Your little girl is about to turn 16. Sixteen!! Wasn’t it only yesterday that... Hey, snap out of it and grab a pen and paper. It’s time to start planning a birthday party extravaganza—and if you dislike conflict, we recommend involving your teen in the planning process from the get go. (If it’s a surprise, you’ll have to forgo direct consultation and supplement subtle interrogations with the birthday girl and her most reliable pals.) From favors to invitations and food, this article will help you throw the perfect bash for your daughter. Use these ideas to plan your daughter’s special day. Here’s how to throw a sweet 16 party.
Turning sixteen is one of those milestone birthdays. It’s also a busy time in a teen’s life. There’s school, maybe a part-time job, SAT preparation, college applications, or all of the above. The point is: Don’t leave the planning to the last minute.
Find ideas by consulting with your daughter early. Start planning by conferring with the guest of honor about big picture questions such as:
- What kind of a party is she dreaming of?
- Does she want just close friends and family at her birthday, or are we talking about the entire high school?
- Does she have her heart set on some certain places, themes or types of food?
- Is she cool with displaying photos and other personal memorabilia at the party? If so, does she want to curate the shrine—or, at least, get a final sign off?
When it comes to ideas, well, the options are just about endless and really depend on your teen, your budget and the limits of your imagination—and tolerance. Let’s talk about how to plan a sweet sixteen birthday party!
Step one is to ask your daughter what she’s most passionate about—music, sports, clothes, dessert—and then building your party around it. If you or she is feeling at a creative loss, just type “sweet 16 party themes” into Google and let the good times roll. The Internet has tons of good ideas for how to plan the party. People are hosting dances, luaus, Las Vegas-style casino nights, old fashioned sleepovers (for those parents brave enough), and things called “Mardi Gras Madness,” “America’s Next Top Model,” “Hollywood Sweet 16” and “Car Crazy” where the invitations mimic the teen’s driver’s license, decorations feature flashing traffic lights and custom street signs (West Jennifer Way) and everybody heads home with favors in the form of a dashboard hula dancer—in a pink grass skirt, of course. But we digress.
Your party can include princess invitations, tiaras and fluffy dresses at a hotel banquet hall, or baseball caps and burgers at the local bowling alley. As long as the revelries dovetail with your daughter’s dream sweet sixteen party and include her favorite people, it’s bound to be a success. One teen’s dream party was having a limo pick her and her closest friends up from school on Friday and drive them to a dance party where, after dancing, eating and playing deejay-led games with other guests, the limo would whisk them away to a hotel suite for a weekend of swimming, shopping and staying up all night. Count us in for that one!
Sixteen-year-old girls like to invite everyone they know. They want to be able to say, “My sweet sixteen party was awesome!” And they want everyone to witness just how awesome it really was. However, you may find a huge, elaborate party intimidating, impractical or expensive. Giant parties can be a blast. For efficiency sake, you might want to ask your daughter if she’s interested in planning a party with one or more of her close friends who are also turning 16. The one downside to a big party is that it often doesn’t allow for quality time with any of the guests. However, the birthday girl may be thinking about all of the gifts she’ll get at a big party. This is an important passage from childhood to adulthood. The celebration should be totally fun, but it should also be, you know, meaningful.
If you want a more personal experience for your teen, you can use these tips to plan a sweet 16 birthday party that’s smaller. You might encourage her to think a little smaller and more selectively about the guest list. For example, suggest that she invite family, close friends from school or work, and maybe a few favorite parents of friends. Having a small party will allow you to save on decorations and spend more on a fun outing or gift. Think of fun places that are more relaxed and intimate. A weekend away or a spa day with five best girlfriends might be more fun and memorable than a wild dance party for the junior class. Plus, think about all the favors you’ll need for a party that large!
When planning a sweet 16 party, there are many choices when it comes to the venue, including your own home. Although, “People don’t usually want 16-year-olds partying in their house, so they have them out at a place where the damage deposit isn’t too high,” says veteran Seattle party planner Wendi Hroncich. Hotels, restaurants, country clubs, community centers, boats, amusement parks, swimming pools and bowling alleys are all popular choices. The time of year may also influence your decision. Summer birthdays cry out for pool, beach or backyard parties. Winter is perfect for ski trips. If you’re having a party in October, think about throwing one that requires everyone to wear costumes! A hotel, restaurant or country club will generally handle all of your food needs, providing eats and drinks along with tables and chairs, linens, glassware, etc. With other venues, you’ll probably have to hire a full-service caterer or bring your own food and party supplies, and you’ll probably be responsible for the set up and clean up. Think about corralling some of that teen energy for a “party committee” that can help you with details like song lists, decorations and favors. Just be sure that the committee knows how to work on a budget!
Some essential party supplies are stationary to be used for invitations and thank you notes. Make sure you send them out on time. Plan to get your invitations out at least three weeks before the event, and sooner for any out-of-town guests. This is your first chance to advertise the fun, creative spirit of your teen, and signal the kind of party you intend to throw (surprise, dress up or down, etc.). It’s also good to ask invitees to RSVP so you can get a headcount for food and beverage planning. If the teen guests don’t respond on time, have your daughter text them asking if they are coming to her birthday party.
