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.
"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."
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.
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."
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."
Think finger food: Chicken wings, sushi (including vegetarian cucumber and avocado rolls), mini-hot dogs, pizza, watermelon, pineapple chunks on a stick, chips, dips, popcorn.
Tweens and bar mitzvah-age kids "will have fun with mocktails," Blau said. But Shirley Temples are not so appealing to older kids. For high schoolers, Blau suggests a bar with 10 different gourmet sodas, or a juice bar with mango, papaya and other tropical options, perfect for a green-themed party.
Adults must be present, and they "need to make certain that they maintain control of the space," said Marotta.
Say no to party-crashers, and keep secluded spaces off-limits. "Kids know whose homes or whose parents have less guardianship," said Blau. "With everyone texting, the first 20 kids who arrive say, 'Hey, it's a free-for-all,' and the invitation goes viral."
Require kids to check bags at the door to keep out drugs or alcohol. Even water bottles can be filled with vodka.
But Blau says security can "be done in a cool way. If you go to a hot nightclub, there are bouncers at the door with a red velvet rope. Have a parent or chaperone or hired security person at the door with a typed alphabetized guest list. If you're not on the VIP list, you don't get in."
To help teens do the right thing, "give your kid permission to badmouth you to other kids," said Dr. Liz Alderman, a mother of two teenagers and a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York. "If their friend says, 'Oh, can I invite someone else,' tell your kid to say no and blame it on you. They can say, "Oh, my mom would never let me do that.' Blaming the parent, they have nothing to lose."
Car accidents are the No. 1 cause of death for teenagers. "During prom and graduation party season, some of the most dangerous teen driving scenarios all play out — multiple teens in the car, late-night driving, distractions, and sometimes driving under the influence, although research shows that alcohol is a factor in less than 25 percent of all teen crashes in the 16- and 17-year-old group — the risk goes up as they get older," said Kate Hollcraft, a spokeswoman for Allstate Insurance, which offers a Parent-Teen Driving Contract to help families discuss rules and risks.
Consider these facts from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:2 comments on this story
Among male drivers ages 15-20 involved in fatal crashes, 38 percent were speeding and 24 percent had been drinking. Among 16- to 19-year-olds who died in car accidents, only 40 percent of drivers and 31 percent of passengers wore seatbelts. Crash risk also goes up with the number of teens in the car.
"Many parents incorrectly believe that if their teen is sober, they are safe," Hollcraft said.
Beth Harpaz is the author of several books including "13 Is the New 18."