We have thrown some cracker birthday parties over my teen’s 15 year existence and hosting them is a lot of fun albeit kinda chaotic and exhausting!
To have your child look you in the eye after all kids have left and say “Mum that was ‘the bomb’, totally awesome, and seriously the best birthday ever” kinda makes all the effort, decision making, planning, negotiating, and not doubt tears at some point (theirs or yours) all worthwhile.
Honestly, I know it sounds a little self-gratifying to say that, but it’s great to be able to let your kids have fun.
We have hosted a wide variety of large and small parties from sleepovers with a giant 22 kids squeezed into our lounge, to ‘Amazing Race’ themes of epic proportions, to small two person afternoons at a high ropes course, to large scale 15 people military paint ball sessions in the forest, to meatloaf with the family, to pre-planned epic food fights and everything in between.
This year, my teen will have her 16th Birthday. Through many discussions like what I share below, she has decided to celebrate it with us taking her and her friends away to a ‘Bach’ for the weekend… All she wants is for us to host her friends, play loud music, eat yummy food, chill out and most importantly it must have a POOL (even though it will be winter). The pool in her mind is vitally important.
Birthdays become a different thing once kids hit their teens and they vary dramatically between the young teen years and the older teens.
They balance precariously on a knife edge between wanting just fun, goofy adventure based parties to more grown up, sometimes even sophisticated themes to also wanting a full on frat party/Snoop dog/ Police-called House Party!
As Miss 15 gets older, we are striking so many more hurdles that have to be considered carefully.
Are you finding all these new hurdles with your teens too?
You have to do what is right for your family and your teen as what is right for one family isn’t right for the other.
We have been on both sides of this fence before.
Naturally, I er on the side of caution and carefully-slowly-slowly allow Miss 15 to make the next steps at the ‘right’ time. But even we have been on the other side earlier in her tween years. Where what we have planned was ‘not ok’ by one parent (even after offering to chat with the mum to allay her fears that they were to be well supervised) but I understood and I have to respect that mum for making the right decision for her family.
Here are loads of different thoughts and tactics we have used to help negotiating, navigate, plan and decide on the birthday parties (or really any party/activity we hold throughout the year for that matter).
Some are also what I imagine I will also be asking more of and considering going forward further into her older teen years.
17 must-know tips to negotiating teen birthdays
1. Do your teens know your family’s expectations?
Do they have a large party every year, or alternate every year with small/large, or are birthdays only a family/cousin event etc…
2. Initial idea brainstorm
Discuss way-way-way in advance that you are keen to hear their ideas. Make a big list, put everything on there, even the crazy ones, even the ones that you know you will probably say no to, but let them float their ideas and your own ideas, throw them all out there. Your teen may appreciate that you didn’t say no outright to certain things straight away and that you will at least consider it.
3. Getting your heart set on it
Discuss with your teen and ask that they ‘don’t get their heart set on something before you have fully ‘thought it through’ or ‘don’t tell all their friends about it’ before you have all discussed it as an option… It’s way worse having to tell your friends it’s a no go if you have told them already.
4. Watch committing too early on
I’ve found its best not to ‘commit’ to anything too early or before I’ve thought it all through unless you are 120% sure you are ok with it and that it will work.
5. Narrow down the short list together
A few weeks later, sit down together and have an honest conversation, keep expectations real on both sides, be reasonable and cross of together the things that are an absolute no, or the ones that just won’t work. Narrow the list down, taking into consideration, weather issues, approximate costs, permission issues, if it will work for number of invites, things that have been done before, things that can’t be on this year’s list but could be a possible for next year etc…
6. Research the short list
Once you have a ‘few’ idea’s left that are looking pretty good, do your research, that’s the parents researching and that’s getting the teen to research as well.
7. Teen research
Sometimes it’s a whole lot better a teen finding out themselves through their own research that their idea has to be canned because they maybe don’t reach the age requirement, or that it’s all booked up etc rather than the ‘parent having to pour cold water on it, but saying it’s not gonna happen’. They can also see upfront hurdles or challenges they have to figure out in order for it to happen themselves.
8. Teen planning responsibilities
Make them take responsibilities from early on for helping with all parts of the organisation.
Teens can ring up to find out prices, ask questions about booking requirements, make lists of the steps that need to happen, work out with you reasonable budgets, make shopping lists and even go out and do all the buying with that budget in hand. If they aren’t confident making phone calls, get them to write down in their own words what they will say and what questions to ask (and to write down the answers).
9. Important party expectations to be discussed early on:
- Numbers of friends to invite
- Will it also be a Sleepover?
(if this is be tacked on after a daytime activity, budget for cost of feeding hungry teens dinner, breakfast, maybe even lunch and snacks)
- Will Boys/Girls be invited?
- If opposite sex is invited, it is responsible to make this clear on the invitations for other parents to make their own decisions on if they are ok with that.
- Where parents will be, what supervision must be had, what is negotiable?
If they are paint balling, you might just be dropping them off. But if it’s a weekend at the Campsite, then you are in the tent beside them.
- Alcohol, will their friends have an expectation that there is going to be alcohol there, or will they ‘think’ they can bring it to your house or will they pre-load?
Make it clear, once they hit their mid-teens, that this needs to be discussed openly and upfront with your family rules.
- Drugs and stimulants, will friends ‘think’ they can bring them, use them beforehand or that you will have them?
