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Simple but Significant: Striking the Right Tone for Teen Birthdays

by Kathryn Streeter

Most parents would agree that birthdays are an easy win when the kids are young—not without great effort and frenzied busyness, for sure, but more straightforward. Star Wars? Avengers? Minions? Trolls? Piñata? Done! Whatever the theme requested to anchor the party, it was probably doable, right? But once the tween/teen years hit, things turn a corner and you may find yourself pining for the good ole days of predictable, even, dare I say, cookie-cutter-type parties which wowed your kids when they were little.

As mine sprouted from kid to teen, I realized the parties were going to change to simple but significant, something requiring grave circumspection. In short, my teens wanted to be recognized as young adults, to shed all childish fanfare. I’d wager that yours will feel somewhat the same. Here are a few things I learned in feting my teenagers over the years, which may help you strike the right tone each and every birthday:

Insist on Your Teen Making a Gift List.

It may sound babyish, but it saves lots of heartache and disappointment. After a recent birthday, my teen lamented that he guessed that lists were still a good idea. His comment reflected what we perceived: we thought we were hitting it out of the park in the gift department, but no, we failed. If your teen refuses to make a list, go easy on yourselves and opt for store credit. Or cash. There, I said it. Cash will always be fine with your teen. And when grandparents are eager to shower their affection, help them by advising against buying clothing for your teen. It rarely works, if ever.

Don’t Tell Everything.

Hold back the details. Build the suspense. Our daughter wanted a “family dinner” for her fifteenth birthday and left all the planning and plotting to us. Without saying it, she was begging to be surprised, which put no small amount of pressure on us. In this case, we lucked out and struck the right tone, starting the evening off with giving her a dress she’d pointed out at her favorite store and then, all dressed to the gills, we headed to a fancy restaurant. She felt like such a young lady in her new dress showing up at a restaurant where reservations were in her name.

Pair Your Teen’s Interest with an Event.

What is the one thing your teen loves to do more than anything else? Maybe it’s an intense interest/hobby they have? Think creatively about how you can celebrate this interest. Does your teen love soccer? Take her to a professional game. Does your teen love to cook? Buy cooking classes. Perhaps your teen is an aspiring writer? Or computer programmer? With a little digging around, you’ll probably find workshops and lectures in your area.

Think the Unthinkable.

Keep in mind that your teen’s greatest wish for their birthday may be to get away—far away from you—to visit their BFF who moved away. Gulp. Don’t take it personally! If it’s at all possible, arrange well in advance for a surprise weekend trip, searching long and hard for plane or train tickets. But when it’s not, bring those missed into the room by pulling up a pre-arranged video chat party meet-up. Trust me, the “Happy Birthday” song will sound much better with a crowd of voices bellowing out of your computer to join whoever is in the room.

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