The story of the birthday party guest who didn't show and then was billed for the cost of attendance -- or non-attendance -- fits neatly at the nexus of changes in courtesy and child-rearing. Parents of the invited guests are less likely to respond to RSVPs these days (though in this case they did reply) and parents of the honorees are more likely to give expensive birthday parties for young children, in which the cost of each guest is significant.
Invited parents are less likely to see an RSVP'd yes as a commitment to actually attend, and people overall have a higher sense of entitlement and outrage.
In the case of this English birthday party, the 5-year-old invited boy had said he wanted to go to the party for his classmate. Then, according to reports, the family realized they were scheduled to go to visit grandparents that day. At that point, according to People magazine, the parents gave their son a choice, asking which he would rather do. He chose grandparents.
That might have been OK had the parents still had the birthday invitation, which had the contact information for the family. Because schools were on holiday, that was the only way to find them. There's something to be said for teaching children about the importance of following up on commitments—if he said he was going to the party, is it right to change his mind because there is something he'd rather do? Still, it probably could have been worked out amicably had the hosts been told before they paid down the money to the party venue—close to 16 pounds, or $24. Unable to reach them, it seems like a hurtful action and a bad lesson for the young guest to simply not show up.
Yet even that probably wouldn't have irritated the mother of the birthday boy so much if she hadn't been shelling out so much money for each guest -- nonrefundable past certain date. That's her prerogative, but the kids were only 5. They probably would have been happy with a cake, a few rounds going under the limbo bar and some rousing sessions of "Don't Eat Pete!" Birthdays for young children shouldn't involve all the responsibilities of attending a wedding; stuff happens.
Then, of course, there's the other bad lesson for a young child: If something goes amiss with a friend, don't bother talking it out. Just get on your high horse and send a bill.
The mother probably has no legal recourse; an RSVP isn't exactly a contract. Both sets of parents are in a huff, and the result is that these 5-year-old boys aren't talking to each other and are at the center of a social media storm that has probably enveloped their classmates as well.
Nobody is behaving well -- something that could be excused in kindergarten-age children, not so much in their parents. But it would probably be a good idea for the invited parents to pay up. Through whatever carelessness, and failing to live up to a commitment, they hurt others' feelings and wallets.
They should demand their goodie bag.