Parents Protest as Kids' Lavish Parties Get Out of Control

Heard the one about a group of seven-year-olds picked up in stretch limousines to transport them to a friend's birthday party?

Or New York's designer candy store, Dylan's Candy Bar, that charges $1,200 for a 90-minute party for 20 preschoolers?

Or the sleepover party at New York's upmarket FAO Schwarz toy store on ritzy Fifth Avenue where a store spokeswoman said prices start from $25,000?

The cost and range of children's birthday parties has spiraled out of control, according to one group of U.S. parents and educators who have joined forces to collectively stamp their feet and say "enough is enough."

"Toys overflow, birthday parties become Hollywood productions, and electronic gear takes over the home," said William Doherty, a professor in the University of Minnesota's department of family social science.

"It's time to take a deep breath and ask ourselves how to parent wisely nowadays, beginning with small things like birthday parties."

Doherty is among a group of educators and parents from St. Paul, Minnesota, who on Tuesday were launching a campaign called "Birthdays Without Pressure" in a bid to put the brakes on birthday parties running out of control.

Organizers are hoping it will start a national debate about a parenting culture in which they say birthday parties have gone over the top and created peer pressure to keep up.

For while they argue that there is nothing wrong with splashing out to celebrate a real milestone in your child's life, such as a bar mitzvah, Sweet 16 party, or graduation, the excessive spending on parties for babies, toddlers and grade-schoolers has soared out of control.

The campaigners cite the example of a party for a one-year-old attended by 60 people — while the youngster slept through the event and the gift opening.

Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, who last year wrote a report The Importance of Play for the American Academy of Pediatrics, said children did not need lavish birthday parties.

"Children don't need toys that do everything for them and it is much better to get back to the basics and to have parents engaged with their children," he said.

"Parties should be a time to celebrate the presence of your life with family and friends and not a competition. It just makes one more expense that you don't need to have."

But not all parents mind the expense or effort — despite realizing it often causes pressure on other parents.

"There have been years that I have thrown a rather larger party to celebrate the birthday of my child," said a posting from one anonymous mother on the campaign's Web site,

"So by doing this am I wrong!!! I guess I kind of feel like this is a cut on those of us that truly enjoy doing these things for our children and family and friends."