- If opposite sex is being invited, have clear expectations of sleeping arrangements and what behaviour is un/acceptable in your house. eg. Sex!
Yes, some of this stuff is scary to write and of course your teen is going to answer NO to many of those questions above probably initially. But I urge you to discuss it further, change the questions around a little to gauge what is allowed in other homes to highlight any friend expectations issues that might arise.
10. Budget and working to help towards cost
If they want to do something that is outside of your budget. Suggest they work for it. If your Teen has a part time job, they can help fund it, or do extra chores to work it off. We did this last year. I was happy to front the cost of her party activity for 10 girls + a big long sleepover, but she was heart set on inviting 5 more. So I put up 75% of the cost and Miss 15 worked for the other 25%. It worked well and gave her more ownership in planning the party.
11. Friends Paying
You could also consider asking your friends to pay for a portion. This isn’t right for everyone, but float the idea. It’s quite common place now for many of the parties Miss 15 goes to that if they are doing a significant activity that they either pay for it, or help pay for the activity, then the family does all the rest like food, transport and sleepover is taken care of.
Sometimes she has paid for their dinner out, but the rest of the activities are covered. In our house sometimes we have paid for all of the expense of a large activity, but asked them all to bring ‘a few snacks/soft drinks etc’.
Now they are older, they’re less interested in having printed party invitations with all the details.
So what we do now is, Miss 15 can tell, message, email the main details to her friends so they all know what they are doing etc…and they can ‘group chat’ about all the deets and what they are wearing and what they are bringing and what bus they are coming on…who’s coming at what time…who has sports training or shows to work around…palaver…believe me it’s like herding cats sometimes ironing out those finer details.
13. Informing friends’ parents
But on top of her organisation, then I always message each parent ‘my’ version of those final details too. So they know what parts I will be there for, which parts I won’t be, if required. How they are getting where. Times, places etc. This year, I will be highlighting that it is an ‘Alcohol and Drug Free’ party so the expectation is that their teens won’t try and bring any (and won’t have beforehand), seems it is cropping up now sometimes in the parties she is invited to.
Also as teens, not all the right information filters through to parents, so this is my double check. I remind them to contact me with any questions beforehand or at the time to ‘Mum Check’ anything at all so it’s transparent. I remind them my phone number and our home address, especially if they are a new friend so they know where to find them as they might not be dropping them off if coming straight from school or public transport etc…
14. Sending teens home
Miss 15 knows I wouldn’t hesitate to call a parent if need be. I would deal with the teen as I saw fit at the time, but think to myself ‘if this happened at a party, would I want to know about it?’ Is it a during the night call ‘Hey something needs to be done’ or ‘This is what I’m doing, do you agree?’ call, or is it a in the morning out of courtesy call to ‘Let them know this is what happened’? Fortunately I haven’t had to yet, but I know the time will come one day… just as my own Mother was called about ‘me’ a few times in my teens where I was needed to be picked up!
15. Friends (or her own) negative choices
Your teens can’t ‘control’ what choices their friends make…But Miss 15 knows that my expectation of her is she knows our ‘family expectations’ and what is ok and what is not.
The responsibility she has is to speak up if something is not ok. That if a friend of hers does make a negative choice (or herself), turns up at our place after drinking, or whips out the hip flask at 3am mid-sleepover, invites other people over that I don’t know about etc… that she speaks up and say’s hey, not ok.
To come and get me, wake me up, call me whatever and say, hey, this happened and then we will find a way to deal with it. That I will respect that way more and see that as taking good responsibility of asking for help, going forward rather than afterwards and having to deal with negative consequences and she didn’t speak up on.
16. Use Mum as an excuse
Miss 15 knows she can use me as an excuse/the bad guy anytime.
No, we can’t do that because Mum said no…or Mum said I would be grounded for three months if I did that…or Mum said I would be taken away from all my Electronic Privileges if I did…or Mum said I won’t be allowed to go to Homegrown…or Mum said she won’t hesitate to call your parents…whatever.
I’m happy to be the fall guy if it helps her make a good decision.
17. See the big picture
It’s hard, but try, really really hard to take a step back and see the big picture. Yes, this is your baby…but ask yourself ‘How do they handle each new responsibility you have given them so far’?
Do they frequently show you can trust them through their actions? Is it appropriate to take the next step, or is it not right this time?
This applies to the likes of allowing young teens to stay at an activity by themselves after you have dropped them off, right through to saying yes to a full on ‘House Party’ with bouncers when they are 17.
Sometimes you need to stay steadfastly rock solid on the stance you have taken for your family and your Teen.
Other times you need to reconsider that this is the next careful step to take.
I encourage you to not feel pressure from ‘mainstream’ or other teen’s expectations.
Make clear, researched, well throughout decisions on the Big Stuff and be open to negotiating or being more relaxed on the Small Stuff. For example, maybe you are saying no to attending that party/sleepover as no parents will be home all night, but if you feel comfortable with the friend/family/situation you can maybe say yes to attending the Party, but the pickup will be 12pm.
Teens… It’s hard… I feel for every parent out their making decisions for their teens at the moment… and second guessing themselves…or is that just me? Remember, if you have to say an educated NO, your teen WON’T hate you forever, regardless of what they yell at the time.
Know that we’ve covered the 17 must-know tips to negotiating teen birthdays, you might like to read 5 Alcohol free birthday party ideas for 15 and 16 year olds. Or for more great party planning advice, check out our Teens: Birthday section.