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Tips for avoiding teen party disasters

Published: Monday, May 18 2009 3:57 p.m. MDT

This 2007 photo released by 3 Chicks That Click Photography shows a Bar mitzvah in Freehold, NJ. This generation loves to dance, including boys, who in past eras were often wallflowers or awkward dancers. "Today it's totally hip, the cooler you are as a dancer, the more popular you are," said Richard Blau of Chezzam Event Group, a Syosset, N.Y.-based event planning company.

Alyse Liebowitz, Associated Press

NEW YORK — I don't know what teen parties are like where you live, but here's a sample of party horror stories from parents and kids I know:

A kid invites a few friends over while mom and dad are away. Dozens of strangers randomly show up and trash the block.

Kids smuggle booze into a bar mitzvah bash and adults (understandably) freak out.

The DJ arrives late to a Sweet 16, bored boys start brawling on the dance floor, and the birthday girl ends up in tears.

Of course, for every problem party, there are many successful events. With the season on for proms, graduations and other end-of-school celebrations, not to mention beach parties, barbecues and outdoor gatherings, here are some tips for keeping teen parties safe and fun.

PLANNING:

"The key to a successful event is to be organized with a theme and set activities," said Steve Kemble of Steve Kemble Event Design in Dallas, which plans celebrity and corporate events. "You cannot simply just invite a bunch of teens over with no real focus to the gathering and expect them to remain well-behaved."

Involve kids in planning from the start. "They create, plan, set up and clean up the party," said Richard Marotta, headmaster of The Garden School, an independent K-12 school in Queens, N.Y. "In short, they own the event. Yet we always have adults present to ensure that nothing gets out of control."

MUSIC:

This generation loves to dance — including boys, who in past eras were often wallflowers or awkward dancers. "Today it's totally hip — the cooler you are as a dancer, the more popular you are," said Richard Blau of Chezzam Event Group, a Syosset, N.Y.-based event planning company.

Depending on space, budget and the occasion, you may want a DJ. If not, an iPod with speakers will do.

Either way, "music should be on from the moment the event starts," Blau said. "The volume and vibe may evolve, but you definitely want a very hip vibe from the moment the kids arrive to capture their interest."

THEMES AND ACTIVITIES:

Themes can transform spaces, inspire activities and make events unique. At The Garden School, kids have turned the cafeteria into a coffee house for a fun Friday night. Kemble, the Dallas-based planner, suggests a "Titanic" night with formal dress; a costume party with prizes, or for girls, a spa or salon night with stations for nails and hair.

Blau, of Chezzam, says that "a fortune teller can be hip and fun, and we've also brought in body-painting with henna, glitter and rhinestones."

Another option: casino themes. "Right now kids are really into poker," Blau said. "But you don't have to have an expensive set-up. Just get some funny money or chips and playing cards."

In addition to poker, have tables for blackjack and roulette (mini-roulette wheels go for $25), with prizes for cashing chips.

Some teens enjoy hands-on projects: craft tables, jewelry or T-shirt design, or making gifts or baskets for local charities.

ELECTRONICS:

Karaoke, Wii and "Dance Dance Revolution" can be fun at parties. But "you need to be a little careful," Blau said. "Electronic stuff is so addictive, and you don't want kids so focused on something that they're not dancing. A Sweet 16 or graduation should not be hanging out in your den on a laptop."

FOOD:

Teenagers "might raid the fridge at home, but at parties they tend not to eat," said Blau. "Give them food that's fun that they can grab on the fly."

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