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I have a twelve year old son who will turn thirteen in about a month. We have begun planning for a birthday celebration for him. However, he resents the idea of any celebration whatsoever.

Information about my son

My son is very interested in science. In his free time, he likes talking on his radio and building radio antennas. He has several other friends who share his interests, and is doing well in school. When the idea of birthday party was given to him, however, he simply refuses to have one at all.

As parents, we wish to celebrate our son getting older. Since our son doesn't wish to have a party, however, we find ourselves in a difficult situation. We want to celebrate, but don't want to force our son into doing something he doesn't like. Any advice is appreciated.

It seems that I've miscommunicated how we were preparing for our son's birthday. We were looking at options for him and asked him if he wanted to do something, but he didn't seem to want one at all.

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    Is he able to articulate why he doesn't want a party?
    – DKNguyen
    Sep 18, 2023 at 2:58
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    I refer to 13 as the Age of Embarrassment. Boys of that age are in transition from being children to being adults, and the transition is painful. The reluctance to celebrate the birthday may be specifically because he knows you want to celebrate in the same way as you did when he was a child, and are reluctant to let him grow up; it may be the opposite; or it may be something more specific, like not wanting to have to decide who to invite. Sep 18, 2023 at 6:24
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    To your last paragraph, have you and coparent considered celebrating in a way that doesn't force your son into something he doesn't like? Like, what's the actual problem here? Sep 18, 2023 at 10:15
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    How would you celebrate it? The details can be important. Were you planning on inviting his entire class? Or let him pick who would come? It could be he is bullied and doesn't want his bullies on his birthday. Or could also simply be that he only has one or two friends and is embarrassed about it. In this case reassure him that he also can invite just a single friend for it.
    – Ivo
    Sep 18, 2023 at 13:25
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    "Celebrate" can vary anywhere from saying "happy birthday" one time to getting a cake to buying them a present to going out to a nice dinner with just the family to going to a theme park to inviting 100 people to your house for a party. There are a lot of options, and if you've been throwing a party every year, those other things might not even seem like possibilities to him, so that may be worth keeping in mind when framing the discussion (offer possible suggestions, don't just leave it open-ended). But some people prefer to just take some time for themselves, or treat it like any other day.
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 19, 2023 at 9:26

9 Answers 9

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I don't know what culture you are coming from, but in the U.S., a birthday celebration is for the celebrant more than it is for the attendees. From that point of view, it would be pretty lousy to force/coerce/argue your son into attending a celebration that he is fundamentally not interested in. As parents, you have the responsibility to ask your son to do necessary things he does not want to do (e.g going to the dentist). A celebration is not a necessary thing.

That said, I would suggest a few things.

  • Understand what your son objects to. Is it any celebration? Would a quick private celebration be OK with him, but not a big to-do with lots of guests? Ask, then listen.

  • If you and your son find no way to have a celebration that is acceptable to all of you, then don't have one. It's that simple.

Your son is at the age where he's going to be learning how to be an autonomous person whose own needs and rights matter. If you force him to do something that is not necessary and that he does not want to do, you will be sending a powerful message to him, that his needs are not as important as the needs of people who have power over him. You may get what you want now, but it may not be a good lesson for him later, when he's out in the world and advocating for himself in matters of importance.

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    Definitely try to find out why he doesn’t want to celebrate - not that I would have told you why at the time if it was me with my family. For me growing up, I hated going out with my family (at all, not just birthdays, I would avoid it, nothing wrong with them, but I am a very different person to my family) - but being offered to bring a friend along to the restaurant often swayed me lol (someone on the same “level” as me?) Sep 18, 2023 at 4:05
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    "a birthday celebration is for the celebrant more than it is for the attendees" My entire extended family must have missed that memo when emigrating here from Italy, or if they got the memo then they vehemently disagreed with it. I want to believe that parties are primarily for the family themed on the celebrant, however more often than not extended families often get subverted by the narcissists of the family where "the family" is often a stand-in for themselves and guilt and shame are used as weapons to enforce compliance. YMMV. Sep 18, 2023 at 14:20
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    @Mazura, I'd have to disagree with your statement that "No body says no to blowing out lit candles on a cake." People taking appropriate precautions during the height of covid wouldn't want to blow out candles on a cake that everyone was going to share. I doubt a survivor of a mass shooting would celebrate that same day. From personal experience, I don't think you could have forced me to blow out candles on my 9/12/2001 birthday. Even a couple years later, it was awkward to celebrate and I simply stopped trying after that. But yes, under normal circumstances, you are generally correct. Sep 18, 2023 at 23:07
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    @DannyBeckett The "why" really matters here. I doubt a 13-year-old kid disagrees with the notion of celebrating their birthday as a matter of principle, much more likely they just don't like what they believe a birthday party entails (e.g., lots of friends and family, them at the centre of attention, party games, etc.). Important to find out why they don't want one, and then propose again without the offending elements.
    – xLeitix
    Sep 19, 2023 at 7:05
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    @Mazura I do. I don't like blowing out candles, I find it ridiculous (as an adult, as a kid, it was fun) and I never do it. And the song I hate with a passion, and never want anyone to sing it to me. As for those who want to do it in pubic, in restaurants and the like, I would rather be slapped in the face. Each of us have our own preferences for this sort of thing, there is no global rule and no right or wrong answer. You just do whatever the person whose birthday it is prefers.
    – terdon
    Sep 19, 2023 at 10:08
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Who are you celebrating for?

If you're celebrating for yourself, then ... go do that. Go to a nice restaurant and give yourself a nice dinner to congratulate yourself for raising a child to 13 (and as a parent of a 12 year old, it's quite an accomplishment!).

