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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.