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How to Throw a Birthday Party (Without Getting Arrested)

My girls are 16- and 18-years-old, which means I've got approximately 34 birthday parties under my belt. Five of those parties were milestone parties: Two 13th birthday celebrations, two Sweet-16 bashes and one 18th birthday blowout last year. That's a lot of cake.

The birthdays during the teen years are tricky, and it's been a challenge making sure things keep under control while still letting the kids have a good time. Should we choose an adult magazine for the theme? Should we mortgage the house to pay for the party? (The answers to both of those questions are 'no' by the way.) I guess we've done OK over here, since "House party!" is always the answer when I've asked my girls how they want to celebrate their birthdays, and they've had no problem getting scores of their friends to show up.

RELATED: Are Kids' Birthday Parties Worth It?

Here are a few of my tips to make sure the kids are happy and the neighbors don't call 911.

1. Keep it classy

One dad chose a Playboy Mansion theme for his daughter's 18th birthday party and they've got the scandalous, now-deleted Instagram pics and irate neighbors to prove it. Now the dad's facing jail time and the daughter has her photos plastered all over the Internet. If you have to choose a "theme," maybe make it one that doesn't glamorize the objectification of women, underaged drinking and anonymous sex.

2. Don't spend a fortune

Contrary to popular belief, not every 16-year-old is getting a brand new BMW for their birthday.

If the per-guest dollar amount is causing you to freak out and send out invoices to kids that are no-shows, you're probably spending too much. You don't have to have a Swiss Ski Chalet party or give each guest a pony to have a good time. Also, contrary to popular belief, not every 16-year-old is getting a brand new BMW for their birthday.

3. Listen to your kid

For my daughter's 16th birthday she had one request: a bounce-house. I nixed it at first until she told me her friends were really looking forward to it—apparently they were all excited to relive this nauseating chapter from their younger days. It proved to be a huge hit, especially since we took it one step further and made it a "Back to Your Childhood" party complete with ring-pops, candy necklaces and other toys and treats from their not-so-long-ago past. (We checked the bounce house occasionally to make sure they hadn't turned it into a bastion of sin.)

4. Keep it clean

While there are parents who approve of underaged drinking at parties because "we'd rather them drink at home than out on the streets," we don't serve alcohol, and our kids, and their guests, know this. I'm not totally in the dark—I know they're going to parties where alcohol is served, but I'm a little paranoid and take note of the news stories where parents are getting cited for serving alcohol to minors in their homes. Also, I hate the idea of some kid leaving our party and getting a DUI or worse. But I do serve another beverage that teens seem to really love, which brings me to my next item…

5. Serve coffee

Did you know teens love coffee? Maybe not as much as illicit substances, but I'm betting it's a close second. I put out a pump-carafe full of strong, freshly brewed Starbucks (that I have to refill several times) and then set up a whole coffee bar around it complete with several different flavored creamers, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla, sugared coffee-stirrers, flavored syrups, mocha-latte mix, whipped cream and sprinkles. Try it and you won't believe how many times you'll hear "OMIGOD THERE'S COFFEE."

6. Serve real food

The way to a teen's heart is through their stomach, apparently. My girls tell me their friends say we "serve the best food" and they eat a lot of it and often—the buffet table where we put out this pasta bar is always the most popular spot during the night. Which proves if you serve it, they will come, even without a keg or vodka shots.

RELATED: When Did Birthday Parties Get So Complicated?

7. Don't hover

I know we want to keep an eye on things, but resist the urge to hover over your teen's party. We've found the occasional quick, inconspicuous sweep works out well to let everyone know there's an adult in the house without being too obtrusive. And for God's sake do not—I repeat do not—try and "hang" with your kid's friends at the party. I guarantee no one wants to see you doing the electric slide to Taylor Swift.

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