Is Sweet 16 worth the Cost of a Wedding?



I just finished a conversation with my 16 year old regarding gifts for the holidays which are being exchanged between her friends and their significant others.

My daughter’s question to me was “Why is being a couple so expensive?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I heard that so-and-so bought their girlfriend a Coach purse and a Pandora bracelet and my friend bought him like $200 worth of Ralph Lauren clothes and stuff…and then so-and-so bought this and that and….”

I stood there with my mouth agape.

If I did not think that today’s parent of teens was high on crack, I do now.

Parenting of a teen is so difficult these days and fellow parents are not making it any easier.

Remember when you were in your 20’s and the mail seemed to deliver invite after invite of a friend announcing to “Save the Date”. In fact, one summer my husband and I attended at least 4 weddings…either as guest or as part of the big day. Each one was a joyous event; a special day…one that family and friends would remember forever, because it was a wedding.

We expected to shell out some Franklins for a weekend of hotel stays, a new dress, many cocktails and a four hour party, because it was a wedding.

So, why did this summer bring me back to the summers of weddings past? Our oldest turned 16 as did a majority of her friends and was riddled with invitations to birthday parties, with a twist. I found myself asking: when did birthday parties turn into mini-weddings? When did it become the “norm” to rent out country club rooms, hotel ballrooms or local concert places and have them fully catered with hors d’oeuvres along with a specialty cake? When did custom invitations invite our child to a party that she would have to buy a semi-formal dress to attend, or be on a guest list?

I kid you not. One party of many had a “Guest List Only” entry, which was strictly enforced…, with a “Bouncer” at the door and everything! Whaaaaat??

Another party “requested” that everyone wear only black and white. The guest of honor was checking on the dress color too…and if it was not black OR white, she asked that the frock be brought back!! (She was wearing hot fuchsia, by the way).

There are DJ’s, decorations, professional photographers. The last party attended, the birthday person was escorted out to the dance floor on the arm of two friends as the DJ announced their arrival.

What is wrong with everyone? Is our teenager speaking words of truth when she says to us “You are the ONLY PARENTS THAT DON’T GET IT!”

We did not have anything outlandish…we had a few friends over for a sleepover, made a special cake and spent time being silly teenagers. Did my husband and I feel a little guilt not providing a huge party because “everyone else is doing it!”?

No. We didn’t, because it was a birthday party.

We discussed it with our teen and told her, it was not happening. Graduation is around the corner, then college and years from now maybe a wedding (if that is what is wanted). We were not spending a fortune on a party to celebrate turning 16.

Yes, it’s a big day, but what happens in 11, 12, 13 or so years when wedding bells are ringing? How will that day feel special? Especially since they have already experienced such a shin-dig?

The only thing I can think of is parents have lost their freaking mind…

We all complain that our kids are growing up too fast. The trip down that road is even faster when parents have not learned to master the phrase “Just Say No.”

So, fellow parents, will you join me? Can we all just say NO?


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  1. 1

    Alison@Mama Wants This says

    That’s insane!! My son is only turning 2 in a couple of days, but we decided long ago that there will be no extravagance on that day, now and possibly for the next few years. I do hope he will never go down that path of wanting a DJ for his birthday!

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  2. 3

    jen says

    I can tell you right now (even though my girls are only 2 and 5 and you may doubt that I know what I’m talking about) I will not be doing this. I WILL say “no”. There’s no way in hell.

    I decided this long ago when I realized that homecoming dance attire was beginning to look like prom, and prom was beginning to look like a Hollywood red carpet (or worse: a collection of porn stars). My kids may be “lame” or “geeks” or probably even pitied for having such horrid parents, but they will hopefully leave their youth behind one day and be classy, appropriate, and grateful. I hope. At least I’ll sleep fairly well… ;)

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    • 4

      Kelly says

      Oh, you get it! And it’s not just homecoming & prom that kids are tramping the red carpet look: really makes me wonder why parents would let their kids out the door like that.

