Grade-School Valentine’s Day Deserves a Stake Through the Heart

The pointless torture of little kids on Valentine’s Day.

Young Valentine's Day sorrow

Every year about this time, it’s the same thing for parents of young grade-school students: Time to buy a box of cheap Valentine’s Day cards for everyone in their child’s class so that no child gets more, or less, declarations of love than anyone else. Of course, it’s love of the most insincere kind, since not everyone in an elementary school class likes, much less loves, each other. (Although second-grader SD has several boys she plans to marry, some other kids tick her off.)

Sharing valentines with family members and close friends outside of class clearly teaches them about communicating affection, but in a classroom setting, it could hardly be more meaningless. Why do we put children and their parents through this? Tradition? The kids’ understanding of love is years, in some cases decades, off in the future.

It’s worth noting that there are people who consider the “card for everyone” policy to render the holiday meaningless for the sake of political correctness. Personally, I think people complaining about being PC are just revealing how privileged they are to never have been on the receiving end of political incorrectness. Anyhoo, they of all people should want to leave impressionable little ones out of the romance sweepstakes.

Others, such as Roo Ciambirello writing for babycenter note, “Well, okay… I guess. Yes, our kids are going to face disappointments, baseball game losses, hurt feelings, and broken hearts. Does this mean we should be actively pursuing ways to tear them down?” But this gets us back to the basic question: Why do we do Valentine’s Days in grade school at all?

paw-patrol cards

Paw Patrol is popular with SD this year, though she plans to make her own 26 cards. (Paper Magic)

‘Love’ by the Numbers

Here’s the math: There are 29,980,000 students in U.S. public elementary schools, where the average class size is 25 students. That’s close to 750 million cards distributed in U.S. public grade schools each February 14th. It’s an interesting message to send children as we train them to be more environmentally conscious. Kids: Reduce your waste stream — also, here are 750 million paper cards to recycle.

It’s certainly a big business for card companies. The Paw Patrol cards above are medium-priced at $7.50 online. At one such bag of cards per student, that’s a gross take of $224,850,000 for those companies.

One might want to add on top of that the candy makers, too, though for grade-school kids, we’re not talking velvet hearts of chocolates so much as bags of chalky, homily-printed “conversation hearts,” priced at about $2.50 per bag.

So What does Valentine’s Day do for little kids? Does it impart a lesson of any value at all?

The True Meanings of This Wonderful Day

The meaning of Valentine’s Day for older kids and adults is pretty clear. It’s the day when you get to graduate from secret admirer — or stalker, depending on the recipient’s own feelings — or the day no one loves you, everyone loves you, or the day you’d better get your partner something. It’s an obstacle course for the heart for many of us and a genuine Day of Love for the lucky few.

Wall from St. Valentine's Day Massacre

Site of St. Valentine’s Day massacre (Chicago Crime Scenes)

Some experts suggest this challenging nature of the grownup holiday is the best reason for little children to experience it. It gives them a chance to get acclimated and ready for later years’ Valentine’s Days, much the way you’d prepare them for doing their own laundry someday, or death.

For older kids and teenagers, though, celebrating Valentines Day does make sense, possibly moreso than for adults, even. It’s the age, after all, of crushes, passionate romance won and lost, and it’s on a lot of teens’ minds anyway. Valentines’ Days offers a chance to replace the rutting air of hormones with candy- and flowers-scented declarations of love.

But back to our little children, those tender, manic little chuckleheads so full of emotion and so hungry to learn. There are plenty of better things to teach them — they’ll have plenty of time later to learn to fake their feelings.

Seriously, love is great — it makes the world go round. But this is not about love. This is about a pointless, wasteful, sometimes heartbreaking tradition that should be reconsidered. We should stop putting little ones and their parents through this. (If you’re sending your child to school with Valentine’s candy, you evil person, don’t forget about peanut allergies.)


A version of this article originally appeared on Big Think.

Image: wan mohd