After Traci Eubank posted an open invitation to son Camden’s 10th birthday party on Facebook, thousands reached out with well wishes. But experts tell Yahoo Parenting that may not be the best way for the boy without friends to make real connections. (Photo: Facebook/Camden’s 10th Birthday Party — An Open Invitation)
When Traci Eubank posted an open invitation to her son’s birthday bash Sunday night on Facebook, she was thinking about hosting a small party. “I thought maybe a few people on my friends list would bring their kids,“ the Roanoke, Va., mom wrote. "Instead it has reached people from all over the world.”
Indeed, in the past two days, Eubank’s note to “anyone with kids [who] wants to come throw some water balloons with one awesome little boy” on July 6 at Virginia’s public Troutville Park, has scored nearly 2,000 likes. “Word has traveled to India, London, Australia, Mexico, Canada & more,” she wrote.
The reach is no small feat for the family, considering that the whole reason Eubank reached out on social media is that her 9-year-old didn’t have any pals to invite to a celebration. The homeschooled boy — whom she says suffers from apraxia of speech — had one neighborhood friend, age 11, the mom revealed, adding that the neighbor “recently decided he’s too cool to hang out with a ‘little kid that can’t talk right,’ so poor Cam is left with no one else to play with.”
All the well wishes that are rolling in on Facebook have already been a gift for her son, Eubank declares. “The emails & stories people have sent are truly touching and I know we’re not alone and Camden WILL have the birthday party of his dreams,” she writes on a GoFundMe page that she set up to help cover the cost of the balloon bash now that it has, well, blown up. “It is just amazing.”
Amazing, yes, but does the viral invite actually help or hurt the boy?
“A community party could bring out lots of feelings, depending on how it is presented to the child,” Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, tells Yahoo Parenting. “If Camden gets the message that he can’t make friends, it could make him feel alienated. If, however, the party gives him an opportunity to meet new people and make new friends, he may gain hope for the future. It could help him feel loved and supported by his community.”
Parenting coach Sharon Silver tells Yahoo Parenting that she also questions the wisdom of the mom’s move, however well-intentioned. “What she’s done is use her assessment of who he is, instead of empowering him,” says the Proactive Parenting founder. “She labeled him as someone who needs help and told him, and the world, that ‘I had to reach out to get friends for you.’”
False friendship isn’t going to solve anything, adds Morin. “You certainly don’t want people to pity him or simply be kind to him for just one day,” she says. “If the child feels identified as someone who can’t make friends, it could be harmful to his self-worth.”
Then there’s all this emphasis on the meaning of just one day. “It’s important for kids to have friends throughout the year, not just on their birthdays,” insists Morin. “So it’s essential for parents to take steps to facilitate activities and opportunities for children to create friendships throughout the year.”
What parents in the same position should consider, instead of trolling for partygoers, is a singular focus on their child, according to Silver. “Celebrate with family and ask the birthday boy, or girl, ‘What is one thing that you’ve always wanted to do?’” she says. “Then do that, whether it’s ride a horse or go to an amusement park. It’s not about how many friends you have. It’s about the joy you feel about yourself that you want kids to experience on their birthday.”