Surprise Party: A Tween Get Together

My 11 year-old girl/boy twins started middle school this year. It was a huge adjustment for me … er, them … okay, for all of us. For me, gone were the hands-on days of volunteering at the elementary school and meeting all my children’s friends and most of their parents. For the children, the new school meant meeting lots of new people. Realizing the importance of friends during this adjustment and developmental time in my twins’ lives, I decided to throw them a party... I felt it was better to throw a themed “anytime” party than to throw a birthday party. Having a non-birthday party removes the gift-buying burden from new friends and their parents. Besides, my children’s birthday was months away. I wanted to get to know their new friends as soon as possible.

Dr. Chris Knoester, assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University, says parents are wise to get to know their children’s friends and friends’ parents as soon as possible. He advises, “Parental monitoring and supervision (such as knowing your child’s friends and friends’ parents) curbs delinquency and seems to lead children to establish friendships with peers who are more likely to exhibit prosocial characteristics (e.g., higher GPA, more involved in extracurricular activities, more likely to go to college).”

When throwing a tween party, your games, entertainment and activities must be more sophisticated than parties for younger children — but activities must still be fun and age-appropriate. Keep in mind that children between the ages of 10 and 12 mature at different rates; what might be fun for one could seem babyish to another. And what some might enjoy could actually be traumatic for others. Case in point: I recently chaperoned a field trip wheremy children’s class visited a local theater production of “Dracula.” At intermission, one child was in tears because the play frightened her. The best course of action is to ask your child’s opinion. Find out what his/her friends like and dislike.

“Having parties for tweens or teens gives you a higher visibility with your son’s or daughter’s friends,” says writer and television personality Silvana Clark (silvanaclark.com). “They see you in a positive light (usually) and get to know you as another adult in their lives. Parents that are warm, good listeners and welcoming create an atmosphere teens enjoy.”

Simple observation at my children’s party provided ample topics for private discussion later. For example, one of my daughter’s super-thin friends kept bemoaning the fact that she was “fat.” When we were alone the next day, I spoke with my daughter about it and asked if she thought her friend might be anorexic. Although she didn’t believe her friend to have an eating disorder, my daughter agreed her friend is certainly not fat; we had a discussion about body image and self-esteem.

Some parents might be concerned about having a party where both sexes will be in attendance. Co-ed tween parties give your children the opportunity to grow socially in a safe, comfortable environment. While many middle schools are beginning to incorporate dances into their extracurricular events, most tweens feel awkward the first few times they’re placed in this situation. Although some are developing their first crushes, they might not want to admit it, and they certainly don’t want to be teased about friendships with the opposite sex.
By having the party in a public place — a local pizza parlor — my husband and I removed most opportunity for the children to engage in inappropriate behavior. In a home setting, I would’ve been randomly popping in with more food, seeing if everyone had everything they needed, etc. Clark agrees. “I might have them make root beer floats or set out apple slices and warm caramel dip. That way they interact with me, but it’s connected with food.... It boils down to being around but in a non-threatening way.”

My intentions in having the party were well-served. I made my children happy, I met their new friends, I met some of the parents, communication on some touchy subjects was facilitated — and I believe I reiterated to my children that I’m there for them to help them in any way I can.

FUN TWEEN PARTY THEMES

Mystery Party:
Guests solve a mystery during the course of the party. The menu, activities and party favors would evolve from the theme of the party. If the party takes place in a diner, serve hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, apple pie a la mode and chocolate cake. Depending on the supposed time of the mystery, party favors could include 50’s-inspired gifts: candy bars with pre-printed retro wrappers placed around existing wrappers, magnifying glasses, scarves and poodle appliqués for the girls, and 50’s replica cars for the boys.

Back-to-School Party: One last summer blowout before school begins. Have a beach party with a luau-themed menu and party favors. Or have fun with dreading the start of school by having a “cafeteria nightmare” menu including “dirt cake” made from crushed chocolate cookies. Party favors could include cool pencils and other fun school supplies. You might want to ask guests to bring school supplies to be donated to needy children.

Movie Party:
Plan a party around your tweens’ favorite move. Some current suggestions: High School Musical, Spider Man 3, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. The menu and party favors would, of course, tie in with the movie. If you’re watching the movie as part of the festivities, tweens would enjoy popcorn, nachos and movie candy more than anything else. Be sure to turn
the lights off for more of a cinematic feel.

By Gayle Trent