Turning 16 is a major milestone in a girl's life, one that parents often celebrate with a party. However, when the girl's idea of a great party conflicts with what Mom and Dad have in mind, disagreements can escalate into tearful blow-ups and family dissension.
Some parents view their daughter's 16th birthday as a coming-of-age celebration that they expect she'll want to share with a group of her closest girlfriends. They may be surprised to learn that she sees the perfect Sweet Sixteen as an invite-everyone, urban-club-style bash.
Fortunately, parents can avoid the Sweet Sixteen planning minefield by setting a few ground rules up front, says Susan Bartell, a Port Washington, New York psychologist who specializes in teen girls and their behavior.
Here's a rundown of strategies to help minimize the most predictable conflicts, plus important subjects you'll want to cover in a sit-down talk with your daughter before her Big Day:
Involve her in the planning
Often, the party budget helps to determine the type of party, where it will be held, how many guests will be invited, the type of food, and level of entertainment.
Give your daughter the chance to participate in the decision-making. If there is a budget, let her know what it is. Encourage her to think about how she would like the money to be allocated.
If a Saturday night girl/boy party is the celebration of choice, make it clear that you will be there to supervise the event. Too often, kids think their parents will take care of all party arrangements and then disappear, says Bartell. "Let her know that you and other adults will be there," she counsels.
Selecting her outfit
Shopping for a dress for a 16-year-old can be fun. It also can turn into a battle of wills, especially if your daughter wants to wear a dress that you feel is too revealing.
It's fine for you to disagree with her choice and to try to steer her away from a particular dress. Just be sure to phrase your objections in terms of the dress, not her. Tell her you think that a particular style is unsuitable for any girl her age, or for the occasion.
Don't attack her judgment. "Gently voice your opinion, but not in a harsh way," advises Bartell.
Suggest that you both look at other styles or see what's available at other stores. Try to keep it positive-e.g., "I'm sure we'll find dresses you'll love even more and that will look fantastic on you."
Choosing the dance music
Another issue that can cause conflict is the choice of music. Unfortunately, some songs by popular artists offer up profanity, references to sex, and the glorification of violence-sometimes, all in the same song.
This is a tough one. Parents may not know what's popular at the moment or what any particular song is about. But your DJ will. If you have concerns, sit down with your daughter and with the DJ. Ask for guidance and suggestions.
"You may have to compromise and allow the DJ to play at least some music you're not happy about," says Bartell. What's important is to use the discussion about music to reinforce the values that are important to you and your family, she advises.
The toughest part of the planning
Finally, there's an aspect of Sweet Sixteen party-planning that almost certainly will result in discord. Yet it's critically important to address. The issue: Preventing unacceptable behavior at the party.
We're all smart enough to know that in today's world, "It can't happen here" is not a statement of fact; it's simply wishful thinking.
Trying to prevent kids from having access to drugs and alcohol at your daughter's party is essential. So, too, is seeking to avoid such other potential problems as teens sneaking off to have sex, or damaging property.
Make it absolutely clear that you will not tolerate these types of behaviors. Let your daughter know exactly how you will respond should any problems arise. Give her plenty of time before the party to talk to her friends and let them know the ground rules.
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