Your teen’s birthday is coming up, and even if they’ve been a moody, back-talking pain in the ass lately, you’d still like to throw them a party. You love the kid after all, and despite them screaming “I hate you!” and slamming their bedroom door in your face, you know they love you too.
Before you get planning, though, really think about your reasons for wanting to give them this party. Make sure it truly is about your teen and not to fulfill some need of your own, cautions Fred Peipman, Ph.D., a family psychologist in San Francisco and author of Parenting Across the Gap: Raising Teens in the 21st Century.
“If you want to celebrate your child or do something special with the family, then great,” he says. “But if you’re throwing a party mainly so the kid will be nicer to you or not ‘hate’ you, those are not good reasons. Do not, under any circumstance, lavish money or attention or gifts on your child because you want them to like you — that is parent-child codependency.”
Assuming your intentions are healthy, next ask your child directly whether or not they even want a birthday party. Some teenagers truly do not, and parents should respect that. “If your kid says they’d rather you didn’t spend the time and energy on a party, don’t force it,” Peipman says. “Maybe then put the money you would’ve spent on a party toward a gift or experience they’ll like now or down the road.”
There are some circumstances, however, where Peipman says it is OK to proceed with a party even when your teen isn’t stoked on the idea. For instance, if this birthday has special significance, such as a bar or bat mitzvah, or if it’s tied to special family occasion, like Grandma and Grandpa flying in, the kid may not have a choice.
“If your teenager is being difficult and saying they don’t want anything to do with a party, tell them you respect that they don’t want to celebrate,” Peipman says. “But then explain why it’s important for your family to celebrate their birth and growing up. And if they don’t want to communicate how they’d like the day to go, tell them ‘OK’ — but then you’ll have to make decisions without them.”
If it’s just your average birthday and your teen is all about a party, get their input before making any plans. After all, you might think you’ve come up with the best idea ever — and they may wholeheartedly disagree. The last thing you want is to spring something on them that’ll embarrass them or make them resent you even more. “Remember, we’re grownups, so kids don’t think we’re cool,” Peipman says. “Especially when we do something we’re sure they’ll think is cool, we’re wrong.”
Instead, find out their vision of awesome birthday. You may be surprised to learn it’s a lot less extravagant, costly or planning-intensive than you’d anticipated. But if what they want is way out there or not something you’ll support, ask them what they feel would be a good compromise.
“If they say they just want to do tequila shots with their friends, say ‘nope, that is not a compromise,'” Peipman says. “Tell them you understand why they may want that, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to get it. Say you’re happy to work with them, but then they need to work with you. Telling them you value their opinion and will work on a compromise — that’s what makes kids think parents are cool.”