Children and Children’s Parties,” by S. B. S., from The Mother’s Journal and Family Visitant, warns against parties, which were a lot more sophisticated than we might credit: they emphasized vanity, dancing, and—a great concern in 19th-century America—children who acted like little adults.
“Children and Children’s Parties,” by S. B. S. (from The Mothers’ Journal and Family Visitant, 1853; pp. 347-349)

Children’s parties! What think you of them? In this age of progress, there is nothing more remarkable than the early maturity of our children. They are, at ten or twelve years of age, what the last generation were at twenty-five: as knowing, as profound, as easy in their manners, as assured of their perfect insight into all matters under discussion, as though age had set his signet on their brows; wiser than their teachers, “swift to speak, slow to hear.” Now, the little unfortunates of this class are not so much to be blamed for the precocious development of their powers, as are we, their short-sighted parents; and we only now begin to feel our error, when we find ourselves rather rudely elbowed off the stage by these young prodigies of ours, who will scarcely permit us to finish a sentence, or relate an anecdote in their presence, without some correction or explanation of their own appended thereto. Truly this is an age of progress; but, however much we may exult in the march of mind in these latter days, there are few parents who do not feel that it would have been better, had their children not marched at

p. 348

quite so rapid a rate towards premature man and womanhood. It is seriously a species of cruelty practised upon our children, when we deprive them of a natural relish for the amusements and innocent sports which the uninitiated child always delights in, by creating an early and unnatural craving after those pleasures and excitements, which, years ago, were only for those of mature years.

Look at the over-dressed children we see constantly—see them at church, and everywhere, scanning the dress of their companions—annoying one, despising another, coveting this, or ridiculing that article of dress, aping the manners of the mothers in receiving visits from their little friends, which are now as formal an affair, and as much a matter of fashion, as are the fashionable morning calls of the elder members of the family. Hear them talking about beaux and sweet-hearts, of how they will live when they get married; see the simpering little beau of ten gallanting home the little coquette of eight, each so full of self-conceit and admiration of their own dear self, as to have but little to spare for any one else; see their airs and graces, their attempts at imitating the small talk of the larger fry, and confess that the sight is both ridiculous and distressing: ridiculous, as everything in nature must be which is wholly out of place and disproportioned; and, worse than ridiculous, distressing, because the sweet simplicity and artlessness of childhood, which renders a true child so interesting, are gone (like the bloom of the peach rudely nipped off) never to return.

The ingenuous frankness, the freedom from affectation, the freshness of mind so characteristic of childhood, are all gone; and in lieu of them, what is substituted, but the excitements, the jealousies, and ambitious efforts after supreme admiration, which should never enter the imagination of a child!

But these children’s parties, which I was thinking of when I began, are more objectionable on these grounds, than many other errors. These parties are, to the moral perverting of a childish nature, what the French boarding school is to the ordinary seminary; they give the finishing touches to the mind and manners, and complete the work of mischief. And yet Christian parents have yielded to the importunities (not to say orders) of their little men and women at home, and have both permitted their children to attend them, and given others in return. Here all the objections attached to large parties come in full play, with double force; the waste of money

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and precious time in getting up the feast, the excitement attending the dressing, &c., the evil passions of ambition, jealousy, envy, coveting, evil speaking, &c., which such an affair is always sure to engender in the hearts of older persons, all these form an aggregate of evil influences, from which it is the solemn duty of the Christian parent to guard his child. Many a sorely tired teacher has wished from the bottom of his heart that such things as children’s parties were never heard of—for how can he chain down the mind of a child to the dry realities of study, when the imagination is all on fire with the anticipated delights of the party!

Then, too, the party is nothing without dancing; and although church censures would be passed upon the family professing religion who would give a dance to grown daughters, yet the like rule does not apply to the young ones. So the whole family enjoy a dance, and it is nothing objectionable. Now, where is the nice distinction drawn, which makes it right in one case and wholly inadmissible in the other? Do you say it is only children to whom the indulgence is granted? What then? They become passionately fond of the amusement you now set before them, and when they arrive at years of maturity, you deny them the gratification of those appetites you have fostered. Are you not cruel, as well as unreasonable in so doing? and are you not taking these young immortals through a regimen, which will prematurely wear out their sensibilities, render them callous to good impressions, and hardened against all religious emotions, even while yet in age, they are nothing more than you. Let the word of God, and the voice of conscience speak, and I am well assured your children will never have cause to reproach you for having trained them in such a manner, as to unfit them for usefulness and happiness here, and life everlasting hereafter.

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