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  3. 7

    Summer @ Well-rounded Hippie says

    I couldn’t agree more. Those crazy sweet 16 parties are INSANE!!! Even though my twins are only 2, I can say without a doubt that they will NOT having anything more than a normal birthday celebration with family and maybe a few friends!

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  4. 9

    lisa says

    you so totally DO get it…i am the parent of three kids ages 17, 20, and 22 and have been saying no for years. ours were the kids that were able to invite to their birthday party the number of kids equal to their age…you’re turning five, you invite FIVE children. no massive sweet 16s here.
    parents are too often being ruled by their children…and their children’s friends and parents.
    when we were planning my daughter’s bat mitzvah, the caterer kept on telling me what we COULD do…and i reassured her that we knew that, but maybe at her WEDDING we would…but not yet.
    keep your head on straight…i’m so happy to know there are others out there!

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    • 10

      Kelly says

      I am so glad I have more parents in my corner!!! It is one thing when it is a cultural right of passage….but quite another when it is just done because it’s wanted.

      We are King and Queen of No…and our kids almost expect it now!

      Thank you!!

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  5. 11

    Laura says

    My son at age 10 is constantly being invited to expensive over the top parties… But we don’t throw them. I’m much more concerned about saving money for his education. And when he says, but everyone’s doing it Mom. I just laugh and say that’s fine for them but not for us.

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    • 13

      Headacheslayer says

      We stopped attending those “over the top” parties long ago as well. The trend of NOT opening gifts during the party? UGH!

      My daughter often wasn’t good friends with the girl in question, thought the party was nonsense, and had no qualms about not going. I didn’t want her to alienate herself but she was disgusted by the over the top parties. So we supported her decision.

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    • 14

      leonor says

      well, for me, it was a “honor” type event, my dear mother did an even for my sweet 16 and she died when I was just 21 — I wanted to do this in reflection of celebrating her grandma and the giving and loving person my mom was. she did not work and yet she saved 10.00 or more from the grocery money that my dad gave her weekly and prepared the event. she hired a live band — it was unforgettable. I will treasure it forever as I hope my daughter will treasure the party I did for her —- it costs me about 1000.00 and people did not all get to eat because not enough food, but there was plenty of salad and cake to go around and music and dancing and love.

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  6. 15

    Joanie says

    That’s just nuts!! My kids didn’t even have 16th parties. I did throw my oldest a 21st birthday party that set me back about $1000. The other 2 did not get the same. As a matter of fact, my youngest turned 21 yesterday and the dinner I cooked for 6 people was about $75!

    No, semi-formal sweet sixteens are just too excessive.

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  7. 16

    Colette says

    Wow! My poor kids will be so un-cool if this is the norm. But hopefully they’ll emerge from their teen years with some perspective – I think a slumber party is a good choice!

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    • 17

      Kelly says

      Thanks, Colette! Yes, the slumber party was fun…and did not take away from the fact that it was a special birthday. She was so worried that her friends would not have fun, but actually, they really enjoyed a “basic, NORMAL” celebration.

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  8. 18

    Christine says

    The number of parents who feel the same way may seem to be few and far between, but they are out there and staying strong on this issue. I have no problem being among them.

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  9. 19

    heather r morgan says

    I think everyone is just watching too damn much MTV, lol!

    Keeping up with the Joneses, SO not my style. I’m not going to be doing anything crazy for birthday number 16 or any other… I’m not sure what the other parents’ are thinking, I’m pretty sure the problem is that they are NOT thinking, just reacting. Trying to be friends with their kids and not being parents.

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    • 20

      Arnebya says

      Heather, there’s a Will Smith quote that comes to mind: “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” I have a friend in SC who bought her 16 yr old a used car this year, no party. Growing up, the car was what we all coveted, not an over the top party (and certainly not both!). As they are rural, she thought it prudent that her daughter be able to get around on her own. There’s no bus service to the high school anymore, etc. She figures if taken care of well, the car should last her well into college. Her daughter’s friend two weeks ago had a sweet 16 like the ones Kelly wrote about — DJs, guest lists, limos, ball gowns…and A NEW CAR (in my Rod Roddy voice).

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