Stumped on how to celebrate your teen’s birthday this year? Celebrating a milestone? Need ideas for that perfect sweet sixteen party? We asked parents on our Facebook page for your tweens’ and teens’ favorite birthday party ideas and over 100 of you responded with some great suggestions. Here’s some of our favorites!
Has your kid already planned their birthday party?
Lots of parents advise that before you plan a birthday party, ask your kids how they want to celebrate. Some kids get really excited when you give them the chance to plan an event and to figure out what they want to experience. They might even surprise you with a list of ideas they’ve been saving for this very occasion!
If you and your teen can’t think of anything, keep scrolling for inspiration.
1. Schedule a Private Screening
Is there a movie premiere that weekend? Or maybe there’s a favorite old movie they’ve been dying for their friends to watch. Ask your local cinema if they’ll rent out a theater for a private screening. Some theaters will even give you a discount on popcorn, candy, and soda, or at least not make you wait in the concessions line.
Setting Up: Research the options at your local theaters for pricing, policies, and how much time they need ahead of your event to reserve the screen. You’ll probably need a head count early on.
The Day Of: If you’re reserving a private showing, get there early to make sure everything’s in order so the movie can start on time!
Helpful Tips: Reserving a whole theater isn’t the only way to do this – consider reserving a row in a theater for your teen’s birthday party. With many theaters allowing you to reserve seats ahead of time, you could reserve a chunk of seats for your teen and their friends.
2. Watch a Movie in Your Backyard
Weather permitting, you can set up an outdoor theater in the backyard! All you need is a sheet, a projector, snacks, seating, and neighbors who won’t mind the noise.
Setting Up: Decide on how you’re projecting the film. White sheet pinned to the side of the house? Inflatable screen? Gather your supplies. Decent quality projectors are easier to find than you might think, especially ones that connect to your phone or computer. Experiment with your setup before the night of, in order to avoid technical difficulties. Remember that the film will project best when it’s darker outside, so later showings are ideal.
The Day Of: Make sure the weather’s in your favor, and have an alternative rain plan. Not only could you get rained on, so could your technology!
Helpful Tips: Consider the length of the movie, and how loud the teens (and films) are going to be. Set an event curfew to respect the neighbors.
3. Go to a Drive-In Movie
Or ditch the DIY and go retro with a drive-in theater! While not as common as they used to be, you might still find one within driving distance. Pack the car with a few of their friends, bring bug spray, snacks, and something fun to do while you wait for sundown. Set up a cozy viewing spot with beach chairs, blankets, and pillows.
Setting Up: Research the nearest drive-in. Drive-ins tend to have limited film options any given week, and may operate on a limited schedule. Decide on a driver – the ideal candidate has a larger car. The less cars you drive there, the better – not just for pricing! It can be hard to find spots next to each other if you get there later.
The Day Of: Get there early! The best parking spots can go fast. Remember the bug spray. Decide on your snack plan – no rules against bringing your own food to the theater. Keep in mind that the greasy treats from the concessions might be too tempting to resist. Bring a radio! The audio for your movie comes in through an AM radio frequency. To avoid taxing your car battery, bring a stereo with you to tune in.
Helpful Tips: No pressure to stay for the double feature! If your group has no interest in the second flick, call it an early night and leave after the credits roll on part one.
4. Host a Movie Marathon
No drive-in? No problem! Use your streaming service or swing by the library to borrow a few DVDs and have a movie marathon sleepover. No promise they’ll get any rest.
Setting Up: Gather your viewing materials – make sure the movies you want are still available for streaming, or reserve them ahead of time from your local library.
The Day Of: Decorate whatever room has the TV in it for optimal sleepover comfort (space for sleeping bags, comfy couches, and a table to keep the soda and snacks on without spills).
Helpful Tips: Worried about your sleep? Communicate with your teen about what you expect from them (maximum TV volume, for example, or when they need to quiet down).
5. Give Your Teen’s Bedroom Décor an Update
Has it been years since you’ve decorated your child’s bedroom? Let them redecorate their bedroom now. Give them a budget and let them have at it. Do they want to paint their walls black? Write on their walls with song lyrics and quotes and best wishes? Spray paint a mural? Hang posters of K-pop idols on their ceiling? Tell them to go for it. Grant them some freedom to express who they are in a safe space (and don’t worry, you can redecorate later, when they’re gone).
