It’s their party...They’re still young enough to care about a birthday...but old enough to throw endless shade if you suggest a slightly lame idea. The fix, of course, is to give them exactly what they want. Here are the top three themes to for your teen's party.

By Kelley Carter
Coachella birthday party decor

Inspired by: Coachella

Why they want it 

This spring, your daughter’s Insta feed will be lit up with “festival girls” and their boho-chic #OOTDs. This party re-creates those casual/cool vibes even if you’re thousands of miles from the California desert.

Coachella 101

Over two glorious weekends every April, the Cali town of Indio (23 miles east of Palm Springs) essentially turns into Cool Kid Central, as everyone flocks to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival for dozens of epic musical acts (all hail Queen Bey!), mind-blowing art, glamping, food trucks and so. many. ’grammable. lewks. When you throw a party with these elements—hippie chic fashion, hygge cozy decor, hashtaggable moments—your girl will be the cool kid and (is it a Woodstock-worthy hallucination?) you might even be the cool mom.How to make the Coachella theme happen

Step 1: Set the SoCal Boho Scene 

So what if it’s just your finished basement in the burbs?

  • Balloons are the rare props your kid hasn’t outgrown, thanks to how they’ve blown up on social media. Take a cue from L.A.-area party planners Wild Child and make a balloons-and-greenery garland* for the table or to arch over a door so guests can make a ’gram entrance. 
  • To make the ever-important photo booth backdrop, attach a Mylar or tissue-paper tassel garland* (confettisystem.com, $130) to oversize balloons either filled with helium and anchored on the floor or—the cheaper option—filled with air and suspended from the ceiling. Have a basket nearby with a few hippie-girl hats, or have them wear flower crowns (look for these at Michael’s).
  • Load up on plastic cups and paperware in pastels (Ombre Plates, ohhappyday.com, from $6).
  • For AP credit on your music-festy decor, drape sheepskin throws over chairs (Rens, ikea.com, $30).
  • DIY Boho Cake:Bake layers in 8- and 6-inch round pans. Stack and skim-frost with about 3 cups (or 2 cans) of icing. Garnish with edible flowers, available at gourmetsweetbotanicals.com.

*Or opt for a DIY Balloon Garland

Supplies: 5- and 11-inch balloons, twine, flowers (real or artificial) 

  • Inflate balloons, knot them and tie 3-inch strands of twine to each knot. 
  • Cut a piece of twine to the desired length of your table.
  • Tie balloons to the twine, alternating sizes and colors, and place on table. 
  • Lay down flowers for pops of color, or keep it earthy with sprigs of eucalyptus. 

Step 2: Make It as Legit as Possible 

How to humiliate yourself in one easy step: Create a Mom Playlist. For the love of all that is holy, woman, step away from the Sonos, Spotify or Pandora...and let the birthday girl be in charge of the music.

  • She may want to use the official Coachella lineup (find it at coachella.com/lineup) or build her own.
  • If anyone wants to perform, hand over the mic (Bonaok Wireless Bluetooth Microphone, amazon.com, $36 for similar) and download a karaoke app (try Yokee).
  • Of course, you gotta take pics or it didn’t happen! Use a Polaroid (urbanoutfitters.com, $160) for the photo booth and they’ll get instant (and old-school) gratification, but also consider a custom filter on Snapchat (create.snapchat.com). Everyone will head home with physical as well as digital moments to remember.
  • For older teens: To make this party feel a little more mature, hire an actual DJ: Ask your kid for recommendations or look on gigmasters.com. If the party is after dark, do it up the way they do in Indio with neon accents (hot-pink and yellow body paint, glow sticks galore!) and glow-in-the dark decor. 

Step 3: Wish They All Could be California Girls 

  • They can be in spirit, thanks to beauty products. Kids will want temporary tats in metallic shades and flower-child styles. merimeri.com, $3; flashtat.com, $20.
  • They know it as unicorn snot (body glitter to you). Let them slather it on with abandon. Holographic Glitter Gel Assortment, unicornsnot.com, $46 for 5.
  • Forehead gems bring the perfect amount of drama for a few hours. claires.com, $8.
Photo by Johnny Miller

Inspired by: Fortnite

Why they want it 

C’mon. We will not insult your intelligence by pretending your kids haven’t already made it entirely clear why they want to celebrate surrounded by the themes of this multiplayer survival game.

Fortnite 101

Don’t hate the player. Also: Don’t hate the game. If you’re a parent to a teenager, preventing your kid from spending virtually all their waking hours on this game (and all of their allowance on V-Bucks) has probably become its own kind of battle royale at your house. When they’re not playing the cartoonish, last-man-standing strategy/survival/group fight game, they’re physically busting the moves like the dizzying Floss, Orange Justice and Hype. For this one day, lean into the craze and make every kid’s favorite game come to life in your backyard or basement. Just be sure the Wi-Fi can handle a crowd—unless you want to see a melee IRL! 

How to make the Fortnite theme happen

Step 1: Kit Out Your Place

Base the party’s decor on the game’s most crucial elements.

  • From the obvious department: Loot Llama (spencersonline.com, $30) or Rainbow Smash piñatas (etsy.com, $58). Sure, the kids will (still!) love to find candy, but glow sticks or necklaces would also be a hit.
  • Helium balloon + box (Cube Boxes, uline.com, $7) = DIY Drop Kit! Make a few to place on the table or, if you have space, go for a monster 36-inch balloon and a big box in the corner. (Either way, be sure the balloon is slightly larger than the base.) 
  • Get a few different sizes of disco balls (christmascentral.com, from $9) to complement the Boogie Bombs (spencersonline.com, $15). Put small ones on the table, and group big ones in the corners of the room. Let the kids load their snacks onto disco-ball-inspired paper plates (ohhappyday.com, $7.50).
  • Take it to another tier and set up a projector, so everyone can watch the action on one giant screen. 
  • Give a nod to Rainbow Crystal by stringing colored lights (Holiday Wonderland Multicolor Light Set, amazon.com, $8) from your ceiling or along the table as a centerpiece.