You may decide to have your invitations done professionally, or to make your own. There are lots of party sites out there happy to help if you go the DIY route (such as Snapfish, Party 4 Sweet 16, and more), but all you really need is a computer and a printer, preferably color. One mom who was hosting a sweet sixteen party on the beach scrawled the details on beach balls, deflated them and mailed one to each guest in a manila envelope, along with instructions to bring the ball, a beach towel and a bathing suit along. The envelopes are just another creative canvas. You can add custom seals with a “My Sweet 16 Birthday” imprint or your teen’s name or initials. You can stuff them with plain confetti, or Photofetti—yup, tiny photographic shards of your teen’s life. You can even order photo stamps from the U.S. Postal Service with the birthday girl’s mug shot on them. And while you’re making (or ordering) invitations, don’t forget the thank you notes. They should be sent out in the month following the party. There are lots of sample thank you notes online should your teen come down with a case of post party writer’s block.
Teenagers are usually easy to please when it comes to food. However, when planning this, remember that food is one of the most important aspects. Having a buffet is always a good, flexible serving strategy and your menu can feature any combo of the standard teenage fare—pizza, pasta, burgers, hot dogs, ribs, tacos, salads—or something a little more exotic—Chinese or sushi, anyone?
Get ideas for food based on your daughter’s culinary leanings and the party theme. Just remember that teenagers tend to eat, like, a lot, often twice as much as adults, especially if teenage boys are coming. Note to self: Part of knowing how to throw this type of a party means recognizing that you should buy in bulk when it comes to food. As for drinks, have a talk with your teen up front about your (presumably) no alcohol policy.
The dessert could be any of the following: A special birthday cake is traditional, and you have your choice of tiered, carved (say, a guitar shape if your kid is a rocker) or sheet cakes. All can be made with personalized decorations or candles. We love cupcakes for their variety and individual portion size, and because they’re kind of girlie. Don’t be afraid to add a personal touch when it comes to the dessert. A homemade dessert is a great option—maybe great grandma’s coconut cream pie that your daughter just loves. This is always a crowd pleaser and a loving sentimental gesture. If your daughter is an ice cream nut, maybe hot fudge sundaes would be the perfect way to finish the meal.
Sweet sixteen party themes are super popular. In addition to the Mardi Gras and America’s Next Model ideas mentioned above, there are dozens of different themes out there. A theme can be carried throughout the invitations, event and even in the favors. Therefore, you should take some time determining a fun theme. Consider ones from Fashion Glam and Formal Balls to Alice in Wonderland, Go Green (for the sustainability crowd), Makeover, Sleepover, Karaoke, Diamond Princess, and even the old Toga Party. Our personal favorite is the Limo Scavenger Hunt. You can never go wrong with a limo. (My apologies to the Green party people.) A survey by one party site concluded that the most popular theme was a glow-in-the-dark neon dance party. The important thing is that the theme reflects your daughter’s desires or interests. If she’s a jock, go with sports. If she adores New York, have a Big Apple party. Fluent in French? How about a Paris themed brunch with crepes, berets and cappuccino (if you dare)?
When determining how to plan this party, you’ll need to consider the décor. Your theme will, of course, influence the decorations. But there are lots of additional decorative touches and ideas you might consider: balloons, candles and flowers, personalized signs or banners, crepe paper streamers, paper lanterns, old jerseys or instruments or costumes, banner size photos and life size cardboard “standees” of your teen, Photofetti sprinkled tastefully around the tables, or showered on the guest of honor as she makes her entrance. For a dose of kitsch, there’s always the giant, blow up birthday cake for the front lawn.
Whether you have your sweet sixteen birthday party at home or at a venue, you’ll definitely want some entertainment and activities. One of the most important parts of this is making sure you have something fun for everyone to do. Your teen will surely have ideas in this area. Music is a must. Deejays are the popular choice, though we prefer live music. (If you go the deejay route, be sure to provide him or her with a list of your daughter’s favorite music.) Karaoke can be fun, as well as palm or tarot card readers. If your teen is in drama club, choir, or gymnastics you might convince her fellow members to perform special skits, songs, or routines. In addition, dancing, water slides, volleyball, badminton, croquet, horseshoes, bocce or tug-of-war are all fun and easy ways to involve the group and burn off some of those chips and salsa. One party host rented a mechanical bull, but remember that the goal is to spend your time at the party, not in the ER.
Don’t forget those extra little touches that will help make this a day that your teen and her guests will remember and cherish. At the party, create a tasteful display to honor your daughter’s life and achievements—photos or photo albums, trophies, awards, uniforms and mementos. Hire or designate a photographer to capture the festivities, and hand out disposable cameras so guests can snap pictures, too. You can always enclose a candid shot of each guest in your thank you notes. Have party favors. Chocolates or tea are always nice; maybe you can include your daughter’s favorite in a customized wrapper. Did you know you can also get personalized fruit rollups with her name on them? Non-edible favors include customized water bottles, feather boas, rings, sunglasses, hair fobs and more. This is one of the fun parts of the planning that you and your daughter can collaborate on, giggle over, and laugh about for years to come. Now you know how to plan a sweet 16 birthday party! Start planning the biggest birthday bash yet for your little girl!