Setting Up: Brainstorm how they’d like their room to look – consider making a vision board if it’s a whole room endeavor. Work on cleaning the room beforehand and getting rid of things they no longer like or need. It’s a good opportunity to take stock on their space, and allows for easier set-up when you’re working on the room later. Set a budget and gather your supplies.
The Day Of: If they’re doing anything involving paint, make sure you move out/cover any furniture or other items that could get damaged. Move out as much as possible the night before so you don’t get tired prematurely the day of.
Helpful Tips: If you do any sort of paint job, remember to ventilate the fumes out before your teen sleeps in there. Setting up a temporary space for them to sleep overnight may be a good idea.
6. Go Bowling!
Best for smaller groups, bowling is a classic for a reason. Drop your kid off with some friends at the bowling alley. Make sure everyone has socks and pony up some money for greasy food.
Setting Up: Reserve lanes ahead of time so the group can bowl next to each other.
The Day Of: Try and get everyone there early, so they can spend as much time as possible knocking down those pins. You can’t add people to the game after it’s started!
Helpful Tips: Bring a few extra pairs of socks in case someone forgets.
7. Try Laser Tag!
If your kid enjoys playing shooter video games, they might enjoy playing laser tag with their friends in real life. Combining strategy and adrenaline, these games are hide-and-seek on steroids and designed to be fun.
Setting Up: Figure out how many people will be attending – larger groups may be able to reserve a whole session, for example, but smaller groups may be combined with others (high schoolers playing against seven year olds can get tricky).
The Day Of: Plan to get there early! There’s a decent amount of stuff you need to organize before you go in, and schedules aren’t very flexible.
Helpful Tips: Dress appropriately! Laser tag is in blacklight, so guests should lean towards darker clothes for added stealth.
8. Get Messy with Paintball
Paintball is like laser tag’s messier, more intense cousin. Playing in broad daylight, the game is less stealth (à la laser tag) and more strategy.
Setting Up: Research local venues and regulations. Playing on your own can be tricky – in public venues, the paint can be considered a form of vandalism – so find a sanctioned venue before anything else.
The Day Of: This WILL get messy. Tell attendees to wear clothes that they don’t mind getting damaged – old jeans, cheap tees, generic shoes. Stress the importance of following the safety instructions of the employees.
Helpful Tips: Bring some towels for the car ride back to avoid getting the seats messy too.
9. Solve a Mystery in an Escape Room
Amateur sleuths will love escape rooms. It’s a great group activity because often you’ll need to work together to find the answers to riddles and puzzles which they’ll need to solve a crime.
Setting Up: See what escape rooms are near you. Some locations might have different rooms for different ages.
The Day Of: Remind your teen to work with the rules of the escape room, not against them, and that there’s no shame in asking for a hint from an attendant.
Helpful Tips: If your teen is a horror movie buff, consider doing a movie night afterwards – Saw IS often considered to be the instigator of the escape room craze, after all.
10. Solve a Mystery at Home!
Throwing a murder mystery birthday party is easier than you might think—kits are available online for the perfect plot. All you need is a group of kids you know will stay in character, a “no googling the answers” house rule—and for some added fun, everyone can dress in costumes and you can decorate according to the theme.
Setting Up: Pick a story kit from online, and assemble your cast. These sorts of events may require a more rigid amount of players, so RSVP’s are highly encouraged in order to make sure it’ll work.
The Day Of: Give your guests their character information ahead of the start of the party – either a few days early (if you’re sure they won’t spill to the other guests) or right before (if they definitely will). Consider a dress code, if you’re going for a more atmospheric event. Would a duchess REALLY be wearing a tee shirt?
Helpful Tips: Give the murder victim(s) something fun to do while they’re out of the game. This might be a good job for a parent or a sibling to take.
11. Go on a Scavenger Hunt
An old-fashioned scavenger hunt is always in style. Have your teen and their guests take a photo of each clue they find, for proof and for quick social media content!
Setting Up: Figure out the location for your hunt – your house can totally work, but also consider going downtown. Whatever the case, scout the area beforehand to brainstorm some clue ideas, and check the times for any businesses you involve.
The Day Of: Drop the clues off beforehand, and draft a list for yourself of where you leave them so you can clean up afterwards. Make sure each team has a phone on them in case they get lost!
Helpful Tips: If your teen really enjoys this one, consider trying out geocaching!
12. Take Advantage of Seasonal Activities
Is their birthday in the middle of the summer? How about going on a beach trip, camping, or kayaking with a group of their friends. Looking for fall birthday party ideas? Go apple picking, or paint pumpkins together. Winter? Try skiing, snowboarding, tubing, sledding, or ice skating. You can even build snow forts, snow sculptures, or snowmen in the yard. Spring birthday? Try hiking. Pack sunscreen, water, a disposable camera, and have fun exploring nature and the great outdoors.
