Sweet 16 Birthday Party Ideas

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Mark your calendar and start planning. Just because you're celebrating at home doesn't mean this has to be an unremarkable birthday. Some of the best birthday celebrations are smack dab in the center of home, hearth, friends and family.

Plan Early

The teen years can be tricky, so don't assume you know your child's wishes and desires. Trends and interests change quickly at this age, so insure your party plans will be a success by foregoing the element of surprise. Just ask your teen what she wants to do for her birthday. This strategy has hidden benefits: You'll be able to get an effective guest list and strategy together without making potentially disastrous assumptions. You'll have a motivated helper to assist, too.

Start by taking your teen out for a strategic planning lunch or two a couple of months ahead of time. That will give you plenty of time to decide on a reasonable budget and get the invitations out. You won't settle everything during a one lunch excursion, but you will get the ball rolling. Oh, and time can be a funny thing. In a couple of decades, don't be surprised if your child ends up remembering the lunches with you as the best part of the birthday celebration.

Stay on Budget

Party expenses can get out of hand fast, even for at-home parties. From hiring a DJ to having the food and cake professionally catered, if you have the budget, great. If not, decide early what indulgences you can and can't afford. Ask your teen to rate party details based on their importance to her. It's your responsibility to teach your child money management too, so don't feel too guilty about the things you can't provide. We live in an age where even simple parties can run into the thousands of dollars, so having an upward dollar limit for the party will make the process less frustrating for everyone.

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Choose a Theme

With so many ideas to choose from, it can be hard to make everything mesh without the help of a pro. One way around this is to select a specific theme and work from there. It could be "Beach Blanket Bingo," "Alice in Wonderland," "Pretty in Pink," "Spa Party" or something else. Having a theme will help you pull elements like a color scheme, food, music, and game venues together more easily. Here's an example: Say you're having a costume party with guests coming as their favorite horror movie characters. Imagine grey and black crepe paper, dry ice cauldrons, horror movie posters hanging on the walls and a few classic movies running silently on your flat screen. A good theme creates instant recognition and has lots of elements you can capitalize on. Here are some fun themes to consider:

  • 1980s movies - Think of writer John Hughes who penned classics like "Pretty in Pink," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," and "Sixteen Candles."
  • Black and white ball
  • Scavenger hunt
  • Mardi Gras
  • Winter wonderland
  • Under the ocean
  • Gothic party
  • Slumber party
  • Magic makeovers
  • Fast cars
  • Sports themes (favorite teams)
  • Scrapbooking
  • Favorite celebrity

Keep Things Active

The best parties never get boring, but it can be hard to keep a group of teens occupied for long without multiple distractions:

Serve easy to eat refreshments. Prefer one or two bite options teens can nibble as they roam and talk. Think cocktail franks and mini-pizzas on paper plates rather than a sit-down meal. It's also a good idea to split refreshments into separate mini-meals that will help keep the energy level high and provide the illusion that there's always something going on. Consider putting out beverages, then chips, then more substantial snacks, and then the big finale, cake.

Provide comfortable seating areas where smaller groups of kids can gather and converse. You can even rearrange your furniture to promote separate conversation areas.

Offer organized entertainment. From hosting games like Pictionary (or whatever happens to be popular this season), to having professional entertainment like a magician, make a concerted effort to offer interesting distractions during the course of the afternoon or evening. You could host makeup demonstrations, jewelry making lessons or anything else you think your child's friends will enjoy. The key here is to keep things from getting boring.

Establish Some Ground Rules

Teens are more precocious these days than ever before, so it pays to establish some ground rules to avoid problems later. It's also a good idea to stay visible (albeit in the background) for the duration of the party. Make sure you know or are introduced to all the teens attending, and make it clear that alcohol and drugs are not permitted under any circumstances. Designate parking areas for kids who bring their own vehicles, too. Oh, and if neighborhood parents will be dropping kids off and picking them up, it might be nice to offer them a beverage and piece of cake too.

Have a Great Close

Today no party is complete without goodie bag parting gifts for guests. The contents can be as simple as homemade cookies or school supplies, but they are a nice touch that's becoming a common part of the sweet 16 party experience.

Last Updated: May 27, 2012
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About Sara Elliot Sara Elliott is a freelance copywriter and dedicated blogger. Her popular gardening, cooking and crafting blog, The Herb Gardener, was cited by The Wall Street Journal for its fun and frugal tips. Sara has a degree in English, and you can find her health, crafting, and lifestyle pieces on sites like DiscoveryHealth.com, HowStuffWorks.com, Savvi.com and TLC.com.

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