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Teenagers are a pain. I can say that because once upon a time, I was one.
Surely you can remember those years of being a hormonal mess, being friends with people who were also all hormonal messes, and feeling like everything sucks.
When Mom asked what you wanted to do for your birthday, maybe you said something poetic like “I don’t know! Stop nagging me!” before storming off to your room to listen to The Cure.
Which is why you want to be prepared for when you pose that same question to your teen. Equip yourself with these teen birthday party ideas they won’t hate!
Teen Birthday Party Themes
Are they obsessed with all things pop culture? This party will help them feel like a star. Ask guests to dress to the nines, then roll out the red carpet for them. We’re talking photographs, sparkling cider, tableside service, and a private screening of the guest of honor’s choice film.
To go with the movie theme, be sure to serve plenty of popcorn and candy!
Is there a single teen out there who doesn’t have a soundtrack to their life? That’s what makes this party theme basically a no-brainer. That said, there should be nothing cookie-cutter about it.
In order to make this a non-babyish birthday party for your teen, you have to understand what music they like right now— not back when they were a little kid and couldn’t stop singing Cher in the backseat.
So yes, while you might not be the biggest fan of Lil Face Tattoo (or whatever the Soundcloud rapper du jour is), it’s a good idea to go along with it for the sake of your teen. You’ll save them the embarrassment of a corny party, and yourself the hassle of having a little ingrate in your home.
There are so many different activities you can include in a music-themed party.
Karaoke is easier than ever to do, thanks to YouTube and the prevalence of cheap dynamic microphones. Name that tune is always a fun game, but be sure to make the mystery music clips short enough to challenge the group.
If your teen likes to play music with their friends, encourage your guests to bring their instruments for a jam session. Or if they’re more of a dancer, hire a DJ for a dance party!
When in doubt, get that teen a carnival. Teens love carnivals.
And who could blame them? Cotton candy makes everything better. You’re probably not going to be able to rent out a tilt-a-whirl, but you can recreate the ambiance of a carnival with string lights, a popcorn maker, and plenty of red and white stripes.
Set up carnival-style games for guests to play, like ring toss and plinko. You can give out a variety of prizes, from classic stuffed animals to custom T-shirts that say something irreverent like “I Went to Hank’s 16th Birthday Party and All I Got Was This T-Shirt.” It’s a fun twist on party favors.
Freshen up the tried-and-true pool party with Hawaiian accoutrements. Mermaids and surfers alike can catch rays with tropical punch, leis, grass skirts, and surfboards. The menu should focus on flavors like coconut, grilled fish, and fresh fruit.
Hula dancing is a must, so be sure to procure some Hawaiian music. May I suggest Hawaiian Steel Guitar Classics, 1927-1938?
Sometimes it’s best to party like it’s 1999. Or 1969. Whether your kid is an old hippie soul or is just obsessed with all things grunge, a decade party is an easy theme to work with. Party stores are stocked with decorations specifically for the occasion.
Make it a costume party, with guests arriving in associated garb. Alternatively, buy a bevvy of costume accessories for them to wear for the gram.
Serve decade-accurate party foods (though maybe not these horrifying options). If you can’t find any dishes you think the guest of honor would enjoy, serve their favorite foods on plates with era-specific designs.
And don’t forget the tunes! Play the best music of the decade. Whether you’re pulling it from your old vinyl collection or a Spotify playlist, it’s sure to put everyone in the spirit of the party.
Your teenager has taken an interest in food, and not just eating it (though they still do that, constantly). Maybe they help you out in the kitchen, or have started baking on their own. You’re not complaining, even if they do make a mess from time to time. It’s an important life skill to learn, and sure beats their former favorite pastime of yeeting old scrap metal into the lake.
If they’re beginning to enjoy cooking, you can organize a simple party around it at your house. Everyone can pitch in to make a crowd-pleaser. Waffles and personal pan pizzas are two good options, as they don’t require a great deal of technique, and allow the group to get creative with toppings.
Alternatively, you can have them sign up for an age-appropriate cooking class. They might not be able to invite as many friends, but they will have a unique experience. How often do you get to learn from a real-life chef?
Your teen doesn’t need to be Bear Grylls-in-training to enjoy a party centered around camping. Really, all you need are a few tents and enough space in your backyard to set them up.
Sure, you could head out to an actual campground to get a real outdoorsy feel, but being close to home has its perks.
