and we are very appreciative of this, but we always wondered whether we could allow them to be involved in a more meaningful way.

It is unrealistic to expect that every present that is purchased will be a hit with children. When we buy a gift, we always try and get something that we think the child will like, but we acknowledge that it may simply be discarded due to the fickle nature of children’s tastes and preferences.

Rather if we had the option of contributing the money towards something that the child really wanted we would jump at the chance. We think of this much in the same way as when wedding list schemes were set up, which has now moved to taking online collections to pay for things such as Honeymoons. Initially this was met with some resentment but now is a very welcomed and beneficial arrangement, particularly for those that have already outfitted their houses.

And what about online wedding lists?

Since the very beginnings of HootLoot, we wanted to build a contribution system that would allow children and families to channel gifts and pocket money towards more meaningful goals than a mere plastic car or this.

We’ve run endless interviews with parents and children of all ages to see how to solve this. One of the things we discovered was that many children already run their own birthday-party-fund-raising schemes, that many parents find the whole practice of gift giving and receiving quite disturbing in such sheer amount and whilst they would love the idea of a more organized approach, they would never, by any means, want to be seen as “asking for money for their kids”.

There is a social stigma that we need to get past, in much the way we did with wedding gift schemes.

This is why we found the Myleene Klass case so interesting. It provides us with an opportunity to look deeper into this topic and ask ourselves the question again - would we use a birthday party gift system for our children?

A gift says a lot about the giver

What is wrong with a child asking for a desk or a kindle? Isn’t this the sort of behaviour we should be encouraging? 

Accepting that these parents will spend £10 on a gift, whether or not it is suggested, why is it wrong to aggregate these amounts to afford something useful and wanted? Alternatively why is it right to buy a number of cheaper items, possibly using large quantities of environmentally unfriendly plastics, that may not be wanted or used by the child?

Or the real issue here is that everything is already decided for, that there is no space left to accommodate the taste of the person that provides the gift? After all, buying a gift is also sending a message about the giver, not just about the person that benefits from it.

This is where maybe wedding lists do a better job of providing choice and allowing the giver to express him/herself.

We feel there are better ways of going about this and in designing the contribution feature of HootLoot’s child savings goals, we hope to have addressed many of them. We have allowed for choice and complete freedom about what amount / goal it is possible to contribute to. Everything is processed via PayPal, debit or credit cards  with no "cash in hand or in envelop". The website automatically notifies of the gift and we always encourage HootLoot children to add some worthy causes to their goals.

Of course we cannot prevent someone suggesting a contribution amount, but for every Myleene Klass there is someone else that is relieved by not having to trek down the toy shop for yet another party.



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