Step 2: Focus on Lasers

Like it or not (and our guess is, probably not), Fortnite is all about the weaponry—from pistols to pickaxes to missiles and seemingly everything in between. No, you don’t want laser rifles in your house, but the cool-mom compromise is lots of glow-in-the-dark loot—batonettes, mini axes, bracelets—that kinda-sorta replicate the look of the game. Glow sticks and glow axe wands, halloweencostumes.com, from $2

DIY Edible Dynamite

Supplies: white printer paper, red construction paper, double-stick tape, Red Vines licorice

  • Print TNT in all caps on white paper. 
  • Cut red construction paper into 8.5 x 3-inch strips. Center the white TNT paper on the red strip and tape in place.
  • Cut Red Vines in half. Wrap about 10 pieces of licorice with the paper bands and tape to close.

DIY Medkit Cake

Bake a cake in a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Trim off corners for a rounded look. Spread with a thin coat of frosting. Roll out white fondant and drape over cake. Smooth and cut to fit. Roll out red fondant, cut into a 12 x 3-inch strip. At center of strip, cut out a cross. Carefully drape strip over cake. Smooth out and trim. Add a black frosting or fondant seam and make a buckle from additional red fondant. Attach with frosting.

Tip 

To make the ever-important healing Slurp Juice, fill mason jars with blue Gatorade.

For older teens

If you’re feeling especially magnanimous (or insane, your call!), consider turning the party into an actual glow-in-the-dark disco—while the game is still going on. Blast the music and let them kick their legs and pump their fists until the lone survivor is standing.

Photo by Johnny Miller

Inspired by: Escape Rooms

Why they want it 

Imagine the appeal of a haunted house, the cool factor of a treasure map and a top note of Escape from Alcatraz, and you’re getting warmer!

Escape Room 101

The fun is in the fact that this is like a single-room scavenger hunt on steroids. Escape rooms started in Japan (as do so many things your teen loves) in 2007, and the goal is to use group strategy to get out of a contained space in a fixed amount of time. There are venues across the U.S. where you can do this, but you can also download printable versions (at lockpaperscissors.co) or buy a boxed set (Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment, barnesandnoble.com, $30). 

How to make the Escape Room theme happen

Step 1: Set the Table…and the Tone

  • This is like a vintage Clue board game #IRL. Scatter locks (jamaligarden.com, from $22) and keys (houseofantiquehardware.com, from $2) along the table (see if guests can figure out which ones belong together!).
  • Leave a few magnifying glasses (worldmarket.com, $5) lying around, and anchor the table’s entire look with a glamorous hourglass (worldmarket.com, $18) and gold candelabra (say it with us: “It was Professor Plum, in the dining room...”).
  • To kick it up a notch with just the flip of a switch (and, OK, the twist of a bulb), swap out your LEDs or traditional incandescents for Edison lightbulbs (worldmarket.com, $10) for the night.
  • As for colors, the key is gold mylar. Look for chain-link balloons—for the full-on Houdini/master-of-escape feeling—and fringed drapes to use as a backdrop. The shimmery tendrils mimic the look of a flapper dress. 

Step 2: Flappers and Gatsbys

WWDBD? That is, What Would Daisy Buchanan Do? Our guess is she’s just like your daughter and would want her picture snapped in a full-on flapper-chic look.

  • So feather your nest—or photo booth corner—with feather headbands (Tasha Crystal & Feather Statement Headband, nordstrom.com, $38), jeweled hair clips (Tasha Crystal Barette, nordstrom.com, $28) and red lipstick (Too Faced Peach Kiss, sephora.com, $21).
  • And for the Sherlocks and Gatsbys (that is, for more boyish styles), stock a fedora (Classic Felt Hat, zara.com, $36), a newsboy cap (Herringbone Hat, zara.com, $23) and some bowties (us.topman.com, $20). To look like the smartest person in the (escape!) room, kids can slide on a pair of specs.

Step 3: How to Wrap a Mystery in an Enigma

Amp up the suspense with these tricks. 

  • Use disappearing-ink pens to write notes and passwords. Secret Message Writing Set, worldmarket.com, $6
  • Print the clues on parchment paper that looks straight out of treasure hunt. Variety Blank Roll Scrolls, scrollsunlimited.com, $30
  • With this ring, I mess with thee head... Send everyone home with resettable decoder rings. Secret Decoder Ring, uncommongoods.com, $17

DIY Coded Cupcakes

  • Write an encoded message (see Codes and Ciphers on Pinterest for ideas) and cut it into strips (one per guest per cupcake). Roll each strip and place in a capsule. Clear Round Vending Machine Capsules, amazon.com, $14 for 50.
  • Bake your favorite cupcakes and let cool. With a melon baller, scoop a hole big enough to hold a capsule in top of each cupcake; trim off top of scooped portion (to use as a plug). Place capsule in hole, cover with plug, then frost. Pipe a question mark on top.

For older teens

You might want to escape your house with an escape room party for kids in their later teens. The venues here will create challenges for your kids and their friends (prices range from $25 to $45 per person). If your guests are under 18, many spots require that an adult accompany them.

  • Breakout Games has over 30 locations east of the Rockies.
  • The Great Escape Room offers multiple Sherlock Holmes–inspired and world-saving games.
  • Team vs. Time is based in Connecticut and Chicago and explores mystical, royal and other themes.
  • Maze Rooms offers spy and other themes in its Los Angeles and Austin locations.
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