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Present Problems

Ah, gift registries. They make weddings and baby showers so easy, don’t they?

Who would have thought that bringing that same convenience to kids’ birthday parties could create such heated discourse? We spoke to parents, store owners and even a local psychologist to get opinions on this emerging trend and to try to answer the burning question once and for all: Are birthday gift registries a convenience or do they create a society of selfish, entitled brats?

Kimmy Engelmann, a Dallas-area mom of three, says birthday registries spoil the element of surprise, taking the fun out of birthdays. Mom to six and grandmother to one, Jaunita Bowling of Dallas-Fort Worth agrees, explaining that she believes registering for gifts leads children to believe they’re owed something, and it encourages a spirit of entitlement and greed.

Erin Myers, a local mom of three, doesn’t see things so black and white. She believes gift registries are acceptable … in certain circumstances. “Just for family,” she explains. “Otherwise I think it’s presumptuous.”

Similarly, Rachel Rowlan feels a registry can be a valuable resource in certain situations, such as when her friend used a registry to increase her child’s awareness of the needs of others. “[She] decided her kids had all they needed,” the area mom of four recalls. “So they contacted a women’s shelter and got a list of needs; then they created a ‘gift registry’ for the shelter instead of birthday presents for the child. The girl got to take gifts to the children at the shelter and declared it her ‘best birthday ever!’”

Of those in the pro-registry camp are parents who cite convenience and peace of mind about buying something they know the recipient wants, as well as toy stores that argue that the convenience of registries trumps traditional social norms. Sandy Challinor, owner of The Owl’s Nest in Southlake, says registries are particularly convenient for out-of-town family members. “The kids come in and do a manual list, and then the out-of-town relatives can call in and the gift is wrapped for the parent to pick it up,” she explains. “It’s stress free. Maybe it’s not such a great idea for local people.”

But not all local toy stores are on the registry bandwagon. Toys Unique in Inwood Village used to offer registries, but according to an employee, the store stopped the service after a growing number of parents expressed their discomfort with registries, feeling that, while registries were helpful for baby showers, they were too bold and assuming for children’s parties.

Bottom line: Most consider registries to be in poor taste. But are they really harmful?

Dr. Julie Carbery, owner of the Carbery Center for Child Development in Dallas, believes so. “[It’s] harmful to a child’s growing sense of self and overall identity, because it contributes to the culture of entitlement,” she says. “Children might think, ‘It’s my birthday and I’m entitled to a gift that I select from everyone who knows me.’ I prefer handmade or store-bought gifts from the heart that are selected by the giver for the recipient. Teaching children to make a gift or shop for a gift specifically selected for an individual classmate or friend transmits feelings of finding the joy in giving and sharing.”

Where do you stand on the issue? Search @dfwchild on Twitter and share your thoughts. Use the hashtag #opinionated. 

Published May 2015