Setting Up: For events that require longer drives (camping, skiing, etc), consider limiting the guest list to who you can fit in one car.
The Day Of: Check the weather for a few days leading up to your event, and plan what you’re going to do in case you have to postpone.
Helpful Tips: If you choose to do ice skating indoors, remind your guests to dress for the event, not the weather – it’s cold in there, and less experienced skaters will appreciate wearing jeans instead of shorts if they fall. Consider the physical intensity of whatever event you choose, and keep in mind the capabilities of your teen and their friends. How much prior experience are they expected to have before snowboarding at that hill, for example?
13. Think Like a Tourist!
Museums, aquariums, historical sites—it’s all fair game. Plus, if they like something from the gift shop, it totally counts as a birthday present.
Setting Up: Pick your location and check pricing for admission – some places might have group discounts, or even discounted tickets for students!
The Day Of: Pack light for the day to avoid renting out a locker while you’re there.
Helpful Tips: Keep an eye on touring exhibit dates for special events! Limited time only exhibits in an art or science museum draw crowds, so you may need to buy tickets for those in advance. Check your local library – they may offer discounted tickets for local educational attractions like museums and zoos.
14. Support Live Music
Whether with you or with a friend, getting your teen tickets to a touring musical act is always a fun time! Keep an eye on local venues for when your kids’ favorite artists are in town.
Setting Up: Buying tickets for these sorts of events might get tricky on short notice. Work on this one in advance – have your teen keep an eye on band tour announcements, and see if you can snag some presale tickets.
The Day Of: Remind your teen that comfy shoes are a must! Whether it’s a stadium show or a small venue, there’s a chance they’re going to be on their feet for a while, and sometimes the excitement about the event can blind someone to the functionality of their outfit.
Helpful Tips: Sometimes, the best artists to see on tour are newer or smaller ones! While scouting for shows, consider looking into less mainstream artists. Remember to bring money for merch!
15. See a Show
Theater tickets can be a perfect birthday gift for your teen, from touring professional performances to local companies mounting an old favorite, theater is more accessible than ever.
Setting Up: Check out the theatrical schedules of local colleges, large venues, and small companies. Some performances may be completely free – see if your area has any Shakespeare in the Park!
The Day Of: Bring a sharpie with you! Many theaters have an option for you to meet the cast after the performance (stage door-ing), where you can get your show program autographed.
Helpful Tips: If you have any physical accessibility concerns, check with the venue – some regional theaters provide ASL, open captioning, and/or audio description services for their performances.
16. Buy Tickets to a Sporting Event
Got a sports kid with a favorite team? Get them tickets to split with a friend.
Setting Up: Look into major AND minor leagues! There’s as much fun at a minor league game as there is at a major league one, and it’s usually easier to score tickets.
The Day Of: Plan your commute to and from the stadium in advance – depending on how anticipated the game is, it might be a long drive. Consider taking public transport instead!
Helpful Tips: If the game’s outside, remember to apply some sunscreen.
17. Get your Thrills at a Theme Park
Treat your teen and a small group of their friends to a day at a local theme park, water park, or carnival. This one might be ideal for older teens, especially if you won’t be joining them inside the park as a chaperone. Pay for tickets, and have them text for pickup when they’re done riding the tilt-a-whirl.
Setting Up: Research your local attractions for prices, seasonal events, and best times and days to go – avoiding crowds at a theme park is always a plus.
The Day Of: Make sure your teen brings sunscreen, bug spray, and a charged phone. Suggest wearing a fanny pack to keep their wallet in (harder for pickpockets!)
Helpful Tips: Most parks have policies against bringing outside food and drink, so remember to budget for enough hydration to keep the kids from passing out on the coasters. Keep an eye out for discounted tickets! From deals with local restaurants to coupons on the back of your receipt, having fun at a theme park might be easier than you thought.
18. Have a Field Day
A trampoline park, a bouncy castle, or an inflatable obstacle course are all hits with just about anybody. Add in other field day activities like a three-legged race and water balloon toss, and you’ve got yourself a great birthday party, weather permitting.
Setting Up: Come up with a list of outdoor activities with your teen, and look into rental options for larger items. Remember, it’s not just what you’d like to do, it’s also what you have space for!
