I am starting to plan a Sweet 16 surprise party for my daughter. Do you have any sweet 16 birthday ideas for teens?
I was thinking of going with the "sweet" theme and creating a candy bar with all kinds of different candy, but thought better of it when I imagined 40 teenagers on a sugar high. Not sure where to go with this, but I’m open to anything!! Thanks!!
–Dena, Middletown, R.I.
How fun, Dena! Surprise parties are a blast, albeit a bit stressful to plan because you’re constantly trying to keep the fun under wraps. The look on your daughter’s face when everyone yells “surprise!” will be worth the effort, though.
First, a quick tip: If your daughter has siblings, hold a family meeting when she’s out of the house to explain the importance of keeping the party a secret. If the siblings are very young, you might want to make it a surprise for them, too, since it’s difficult for little ones to not talk about something as exciting as a birthday party.
As for a theme, candy bars, sundae bars and dessert tables are a hot trend right now. Party planners like Amy Atlas have become well known for the beautiful spreads they create. But, yeah, a house full of teenagers on a sugar high could be a challenge.
You could keep the “sweet” theme without the sugar, though. How about decorating with giant lollipops made from Styrofoam balls, dowels and covered in cellophane? You could make a garland of oversized bubble gum pieces either using fabric or paper. And the cake could be covered with strips of paper-backed candy dots, like this wedding cake spotted on Philadelphia Magazine's website. (You could make a smaller version for a teen's birthday party.)
But what other birthday themes would teenagers enjoy? Here are some ideas:
- Karaoke: Rent a karaoke machine, send invitations that look like concert tickets, tell everyone to dress like rock stars, distribute temporary tattoos, set out cans of colored hair spray for the kids to use on each other and serve the kind of food you’d expect to see backstage, like pizza or tacos.
- Hollywood: Send invitations shaped like stars from the Hollywood Walk of Fame, set up a red carpet area where the kids can have their pictures taken next to life-sized cardboard cutouts of your child’s favorite stars, show a movie on an outdoor screen, and encourage everyone to wear feathered boas and sunglasses.
- Masquerade Ball: Ask the guests to wear costumes, then hand everyone a mask when they arrive. The kids should wear the masks when they yell “surprise” as the guest of honor walks in. Serve a masquerade-themed cake and send everyone home with a mask-shaped cookie in a cellophane bag as a favor.
- Alice in Wonderland: Alice in Wonderland parties can be whimsical and fun. Set out a colorful and elaborate tea party table. Make cupcake toppers that read “eat me” and place tags around juice bottles that say “drink me.” Designate a table where the kids can play card games, like Black Jack. The cake could be shaped like a 3-D rabbit and frosted white (compare prices for 3-D stand-up bunny cake pans). Hang a pocket watch around the bunny’s neck. For more Alice in Wonderland inspiration, check out the Mad Hatter tea party styled by party planner The TomKat Studio.
- Under the Sea: For invitations, send seashells with the party details written on the smooth side. Decorate your house with fishing nets, pirate treasure chests and rubber lobsters. Host the party at a beach or swimming pool, if possible. Serve an ocean-themed cake.
- Paris: Decorate your house in pinks, cream and other pastel colors. Play romantic French music. Print black and white photos of Paris off your computer, then turn the pictures into cupcake toppers. For more inspiration, watch the "I Want Candy" scene from the 2006 film Marie Antionette.
- Decade: Choose a decade to celebrate, such as the ‘20s, ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s or ‘80s. Ask the guests to dress accordingly, and then serve food that fits the era (hamburgers and milkshakes for the ‘50s, for example).
- Color scheme: Build the birthday theme around a color scheme, such as black and white, red white & blue, school colors, or the whole rainbow. Make everything match the colors--from the balloons to the food. For a dessert, for example, you could serve black-and-white cookies or multi-colored layered Jell-O.
Let me know what you decide for a theme, and I'd be happy to dip deeper and come up with more ideas. Just send me an e-mail anytime.
In the meantime, what other ideas do readers have? Share your suggestions for Dena below.