Children's birthdays: All kids want is for the parent to do what every other parent does

A modern private school is like a reality TV show, with deep scrutiny and instant judgements. Something Myleene Klass can surely understand

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The Independent Online

Here is the First World Problem of the week. The mothers of two schoolgirls “suggested” a £10 donation from their classmates’ parents, in order that the girls might be bought, respectively, a Kindle and a desk. Unfortunately for them, one mother objected. It was doubly unfortunate that this was Myleene Klass, whose pronouncements attract attention.

She has revealed the content of the emails requesting the donation, and yesterday she wrote a big article explaining why. It seems she is chiefly aggrieved about the monetising of birthdays: the giving of cash for an expensive present. By contrast, “The joy of getting a gift of some felt-tips and a yo-yo can’t be diminished.”

Personally, I don’t object to the giving of cash. I lost faith in anyone’s ability to buy me a good present when I was about nine, and it was a great breakthrough when, one Christmas morning in about 1977, my dad unpeeled a £20 note from his wallet, saying, “Here, don’t spend it all at once.” He also told his father to give me cash, but this backfired, because grandad was a skinflint, and he’d give me a £1 note, which he tried to glamorise by calling it “a crisp oncer”.

The children to whom I give presents all get cash or quasi-cash. I used to give book tokens, until the word “book” acquired a similar connotation to “museum”. I moved on to iTunes vouchers until it was pointed out that all young people download music illegally. Now it’s Topshop vouchers for any young female of my acquaintance, and I’ve had some excruciating moments when the assistant has asked, “How much do you want on this, sir?” “£30,” I might say. “No… make it 25.”

But it’s much easier than buying a physical object. That would require me to walk around Topshop, which would be like entering the girls’ changing room at school. And one is always reminded of the inadequacy of one’s choice by the thank-you letter. (“The gloves will come in really handy for a spare pair.”)

But whether we parents get it wrong by giving cash or a gift, it is children who suffer in the modern, socially mediated classroom. All the child wants is for the parent to do what every other parent does. When I was at school – a northern secondary modern – some of the parents were so obviously mad and antisocial that it was hard to believe they’d been capable of having sex. There was no question of them ever doing the right thing or, by the same token, the wrong thing.

By contrast, a modern private school such as the one attended by Ms Klass’s children is a sort of factory of neuroses for parents and children. It’s like a reality TV show, with intense scrutiny and instant judgements. As a veteran of I’m a Celebrity, Ms Klass can surely see the parallels. The difference is that, in the classroom, there’s little virtue in putting your head above the parapet. Maybe different considerations apply in the Klass room.

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