If you're trying to celebrate with your son, then ask if he wants to celebrate. If he doesn't, then respect those wishes. He's a teenager now - and with that comes more awareness of what he likes and doesn't like. It's quite common for kids, especially at this age, to be uncomfortable with the spotlight on them. They're much more socially aware, and that includes being aware that people might be judging them. It takes a few more years to gain enough self confidence to be comfortable in the spotlight for many, and some never do get there.

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    +1 for “congratulate yourself for raising a child to…”. I will definitely try to remember that when my oldest turns 18 next year. Neither of mine were a walk in the park.
    – Stephie
    Sep 18, 2023 at 11:37
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    +1 for an adult-style birthday meal. Even if that's not the solution, merely suggesting it opens up the possibility of something that's not a kid's birthday party.
    – Chris H
    Sep 20, 2023 at 8:54
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This could have been me, 45 years ago - I never liked the birthday celebrations my parents held for me (though I'd never have dared to tell my parents so), and when I was invited to other kid's birthdays, at some point their parents would notice me missing and find me quietly reading a book in my friends' room.

For me, I still dislike parties, but that doesn't mean I don't want to spend time with friends - it's all about the activities. I dread sitting together doing nothing but eating and talking, but spending an afternoon with two friends and building some electronic gadget is great fun!

So maybe your son would like to do something that just doesn't sound like a party to you. Ask your son what would be a fun activity to do with his friends, and if it's some kind of activity that needs material he doesn't have, that'd make a great birthday gift. Don't ask yourself if you'd like the activity, or if it sounds party-like to you; the important thing is giving your son an opportunity to spend time with others and have him enjoy that time. The worst thing you want to do is teaching your son that spending time with others sucks because it means you can't do what you want to do.

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    Mmmm. And it's worth considering a wide range of activities. For example, when I was young, we had birthday trips to museums or shows (sometimes both in the same day!), and similar. A birthday celebration doesn't necessarily have to involve lots of people. And it should be a treat — something the person enjoys doing, especially if it's something they don't get to do very often. Hopefully, if OP can present a wide range of suggestions, the son may be able to choose something he'd genuinely look forward to.
    – gidds
    Sep 18, 2023 at 17:02
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You stated that "we find ourselves in a difficult situation". Why is this difficult for you? Your son has made it abundantly clear to you. In your own words, "he resents the idea of any celebration whatsoever".

Given that you know this, why did you begin planning a birthday celebration for him? Why do you not care about his feelings? Why do you not care about the impact this unwanted celebration will have on him? Again, why is this situation difficult for you?

It sounds like you are placing your personal desires above his emotional needs. This is his birthday, not yours. Let him enjoy it however he likes. He likes building radio antennas. Perhaps buy him materials to build the most incredible antenna he has ever built. If you think he may enjoy you building the antenna with him, make an offer to do so. But make it clear that it's only if he wants the help. Sometimes adolescents like it when their parents show interest in their hobbies, and sometimes they find it intrusive. If he's interested, enjoy. If he's not interested in your help, respect his preference.

And if you need a celebration for yourself, do that privately in your own time. But please don't subject your son to an unwanted party. That's cruel and abusive.

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I am an introvert. One of the symptoms is that I dislike celebrations, my own as well as others'. Ask him if he would like to celebrate with his radio friends and what kind of celebration he would like. Well, maybe not "celebrate" but simply marking the day, visit a local radio station or whatever he'd fancy.

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    ...or in fact perhaps just do something online with his friends. A true introvert finds crowds draining, and may well find a crowd where they are the center of attention an order of magnitude more so.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 19, 2023 at 21:59
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When your child is very young--a toddler--it makes perfect sense to celebrate their birthday however YOU would like to do it. But by the time they reach the teenage years, you should turn ownership of the celebration over to them.

Maybe there are some alternate things he might enjoy--dinner at his favorite restaurant, or going to an amusement park. Or maybe he would like a virtual party online. Maybe instead of having a bunch of friends over, there's one close friend he would like to spend the day with. When my own kids became teens they started preferring sleepovers to parties. I did try holding on to the earlier kinds of parties that worked so well when they were kids, and it just isn't the same--not fun for them, and not fun for you.

As a side note, one thing I had to learn early in my marriage is that my wife doesn't like birthday parties. It isn't fun for her to host a big shindig. So I take her out to her favorite restaurant instead, or do something creative, and she loves that a lot better. Some people just aren't party people.

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    Agreed. I started asking my kids, "What would you like to do for your birthday?" when they were about 8 or 9. Sep 20, 2023 at 0:28
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Assuming you live in a large city, you could suggest the he and his ham friends tour the local science museum (assuming he'd like this). If he hasn't met some of them IRL, it would be a good opportunity for them to meet up. They could go to his favourite (fast food) restaurant afterwards.

If he has geeky relatives the he gets on with, suggest to him that they come along as well.

Of course, you need to talk to his friends' parents to confirm the details

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  • Exactly! A celebration does not have to conform to the typical "invite everyone home and cut cake".
    – Nav
    Sep 19, 2023 at 11:21
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Maybe go out and do an activity instead. Like visit the technical museum.

Edit: or "escape rooms". this is an engaging activity with a mix of tactical thinking and team work.

There are also other fun activities like Megazone (laser tag) or Go karts.

Don't phrase it like "celebrate" if he said he doesnt want to celebrate - suggest to him "okay, we dont need to celebrate, lets go and do something fun instead." - and find something that will engage him.

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We have begun planning for a birthday celebration for him...

When the idea of birthday party was given to him...

As parents, we wish to celebrate our son getting older...

Are you concerned with your or your son's happiness?

This sounds like a reflection of your desire to keep your son societally-guided sociable rather than letting him evolve into more of a technically-minded person.

Have you asked your son if there's any specific way he wishes to spend his birthday?

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