A backyard campout enables the group to enjoy a wide variety of indoor and outdoor activities. Think: ice cream sundae bar in the kitchen, Mario Tennis tournament in the basement, cornhole and acoustic guitar jam outside.
Sleeping under the stars never loses its charm, especially when you don’t have to use a tree as your outhouse.
Even though teens can act like they’re so over everything, it seems like doing dumb stuff never gets old for them. Make it the focus of the party, then!
This game is ideal for large parties, because it requires them to break off into teams and do or collect random things, each of which has a point value assigned to it.
Set a window of time for the competition (say two hours) and then have everyone meet back at home base (your house) to tally up the score.
To the victors go the spoils, be it a giant chocolate bar, gift cards, or custom hats that assert their bragging rights.
Tickets to an Event
There’s a non-zero chance that your teen won’t want to have a “real” birthday party. So take the money you’d spend on a party for them and put it towards an experience they want instead.
Concerts, live sports, and plays are all great events that are special enough for a birthday celebration. Just don’t try to do anything special, like tell the venue it’s your kid’s birthday. Unless you’re absolutely positive they want you to, it’s a recipe to leave them mortally embarrassed.
Maybe your teen wants to live in the lap of luxury for a day. While you probably won’t head to your local golden throne store, you can hire a local mobile nail technician to come and give a mani-pedi to them and all of their guests.
Mobile spa services are a thing worth keeping in mind, too. Everyone can receive facials and massages without leaving the comfort of your home..
Teens don’t necessarily want Mom or Dad around during the party.
(Except to, y’know, pay for it.)
And honestly, it’s not like you really want to hear your kid’s friends for hours on end. You can only take so much teen chatter. But what birthday party setting offers enough supervision, appeases teen embarrassment, and preserves your own sanity?
That’s the beauty of an escape room. Picture this: your teen and their friends are locked in a room, and the only way out is to solve puzzles as a team. Meanwhile, you can get the rest of the party set up, whether it’s back at the house, at a nearby restaurant, or at the escape room venue itself.
That way, they can argue out of earshot while working up an appetite, and you don’t have to worry about (or listen to) them.
Teens want to do as many adult things as they can. They’re still not old enough to book a hotel room, but you can do it for them, thus taking the “kiddish” concept of a sleepover party and giving it some grown-up flair.
This is going to sound like a recipe for disaster to some people. Aren’t rowdy teenagers just going to get up to no good in the reduced-supervision environment of a Holiday Inn?
Hey, if you don’t think your kid is mature enough to handle a hotel party, don’t let them have one. For everyone else though, it could be a great time. It brings the vibe of a vacation and a party together for a special night.
Just be sure to set some ground rules prior to getting the festivities underway. You don’t want to foot the bill for a damaged room– or have any, um, monkey business go on under your watch.
If you live by the ocean or a lake, and the weather is nice, this sandy locale could be the perfect place for a birthday shindig.
It’s an especially good setting for a bonfire: plenty of open space to create one safely, close enough to the water to extinguish easily, and a backdrop that makes s’mores taste that much better.
Using the beach offers a lot of opportunities for fun, without coming across as too “try-hard.” There’s enough space for games, conversations, and even a campfire singalong of “Wonderwall,” and none of it has to feel feel forced.
Depending on how old your teen is, you may be able to treat them to an actual spa day with a few close friends, rather than a spa-themed party somewhere else. Many spas won’t allow anyone under 16, though, so check before you book.
That said, this is a fun birthday idea for celebrating a milestone birthday, such as a Sweet 16 or 18th birthday.
You’ve put a lot of effort into making your backyard a great place for entertaining guests. So why not use it?
You’ll save money by not having to rent a venue, and you won’t be limited in how you choose to decorate it, either. That means all of the aforementioned party themes are in play, provided the weather cooperates.
Winter birthdays might be a little trickier, but with a little bit of ingenuity, you can host a great party despite the colder temperatures.
Rent out a party tent and a few outdoor heat lamps to create the ultimate relaxation station, or embrace the cold and snow by making the party winter wonderland themed.
We’re thinking a snowball fight, snowman-making contest, and plenty of hot chocolate.
We can’t promise that your teen will tell you how much they loved their birthday party. But these ideas will give you a pretty good shot at hearing it.
About the Author
Kyle Greco is the resident writer at RushOrderTees, where he blends word nerdery with his love for T-shirts. A graduate of The College of New Jersey, he is interested in exploring the intersection of clothing and culture. In his spare time, he makes music, builds guitars, and cooks with his wife. He enjoys hot dogs, sports, and collecting too many hats.