Parents' Guide to Throwing a Sweet 16

For some girls, turning 16 is anticipated almost as much as a wedding day. For others, it's just as special as any other birthday.

Planning a sweet 16 can range from exciting to overwhelming. Whether you’re throwing a big bash or hosting a smaller affair, try these tips for a smooth planning process and successful sweet 16 party.

  • 01 of 09

    Determine Your Budget

    Birthday cake with sparklers and the number 16
    Betsie Van der Meer / Getty Images

    Tell your teen how much you’re willing to spend, and involve her in divvying up where it goes. Like any party, the sweet 16 can bruise the bank account if there aren’t boundaries. Including your daughter in the party's budget discussions will help her understand why you can say yes to some requests and have to say no to others.

  • 02 of 09

    Compile the Guest List

    This will likely be affected by your budget. In most cases, the more people your daughter invites, the more the party will cost. Some families save up to host a big bash, inviting 100 or more boys and girls.

    Consider your daughter’s desires, though. She might be happiest getting together with a close group of friends for a concert or a day at the spa.

  • 03 of 09

    Set a Date and Location

    Choosing a date and venue can be a challenge depending on where her birthday lands on the calendar. If it happens to fall around Christmas or during other busy times of year, be sure to book the location well ahead of time so you’re not competing with office holiday parties or graduation events. Consider sending out “save-the-date” cards or e-mail messages if you’re worried about guests being overbooked.

    Some venues to consider: 

    • Hotel ballrooms.
    • Public parks.
    • Barns.
    • Grange halls.
    • Dance clubs.
    • Restauran...MOREts.
    • Sports facilities.
    • Your own backyard.
  • 04 of 09

    Choose a Theme

    This isn’t necessary, but it can be fun. Some theme ideas:

    • Princess.
    • City lights (picture a Paris or New York City theme). 
    • Hollywood or rock star.
    • Mardi Gras.
    • Pretty in Pink.
    • Luau. 
    • Masquerade.
    • Zombie.

    The theme also can be a chance to highlight a teen’s personal interests. For instance, if she rides horses, you can go with an equestrian theme. If she loves to read, base the theme on her favorite novel. You can even go with a favorite color, song, movie or sport to personalize the party theme. 

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Book the Vendors

    Since some sweet 16's are as elaborate as weddings, consider attending a bridal fair to compare prices among caterers, disc jockeys, and other service providers.

    You can save even more money by tapping into the talent that already surrounds you. A friend could help you prepare food ahead of time and offer storage space in her freezer. The birthday girl herself might want to download her own music playlist instead of hiring a DJ, or maybe you can take a class together and learn how to bake and...MORE decorate a fancy cake.

  • 06 of 09

    Invite Your Guests

    Send out invitations three to five weeks in advance. For sweet 16's, some like to follow a tradition of hand-delivering the invites. The birthday girl could do it herself or enlist the help of friends, such as a cheer squad that does a chant outside each guest’s house.

  • 07 of 09

    Write the Menu

    Choose foods that are easy to eat standing up, since the guests likely will be milling about rather than sitting down for a formal meal.

    One popular idea for sweet 16 parties is to have a grand dessert buffet, complete with themed tablescapes and a variety of sweet treats. The cake can serve as the centerpiece for the dessert table. You can make the cakes ​multi-tiered, but in bright colors rather than white to distinguish them from wedding cakes. A smaller cake can be just as … well … sweet!

    Cupca...MOREkes are another popular choice and are often decorated as elegantly as a wedding cake.

  • 08 of 09

    Set the Itinerary

    Write a rough timeline for the party. When will the music begin? When will food be served? What time do you cut the cake? Perhaps most importantly, what time will the party end?

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    Talk About Expectations

    You probably still see your daughter as a little girl, but sweet 16's traditionally are “coming-of-age” parties, perhaps making her feel pretty grown up to be hitting this milestone.

    Unfortunately, some teenagers interpret that as a license to experiment with alcohol or other controlled substances.

    Make it clear to your daughter that illegal activity won’t be tolerated at—and will put an end to—her party.