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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  10. 22

    Jackie @ MomJovi says

    I knew things were bad but this just terrified me to a whole new level. My daughter is 3 and I’ve been shocked by the level of out-of-controlness by her classmates’ parties already. And they’re toddlers! It’s already gotten to the point where I feel like birthday parties rule our weekends. I can’t imagine the teen years.

    I’m hoping that 13 years from now, austerity will somehow become cool!

    Glad to find you through Scary Mommy today!

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    • 23

      Kelly says

      So nice to find you too!

      I know exactly what you mean…even the younger aged kids are out of control. It’s ok to have a theme for fun…but to drop a couple hundred bucks for a 4 year old who won’t remember it a year later? Crazy.

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  11. 25

    Wendy says

    So happy I no longer live on the east coast. As of right now, at least as far as I know, this doesn’t happen here in Montana. My 6mom year old didn’t even have a birthday party this year.

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  12. 26

    Arnebya says

    I don’t get it either. I don’t want to be looked at as the lame, miserly parents, but then I think — who gives a shit? I’m not out to impress other kids’ parents (I think they’re all high w/the $600 purses, the $200 jeans). I am most certainly not out to impress the kids themselves. I admit to sometimes, ever so fleetingly, thinking wow, I wish I could spend that. But then, no the hell I don’t! If we had riches, I’m sure we would still not spend it on parties like the ones you’ve mentioned. You’re right; extravagant sweet 16 parties steal some of the excitement (and money!) from a wedding or other event. Yes, it’s special. Yes, it should be celebrated. But at what cost? I am robbing Pepco to pay half of Washington Gas and taking even a piece of that to pay the car note. I’ll be damned if I’m going to be guilted into hiring a dj and renting a hall. Call your friends and tell them you’re having a party: in the hall-sized backyard where daddy will turn on an iTunes playlist for your dj and it will be catered by me. Happy birthday!

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  13. 29

    Christine says

    THANK YOU! Because I feel the exact same way. At 16, college is right around the corner and the money is better spent on my daughters’ futures (I have 3 daughters!). I think the madness is a Northeast thing. We’re native New Jerseyans who now call Texas home, and there isn’t any Sweet 16 madness here and I’m thankful for it. My oldest turned 16 last year and she got a nice birthday party — a limo to take her and 4 friends to dinner, a theater show, and a sleepover at a hotel with 4 friends. That was enough! My 12 year old is already plotting for a big party . . . I told her don’t hold her breath, it’s not happening! Our children are growing up with this very strong sense of entitlement, it is so wrong.

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    • 30

      Jen says

      Christine – it’s a HUGE South Florida thing, too. I’m a teacher in a suburban town full of Kardashian-wannabes (thankfully, I only WORK in that town – I do not live there). Last year, a FOURTH grade girl had a birthday party which included she and about a dozen of her female classmates being picked up from school in a limousine. I teach fifth grade and have heard my students discussing the phone upgrades and iPads they were going to be receiving for Christmas. So very sad – there is NOTHING left for these kids to look forward to in their lives. Everything is done before age 17. Look at the “spa parties” the little 6 and 7 year old girls are having. I didn’t have my first manicure until I was going to a sorority formal event in college. You are so right about the entitlement issues – it is totally out of control.

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  14. 32

    jennie w. says

    My daughter turned 16 a couple of months ago and she had a few friends over for movies and some good homemade desserts. It was as low key as possible. But she enjoyed it.

    I live in Austin, TX which is a pretty low-key town and so far there have been almost no over-the-top Sweet 16 parties. Maybe in the nicer parts of town but I haven’t seen it much at all.

    Maybe we should blame the quinceneras for introducing the idea that this sort of thing is appropriate for teenagers.

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  15. 33

    Life with kaishon says

    I think every Person should do what’s right for them and their family. If they can afford it and want to make their kid feel special, why not? Life is short. It very well could be their daughters last party. I like when people celebrate every moment however they see fit : ) Your daughters party sounds like it was a lot of fun.

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  16. 36

    Catherine says

    Wow. I am already seeing the beginnings of this with my young children, starting in preschool. No one except us seems to have home birthday parties anymore where the 4-year-old invites a handful of friends. Now it’s always the entire class invited to a venue – Chuck E. Cheese or Pump It Up almost every time. We’re talking several hundred dollars for a 4-year-old! If you start there, no wonder they’re having a huge shindig by the time they’re 16!

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    • 37

      NoDrama4Mama says

      I admit I do the pump it up party, but I don’t want to exclude any of the kids in my daughter’s class, and my house is not big enough for all those kids. Also to have someone else set up the party, cut the cake and clean everything up so I can enjoy the fun and ride the bouncy slides is totally worth it.

      We take our 11 year old son on an overnight getaway to NYC

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  17. 38

    pammypam says

    its getting harder and harder as tv glorifies living in the excess. i cant keep up with the joneses and even if i could, why??? what point does it serve? does it mean i love my kids any less cuz i can’t buy them super ultra expensive things like others? hell no. it just means i cant afford it. and even if i could, why would i want to raise a bunch of kardashians?
    bleh to this new trend. i hates it.

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