Modern Manners

Do We Still Need To Write Birthday Party Thank You Notes For Our Kids?

Pencils down, says every parent everywhere.

Written by Elizabeth Narins
Originally Published: 
A group of people celebrate a child's birthday.
Mindful Media/Getty Images

After my toddler’s last birthday party, I let my phone camera roll as he opened each gift, sent a video clip to each of the parents of kids who’d brought presents, and recycled the wrapping paper — badda bing, badda boom, birthday over.

But then I wondered: After thanking people profusely for attending my kid’s party in person and sending a follow-up “thanks for the gift!” via text or email, are we still supposed to write thank you notes on behalf of our kids? Do people still expect... like, real paper on top of all that digital gratitude?

Considering the fact that most millennial parents don’t pick up pens as often as crayons — I haven’t written more than my name on a check in a decade — the practice feels absurdly antiquated. I mean, literally every other mode of communication is more immediate and reliable, amirite?! Nevertheless, I kicked the question over to etiquette expert Dr. Sarah Davis, EED, co-author of Modern Manners for Moms and Dads: Practical Parenting Advice for Sticky Social Situations: Can we all just agree to retire the written note?

Davis is only semi-on board: It turns out thank you notes aren’t all pomp and circumstance, she tells me. “They teach children to be grateful for people who take the time out of their day to celebrate them or bring a gift,” she says. This doesn’t just condition kids to be more considerate adults, she continues; it empowers them to make other people feel appreciated, which can boost their self-confidence. (This feels significant!)

On the flip side, receiving a special message via snail mail can literally make a kiddo’s day — a piece of paper from your friend just for you!

That’s not to say there aren’t benefits of defaulting to digital: “You can be more creative now,” Davis acknowledges. And how nice is it to receive a cute little clip of the birthday boy vrooming around with his new truck? It’s like a receipt that confirms they like the gift you painstakingly picked, wrapped, and delivered.

However, she notes, it’s important to consider your audience. Great-grandparents might prefer written notes, in which case, pick up that pen. Meanwhile, classmates may actually opt to receive rich media: “For friends, a text message with a video can be really wonderful and just as good as a written note,” Davis says.

Regardless of your medium, time is of the essence. Although late is always better than never, Davis tells me, you should get those thank yous out within a couple of weeks to a month. (To me, this feels overly generous — I send my thank you texts in real time after my kid opens his gifts.) And remember: Your kid still owes every guest a thank you for taking the time out to celebrate; you shouldn’t withhold a thank you just because a guest showed up empty-handed.

So, bottom line: Are digital thank-yous a “do” or a “don’t”? Unless analog thank-you-note-writing is a special activity you look forward to sharing with your kid, Davis says it’s technically fine to go paperless. These days, gratitude is gratitude, with or without a stamp.

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