Gift-Giving at Teen Parties

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Guests who don't bring gifts to teens' parties

May 2009

To piggyback on the thank you note debate, what happened to gift giving? Both my daughters had nice 16th birthday parties and one had a high school graduation party last year, and some of their friends showed up empty handed. Not only that, but the ones that did not bring gifts also made one or two large plates of food to take home without asking. 

These girls attend a private school and have extremely well to do parents (so finances are not the issue). Yes, of course I celebrated out of my happiness and because I'm proud of my girls, the parties were not planned to collect gifts, and so OK with teenagers you can chalk it up to them being teenagers (although many of them were dropped of by a parent and you would think the parent would ask about the gift and teach better manners), but what about adults? When I bought my first home a couple of years ago, the majority of my friends did not bring a house warming gift the first time they visited (specifically to see the house), granted I did not have a house warming party. 

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about extragavant expensive gifts, what I mean is a small token of something, a plant, a pair of earrings, something homemade, just something to show you share in the special occasion. My daughters took gifts with them regardless if they had received a gift from any specific person or not. They also sent money to their friends even if they could not attend the graduation parties. We are not very well off, so we give gifts that we can afford and not to impress. I always take a small gift if going to someones house for the first time or when invited to dinner at someones house (this does not apply to close friends). 

Recently, I visited my aunt (a distant relative, but someone I'm close to) who was here from out of state and staying at her son's house. The son and his wife had recently bought a house and had a one week old baby. When I went, I took a house warming gift, as well as a gift for the new baby. I don't know the son very well (last saw them at their wedding). Did I go overboard on the gifts? 

I teach my daughters that we are happy these people attended and the gift is not important (I got the impression that some of the teenagers came for the food), but it just puzzles me all the same......... Am I just old fashioned? I guess what I'm asking is, what is the etiquette for gift giving? 

It's the thought that counts 

I don't think your ''cause'' is on the level of the thank you note issue. I think we all agree that a thank-you for a gift is always required but I'm pretty sure Miss Manners says a gift is NEVER required. Of course, there are traditions. I thought that kids'/teens' birthdays still got gifts but maybe these excellent East Bay children were all brought up with ''no gifts please''/book exchange/donate-to-buy-a-heifer birthday parties. Maybe since you are a grown-up person who already lived in a house before, your friends felt that you did not need ''housewarming'' presents, much like people don't get a shower for a 2nd kid or receive dishes for a 2nd wedding. At the same time, your gifts are very nice and not over the top. I think so many people have expressed or heard expressed the idea that they have too much stuff, that they are holding off on gifts just for the sake of giving a gift. anon

I think you are asking a lot, especially of teenagers....Most teenagers think of a party as ''Come over to my house to hang out,'' not ''My parents are hosting a party for me, would you like to attend?'' This is true especially for graduation parties, since they may attend 4 or 5, many on the same day. And, yes, most of them do come for the food.

I would usually bring a gift to a new house but I would not expect it from others. I couldn't tell you whether someone brought a gift to a party or not....I just don't pay very much attention.

It seems like you are doing a bit of score-keeping.....Maybe if you let yourself slide on a few events you might feel better about the rest of us when we do it, too! casual gifter

Gift-giving is not passe, rather, many children are not being raised with proper manners. Heck a small bunch of flowers, a handmade card, anything, is better than just showing up to chow down on free food. I totally agree that a small token of any sort is appropriate. It should never be expected, as you note. It sounds overall as if some of your daughter's classmates are just plain rude, and that is a big part of your question about gift giving. Who goes to someone else's party and takes home plates of food without it being offered? You are also well within your rights to ask them to please leave the food where it is (or stop them from whatever boorish behavior they are exhibiting).

Of course, in the end result, you should respect how your daughter feels about her friends and give her the appropriate guidelines as to how she should behave. -Anon

On the one hand, I do think it is nice to take host/hostess gifts when I go to dinner at someone's house or a baby gift when there is a new baby. 

On the other hand, I never expect people to bring me gifts for any occasion and it wouldn't occur to me to keep track of who had brought or not brought gifts. 

My big pet peeve is with people who send wedding or other invitations with a card informing me where they are registered. If I want to send a gift, I will ask. 

Let it go

I, for one, am glad that gift-giving in the situations you describe is becoming less common. At both my bridal and baby shower I asked specifically that no gifts be brought. I have been recently invited to several children's first birthday parties in which the host requested that no gifts be given. (Of course, in each case the child's family gave him gifts, so it's not like he didn't get anything). But to give a gift to each of the children whose b-day parties I've been invited to recently would be a financial drain. And think about what kinds of gifts people give for housewarming parties or graduation gifts: usually stuff that the other person probably doesn't need. For economic and environmental reasons, I think it's great that we learn how to express our affection and strengthen our social ties in other, non-material ways. T.

Personally, I wish there was less gift-giving! I know gifts are well-intentioned, and thoughtful, but I would prefer not to get any. I spent far too much time trying to get rid of stuff I already own. Especially for housewarming, when I've just moved in and am still trying to figure out where to put everything.. the last thing I want is more! I don't understand the point of a card that someone has spent $4.95 to buy and just written their name on, which I will then send to the landfill in a week. (Handmade cards from kids, however, I cherish.) In terms of giving gifts, I hate spending time & energy to give something simply for the sake of giving something. So I really try to minimize gift-giving and getting, and when I do give a gift, I try to make it something consumable, like candy, a gourmet food item, or wine.

My daughter is a very social 16 yr old. She has lots of good friends and it seems like it is always someone's birthday. Her group of friends (albany high school) rarely give gifts to their friends for their birthdays. They often bake cupcakes or chip in to buy flowers for someone but that is about it. I think the reason for this is 1) teenagers are not very organized or forward planning 2) many of her friends don't have much money. Just my 2 cents. mom of teenager

You are right. Giving a gift is required on certain occasions, and many people just blow it off. It's rude. Attending a birthday party that you've been invited to and not bringing ANYTHING (a gift, a special card, a bottle of wine...) is just rude and wrong. I am in the exact same boat as you. I always bring a gift when going to a housewarming, whether it's a party or not. I give gifts to new babies and their parents. It's just good manners. Manners are falling by the wayside these days, unfortunately, and it's becoming socially acceptable to not give gifts on these special occasions. Listen up, parents--teach your children manners! Write thank you notes! Give a gift if the occasion demands it! A card costs $3.00 (less at the Dollar Store--stock up!), and writing something personal inside is free. Don't go empty handed!!! Ok, off the soapbox now... Berkeley mom of 3

If I may ask, what are your relationships like with the girls and the parents who you feel a bit peeved about? In my experience, relationships are ten times more important than gifts or how much food one takes from a party.

My advice is develop a relationship with every girl and her mom. Reach out to them through the phone and shared events. You will get to know them on a personal level and understand their styles.

Not everyone is into gifts, but they may still have lots to offer. If you develop a multi-dimensional view of people you will understand them much better and that will lead to better relationships all around. A