The Day Of: Get summer style refreshments, like watermelon slices, burgers, and plenty of potato chips.
Helpful Tips: Consider the physical capabilities of your teen and their guests while picking activities, and offer less physically intensive options for anyone who can’t join in on the flag football.
19. Relax With a Spa Day
Mani-pedis, facials, massages, hair dye—going to a salon for a spa day as a group or with a parent might be just what your teen needs. You can also make a DIY box at home pretty easily and combine it with any of our other sleepover ideas for a chill night in.
Setting Up: Decide what’s on the docket, and do your research!
The Day Of: Remember to bring cash to tip afterwards.
Helpful Tips: If your teen is doing hair dye at home, consider a semi-permanent dye to start out with – they might not last as long, but that’s a blessing as much as it is a curse. Plus, it’s easier to clean up if they make a mess.
20. Get Crafty
Got any cool arts and crafts centers near you? Go to a pottery place for some hands-on fun. A paint night is the painting equivalent of best friend necklaces! Fun options at home include tie-dying, decoupage, and making their own flower crowns.
Setting Up: If you’re doing a craft at home, set up a budget and check out local stores for supplies. Inspiration might strike!
The Day Of: Dress with the expectation that you’re going to get these clothes messy.
Helpful Tips: If you make your own pottery, it won’t be done by the end of the day (it has to go in the kiln, after all), so consider the logistics of getting the finished products back to your guests afterwards.
21. Try a Game Night
Like board games? Card games? Party video games? Make a night out of it. Get out your game collection, or have your guests bring their own favorite games. Or maybe get a new game you’ve been itching to try. (Need game ideas? Check out our list of best games for teens.)
Setting Up: Bring all those games out of storage and give them a quick dusting. Tell guests to bring any game they want to play. If you’re playing a video game, make sure everything is downloaded and ready to go.
The Day Of: Set all the games up on a table and let the party decide what they want to play first.
Helpful Tips: Always check how long an average game lasts before you start, and make sure you know how many people can play each game. You don’t want anyone at the party to feel left out!
22. Book a Hotel Room Sleepover
Sleepovers making your house feel a bit crowded? A great way to give your teen a bit more space and relieve the pressure of having to get your house ready to host a bunch of kids (and possibly their parents) while still maintaining a sense of supervision is to bring your teen’s sleepover party to a hotel. Check with local locations for capacity rules, put a cap on how much they can spend on room service, and get a room for yourself down the hall. Ah, nice, a mini-vacation.
Setting Up: Before establishing a guest list, check with the hotels in your area for their capacity rules.
The Day Of: Get some birthday party decorations and set up the room beforehand! Something as simple as those number balloons for your teen’s age can add a lot to the environment, and are easy to clean up when you’re heading out.
Helpful Tips: Consider going out to a restaurant beforehand, or bringing snacks for them to munch on in the room in order to avoid exorbitant room service bills.
23. Send Them Thrift Shopping
An eco-friendly alternative to the traditional shopping spree, going thrift shopping with a few friends is a great bonding activity and opportunity to express themselves through the wonder that is slow-fashion.
Setting Up: Do research and come up with a list of stores within driving distance of each other.
The Day Of: Attendees should wear comfortable shoes and keep their phones charged for pick-up – this whole experience might take a while.
Helpful Tips: Depending on how much space your teen has left in their closet after, consider doing a clothing swap with their friends! Remind your teen that it’s okay if they don’t find anything, and that clothing sizing has changed monumentally over the decades, so they should feel free to look for what fits, not what should fit.
24. Give Them a Day Off
Gift your kid some cash, lift their chores and household responsibilities for the day, and let them sleep in as long as they want. Being a teen is enough pressure!
Setting Up: Clear the schedule as much as possible – some things can’t be planned around, like school, but they might be able to get a few days ahead on their homework for specific classes.
The Day Of: Spring for takeout from their favorite restaurant.
Helpful Tips: It might be worth evaluating your teen’s schedule and stressors in order to cut back and discuss ways to alleviate stress regularly.
25. Copy a Friend’s Birthday Party
If none of these ideas are hitting the mark, maybe what your kid really wants to do is copy the birthday party their friend had last month. If it works for you and your budget, then let them. Take the pressure off both of you to come up with something original by embracing that template and building on their friend’s success.
No matter how you choose to celebrate, the most important thing to remember is to make sure your teen knows just how much they deserve to be celebrated for their accomplishments in the last year. Every milestone is worth recognition, even if that’s just making it one more revolution around the sun.